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Special Collection

Early Western and Portuguese descriptors of the Indian languages from the 16th century onwards

Collection launched: 16 Nov 2018

Image credit: Vocabulario Lusitano- Tamulico [Portuguese-Tamil Dictionary], MS49 (previously MS36), no date, State Central Library, Goa, Panjim/Panaji

Although the attitudes of neglect toward the earliest linguistic (field)works have decreased and the contribution to the study of language by linguists avant la lettre is acknowledged today (Zwartjes 2012), attitudes still need to change further, and this is one of the aims of this volume.

At present, it includes five papers which focus on different aspects of the grammaticisation (Auroux 1994) of the South Asian languages by earlier descriptors from the 16th century onwards. Among them, the linguists avant la lettre par excellence were Jesuit missionaries. Their works, which recorded the linguistic structures, sociolinguistic variations and the pragmatic usages of the South Asian languages, were (re)written, (re-)edited, (re-)copied, and progressively enriched.

Entering different networks of knowledge circulation, their works, as well as those immediately after produced by others, contributed to the diffusion of a new awareness about the language as a human faculty. These works gave an impulse to the study of language, to the development of new ideas about it and its origin: from a divine one, whose diversity had been determined by the confusion of the Tower of Babel, to a socio-historical institution.

Applying both macro and micro approaches, each paper in this volume explores different topics. Hence, the papers discuss the categorisation and classification of the linguistic diversity of South Asian languages through the lens of the Western grammatical tradition; the interface between Western and Indian grammatical traditions; the collection and diffusion of new linguistic knowledge about the newly discovered languages throughout later intermediaries and grammarians.

The papers in this Special Collection contribute to understanding how the linguistic works avant la lettre played a relevant part in the affirmation of the Science of Language.

Guest editor: Cristina Muru, University of Tuscia, cristina.muru@unitus.it