Decentring Grierson: Language mediation in the linguistic survey of India (1898-1928)

Key information

5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Brunei Gallery

About this event

The SOAS History seminar returns with an exciting line up of speakers for April/May 2024. Recognising the deep and uneven impact of the Covid pandemic on the academic community and research culture, our seminar this term will focus on engaging and supporting late-stage PhD students and Early Career Researchers.


Purba Hossain (Cambridge).

All our speakers are ECRs in History based in and around London and while the seminar is open to all we would like to extend a particularly warm invite to all doctoral students and ECRs at SOAS and other local institutions to join us for these in person sessions, and for drinks and refreshments after the talks.


In the 1890s, the Linguistic Survey of India (LSI) was established under the aegis of George Abraham Grierson to document and classify languages across British India. By 1928, the LSI had published 19 volumes that covered 179 languages and 544 dialects – languages of 290 million people. This paper aims to decentre Grierson and argues for seeing Grierson’s Indian collaborators, assistants, and transcribers as crucial actors in creating a linguistic understanding of colonial India. 

It asks three questions: If the LSI represented a move away from Sanskrit and classical languages in favour of regional languages, to what extent did it entrench non-elite translators and language mediators into the colonial Indian state? How do we write a history of the LSI that decentres Grierson when Grierson had full control over its archives? And, can we locate a politics of un-acknowledgement and hierarchy of expertise in the way in which Grierson wrote about his assistants and transcribers?


Please feel free to contact the convenor Eleanor Newbigin ( for more information.

The seminar is open to all; no registration is required. 

Image credit: taken from Linguistic Survey of India 1898-1928.