East India Company and Language Symposium

Kate attended a symposium at the British Library where scholars from as far afield as Helsinki, Peshawar and Hong Kong discussed the influence of trade-related contact from the seventeenth century on both European and Asian languages.It was fascinating to find names familiar from the CLC project cropping up in the course of the talks, for instance Richard Cocks who traded in Japan around 1620 and William Hedges who was the EIC’s first agent in Bengal.  Interesting too were the accounts of language learning over the centuries, including James Flint being marooned in the mid-eighteenth century in order to learn Chinese by ‘immersion’ (thanks to Kingsley Bolton for this information), and how learning an Indian language eventually became compulsory for British civil servants. Shazia Sadaf  spoke about how early loans into English from South Asian languages, mostly nouns denoting basic concepts, were later used as building blocks for adjectives and verbs, and how eventually a whole complex, coded variety of English, used only by the British colonial administrators amongst themselves, arose. This is the language that is described in Yule’s Hobson-Jobson newly reissued in CLC, which Kate took with her to London, precipitating an animated discussion of ‘kedgeree’ over coffee.

Inspired by the papers, we have added several new items to our ‘wish-list’ for the next phase of CLC, when a further cluster of Asia-related titles will be added to those already published in our lists on linguistics, religion and history.

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