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Torsten Tschacher. However, what a host of references and internet pages fail to convey is the chimerical quality of Arabic-Tamil, for the closer one looks at the phenomenon, the less clear its contours seem to become. Does the Arabic script as employed for this idiom record the language as it is spoken?
Or does Arabic-Tamil rather encode a version of the common written register of Tamil, a register considerably different from spoken varieties of Tamil? The answers to this question have differed depending on the context in which the answer was made and the social location of those answering it. Yet most discussions that employ the terms Arabic-Tamil and Arwi fail to address the different uses to which these terms have been put and the historical contexts of their enunciation.
Merely the Arabic letters? The script functions in the same way as other Arabic-based alphabets, with one major peculiarity: the vast majority of documents are fully vocalized, that is, the diacritical marks to write short vowels, which are dropped in most languages employing the Arabic script, are used almost universally in Tamil-language documents, making them far easier to read than other applications of the Arabic script, but also giving them a cramped visual impression.
A number of letters modified by diacritical marks have been introduced to represent sounds needed for Tamil but not present in Arabic. In the case of the Arabic script as employed for Tamil, these include two new vowel diacritics and nine modified consonant signs; in addition, one finds additional characters in scholarly descriptions and popular primers, but these signs are in my experience never encoun- tered in actual inscriptions, manuscripts, or printed books. The two vowel signs that encode the short vowels -e- and -o- are basically identical and differ only in their placement, with -o- written above and -e- written below the letter.
All others are optional and can be represented by other letters, usually the non-modified basic form of the letter. In all other cases, Arabic letters can be used to represent more than one Tamil letter, or more than one Arabic letter can be used to represent the same Tamil letter. While Urdu-speaking Muslims had initiated lithographic printing in Madras in the s, Tamil-speakers did not make use of these printing presses. Urdu-speaking Muslims, often from families who had moved to the region from further north barely a generation earlier, formed the main source of information on South Indian Muslims for the projects of knowledge-generation initiated by the colonial state in the nineteenth century.
But apart from these common elements of the Arabic-Tamil alphabet, there are some unusual letters as well. Apparently, Leyden was unable to disen- tangle the various kinds of Arabic alphabets in use in South India at the time, even when faced with direct evidence that his list of alphabets included letters hardly used or omitted other, common ones.
The assumption that Tamil, when written with the Arabic script, had to follow the familiar patterns of Urdu continued in British official circles. Indeed, the most exact description of the Arabic-Tamil script in the colonial period was not provided by any of the colonial officials and missionaries resident in South India and Ceylon, but by the French linguist Julien Vinson —who worked on the basis of a single early-nineteenth century marriage contract that had been copied by his father, a French colonial official, in Karaikal in Was there a clear-cut distinction between literacy in the Arabic script and literacy in the Tamil script, i.
We can quite confidently deny this proposition.
While certainly not every literate individual could read both scripts, there seems to have been a substantial overlap between groups literate in Arabic script and those literate in Tamil script. This can be demonstrated by the presence of both scripts as part of the same manuscript or printed book.
Thus, it is not infrequent to find the names of owners of an Arabic-script book or marginal notes in Tamil script figure 3. Apparently, individual readers were able to navigate more than one script.
If there was no clear-cut distinction between individuals literate in the Arabic and those literate in the Tamil script, then what about the texts that were written in these scripts? Here, the evidence is somewhat more suggestive. As far as printed texts are concerned, the Arabic script was more popular for prose texts rather than poetic ones. However, this does not mean that there was a clear boundary between different genres and types of texts in terms of script.
A good number of religious prose treatises and hagiographies were published in the Tamil script, some even mimicking in Tamil the rhyming titles of Arabic works. In many cases, the same text can be found in both Arabic and Tamil script versions.
This was the only kind of Muslim poetry that also circulated widely among Hindus, and thus had commonly been printed by Hindus in the Tamil script since the nineteenth century. At the same time, such songs are similarly found in Arabic script.
