Walter N. Hakala

Negotiating Languages

Urdu, Hindi, and the Definition of Modern South Asia

Columbia University Press 2016

New Books in Hindu StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Islamic StudiesNew Books in LanguageNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in South Asian StudiesNew Books Network May 2, 2018 Kristian Petersen

For many people language is a central characteristic of their social identity. In modern South Asia, the production of Urdu and Hindi as national...

For many people language is a central characteristic of their social identity. In modern South Asia, the production of Urdu and Hindi as national languages was intricately tied to the hardening of religious identities. South Asian lexicographers, those folks who were most intimately working with language, were at the center of this political realignment. In Negotiating Languages: Urdu, Hindi, and the Definition of Modern South Asia (Columbia University Press, 2016), Walter N. Hakala, Associate Professor of South Asian languages and literature at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, traces the long history of the construction of Urdu as a language of cultural and national identity. Dictionaries are the key source for understanding the changing social and political landscape of South Asia. Beginning in the seventeenth century, Negotiating Languages offers an episodic genealogy of the ideological underpinnings and political consequences of dictionary production. In our conversation we discuss South Asia’s multilingual premodern literature, linguistic authority, “Urdu’s oldest dictionary,” the influence of colonial knowledge production, the changing social and material challenges in 20th century lexicographical production, British lexicographers and their relationship with local linguists, Islamicized Urdu literary culture, and questions of whether non-Muslims could sufficiently produce Urdu dictionaries.


Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. He is the author of Interpreting Islam in China: Pilgrimage, Scripture, and Language in the Han Kitab (Oxford University Press, 2017). He is currently working on a monograph entitled The Cinematic Lives of Muslims, and is the editor of the forthcoming volumes Muslims in the Movies: A Global Anthology (ILEX Foundation) and New Approaches to Islam in Film (Routledge). You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at [email protected].

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