A Loss of Words: Lexicography, Language and Literature in a New Caṅkam Age
Srilata Raman, University of Toronto
Tamil learning and pedagogy till the 19th century, and the life of a person of letters, was structured and cultivated by the memorization of specific texts, including the lexicons called the nikaṇṭus. Yet, already by the mid-19th century, the inclusion and memorization of the nikaṇṭus in the elite world of those who composed and transmitted Tamil poetry – the pulavars and vittuvāṉs - had become increasingly rare, and was very shortly, by the last years of the 19th century, to become entirely obsolete. This lecture seeks to address the question of what engendered the obsolescence of the nikaṇṭu works in colonial modernity. In doing so, it also attempts to address what this obsolescence meant for how one was, henceforth, to conceive of “Tamil” the language, “Tamil” the literature and the life of a modern person of letters and learning, as these issues came to the fore against the backdrop of the “discovery” of Caṅkam, in the 19th century world of South India.
This lecture is open to all interested members of the Harvard community.