Both scripts were thus in general use among Muslims, and while there were certainly indivi- duals literate in only one of the two scripts, many had knowledge of both. The resulting situation, that the same language in the same region is written by the same people with two different scripts, is peculiar though not unique, as Ronit Ricci has pointed out by comparing the situation in Tamil with that in Javanese.
What exactly caused this bi-scriptural situation to develop in the Tamil country is unclear. Office of booksellers Hajee M.
Perhaps it is necessary to turn the discussion around: rather than assuming that the use of both the Tamil and Arabic scripts was an expression of identity, we need to be attentive to the fact that our concern with the reasons for this bi-scripturalism results from a situation in which script has become a marker of identity, and the presence of two scripts in the same social context therefore seems to require an explanation. For nineteenth-century Muslims in South India, the situation seems hardly to have been noteworthy at all.
That Muslims were largely unconcerned with the question of script is strikingly illustrated by the absence of a specific term to distinguish Tamil written in Arabic script from Tamil written in Tamil script. Rather, text after text, especially in the nineteenth century, simply refers to the local language as Tamil.
In any case, the term continued to appear occasionally in Arabic-script Tamil publications,33 but it was boosted in Muslim publishing primarily through the activities of Hajee M.
Aroundhe changed the name to Shahul Hameedia Press, and relocated in to a new address on Triplicane High Road, where the press remains located to this day figure 4. Malcolm G. Goldsmith, a missionary of the Church Missionary Society, reported a conversation he had with the Qazi Muslim judge of Pulicat. About forty-five years later, a court interpreter in Singapore by the name of M.
Indeed, Goldsmith hardly knew any Tamil. To understand these cases, one has to keep in mind that Tamil is characterized by a great degree of diglossia, i. Beside colloquial spellings, one also comes across changes in morphology.
Even more problematic was another issue, one that may be closely related to the curious pattern of bi-scripturalism that we have encountered above. I would suggest that the use of the Arabic script for Tamil arose from situations that required the use of Arabic and Tamil language on the same page of a manuscript, as the fact that Arabic is written from right-to-left, while Tamil is written from left-to-right, makes it almost impossible to alternate sentences in the two languages if two different scripts are used.
The most important of these situations was translation, when Arabic texts were rendered sentence by sentence into Tamil, and thus came to preserve certain structures of the Arabic syntax in the Tamil translation.
In order to understand the peculiar prose style of Muslim authors, one has to take into account that prior to the nineteenth century, prose writing was rare in Tamil, or, to put it more correctly, it was limited to certain functions, namely commentaries and theological treatises.
Muslim prose comfortably fitted into this model of textual production. But a couple of transformations took place in South Indian society and textual practice that changed the situation fundamentally. The first of these transformations was the development of a new prose style in wider society that was not only utilitarian, but also aesthetically pleasing and capable of being used both for learned scholarly discourse as well as literary fiction. The most important vehicle of this new prose was the novel, but newspapers, school-books, and elite discourse on religious and antiquarian interests played their own role in defining and popularizing a new kind of prose.
While the main aim of Protestant missionaries, the large-scale conversion of South Indians, remained unachieved, the textual transformations that missionaries as well as the British government had desired did come about, but on terms dictated not by European, but by Indian interests. And similarly unintended by European administrators and missionaries was another fall-out of the universalization of textualities — the idea of a Tamil nation.
Given the dominance of Tamil nationalism in the political discourses of present-day Tamil Nadu, it may indeed be difficult to imagine a time without the notion of a Tamil nation.
With time, however, the stance of the dominant castes changed towards acceptance of a model of linguistic nationalism, where a shared language signalled belonging and political rights. A simple glance at the background of the mostly men who formulated these discourses about Tamil identity reveals that they were mostly of a Hindu and dominant-caste background. The utilization of the Arabic script and a heavily Arabicized vocabulary could now be interpreted as a deliberate withdrawal from the ideal of universalism.
