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Carmen Brandt (Halle)

Script as a momentum of identity formation in South Asia

Besides the large number of languages in South Asia – in India alone 23 languages designated official by the Constitution – the high number of scripts for the various languages makes South Asia one of the most interesting regions for sociolinguists. While some scripts are used for several languages, a small number of languages has more than one script.

The most notable example in this field is the case of the constructed, but today very real dichotomy of Hindi and Urdu – one written in Nagari and the other in a variety of the Perso-Arabic script. Apart from an overview on the reasons behind the manifold perceived and real differences between these two variants of one language, the speaker will present other languages to demonstrate that script is an important tool for identity formation in South Asia.

While, for instance, some scripts were intentionally invented as an alternative to an already existing one in order to strengthen the identity of certain religious or ethnic groups, in other cases old scripts witnessed a revival for the same purpose. Furthermore, some languages are written exclusively in scripts which are also identified with other languages; depending on the size of speakers/writers, the latter case might then have consequences on the status of the tongue as language or dialect. Besides Hindi/Urdu, the following languages too will be discussed as examples of these various phenomena: Konkani, Meitei, Punjabi and Santali.