Language ideology and imaginations of Indianness in Mauritius

Eisenlohr, Patrick

     The dissertation analyzes the link between politically charged ideas about language and concepts of nationality as well as diasporic identity in Mauritius. Focusing on the transnational flows of ideas about language between Mauritius and India, local patterns of speech, as well as language ideologies and practices in the educational sector, the argument is that the notion of Hindi as an "ancestral language" provides the base for concepts of a Hindu nation in Mauritius. In contrast to common scholarly assumptions of a shared national language as the necessary "medium" for the creation of national consciousness, the relationship between language and the nation for Hindus in Mauritius emerges as mediated through ideologies centered around the cultural construct of an "ancestral language."
     In this way, I seek to contribute to the analysis of the links between language and groupness, highlighted by both academic researchers as well as social actors in nationalist and diasporic contexts. Inside larger questions of nationalism and diasporic identity, this study then traces the ways in which the social and political world of Indo-Mauritians is constituted and transformed by linguistic images and practices. In order to illustrate these transformations, the dissertation offers analyses of language shift, register differentiation, creolization, as well as the ethnicization of language, stressing how these phenomena are mediated and driven by a preoccupation with the "ancestral" quality of language. I also emphasize how processes of the purification of linguistic practice emerge at the intersection of institutions of the colonial and post-colonial state, transnational Hindu movements, and local readings of the ethnic and socioeconomic "other."

Appadurai, Arjun, Gal, Susan, Kelly, John D., Silverstein, Michael