Dominant-caste elites were not really interested in Muslim ideas, but that did not mean that Muslims had the liberty anymore to stand aside from the question of the nation and its language. The general attitude towards Muslims and their traditions is perhaps best summed up in the autobiography of U.
Similarly, it was expected of Muslims that they engaged with the Tamil canon as conceived by the dominant-caste elites, while similarly making their texts available to general scrutiny.
Contemporary observers were keenly aware of the progressive aliena- tion of Hindi and Urdu and the political ramifications of that split, especially after the foundation of the Muslim League in If this attitude had been limited to non-Muslim elites, it might have had little impact on Muslim textual cultures. But increasingly, Muslims who had passed through the same higher education system as their peers came to voice similar opinions as well. Daud Shah.
Daud Shah joined the colonial administration and rose to the rank of sub-magistrate in By that time, he had begun engaging with English-language Muslim reformist literature, especially the works produced by Muhammad Ali — and Khwaja Kamaluddin —important scholars of the Ahmadiyya movement. None but these two reasons seem to present themselves. Firstly, if Arabic-Tamil was as incomprehensible as claimed, why worry about the effects of this literature?
At the same time, if educating poor and ignorant Muslims about their own religion was the need of the day, what was the problem in using colloquial language? By this, they consciously or unconsciously aided two developments. One was that they strengthened the position of non-Muslims in evaluating Muslim texts, by measuring Muslim prose against standards that had been developed largely without the participation of Muslims.
As the s and s progressed, fewer and fewer books were published in Arabic script.
In a curious turn of events, it was the obliteration and fading away of Arabic-Tamil as a script and a style that made it possible to imagine it, finally, as a separate language. Mimicking Arabic? Both as script and as style, the use of Arabic-Tamil indeed decreased substantially in the course of the twentieth century, so much so that by now, texts are merely reprinted. Neither are new Tamil texts published in the Arabic script nor is the peculiar Arabic-Tamil prose style utilized anymore.
The reasons for this decline remain unstudied, but it is unlikely that it had much to do with the reformist critique voiced during the s.
It is more likely that the decline of Arabic-Tamil script and style had, yet again, more to do with pragmatic reasons, among which may be: the increase of public schooling among Muslims, which made them more familiar with both the Tamil script and the modern prose style; the extension of periodicals, for which moveable-type printing was far more practical than lithography; and improved technologies that enabled the easy reproduction of both Arabic and Tamil script on the same page, thereby obviating the necessity to maintain a single script for both Arabic and Tamil in a bilingual document.
As we have seen, this was not the case: Arabic-script Tamil and Tamil-script Tamil were largely complementary and even overlapping categories that did not map onto separate community identities. Yet proceeding from the assumption that Arabic-Tamil as a script and a style mapped neatly onto community identity, it has been possible to segregate Arabic-Tamil from other forms of Muslim textuality in Tamil.
And the greater the conceptual difference posited between these forms of textuality and the lesser the familiarity with actual instances that might be described as Arabic-Tamil, the more Arabic-Tamil takes on the character of a separate language that requires translation to be under- standable. This remaking is commonly assumed to involve primarily a change in script and a reduction of the Arabic vocabulary, but this is only a part of the picture.
The conflict over whether Ceylonese Muslims were Tamilians had begun in earnest in Aprilwhen Ponnambalam Ramanathan —the Tamil representative in the Legislative Council, had presented a paper on Muslims in Ceylon.
In a sweeping argument, Ramanathan brushed aside all claims that Ceylonese Muslims were descen- dants of Arabs and argued that they should, on account of their language, be counted as Tamils who had converted to Islam. But in the course of the s, Muslims had begun to lobby for a separate Muslim representative, a demand that Ramanathan sought unsuccessfully to counter with his article.
TSCHACHER to members of the lower castes; given the condescending opinion of Muslims he displayed in his article, there is little reason to believe that he considered Muslims any more capable of represent- ing themselves. This meant a rather far-reaching reinterpretation, for it ignored the differences of style and dialect among Muslim idioms of Tamil and differentiated them as a single entity from non-Muslim varieties of Tamil.