Legal Diglossia: Modeling Discursive Practices in Premodern Indic Law
Washington and Lee University; Washington and Lee University - School of Law
December 5, 2010
BILINGUAL DISCOURSE AND CROSS-CULTURAL FERTILISATION: SANSKRIT AND TAMIL IN MEDIAEVAL INDIA, Whitney Cox and Vincenzo Vergiani (eds.), Collection Indologie, 121. Institut français de Pondichéry / École française d’Extrême-Orient, 2013, pp. 411-455.
This article proposes to analyze the socio-linguistic practices documented in inscriptions from South and Southeast Asia between the fourth and sixteenth centuries as a type of “functional diglossia” characteristic of legal discourse in states influenced by the transregional Dharmaśāstra tradition in Sanskrit. This diglossia can take two forms. Sanskrit itself may be used as an acrolect, either alone or in bilingual records, where it has primarily expressive or ceremonial functions. But the focus in this article is on the other form: the use of a highly Sanskritized, formal and formulaic register of the local vernaculars. Starting with some observations about the impact of Sanskrit legal discourse on Old Khmer and Old Javanese legal records, comparable inscriptions in Old Tamil are examined in detail, noting the influence of first Prakrit and then Sanskrit on legal idiom. It is concluded that use of this Sanskritized register reflects not simply the prestige of Brahmanical high culture but also the perceived value and utility of an imported specialized conceptual system of law and administration. This study further suggests that the introduction of written legal documentation, simultaneous with the spread of Brahmanical legal ideas, led in turn to the formal recognition of local customary norms as law, in keeping with the Dharmaśāstric principle that customary norms constitute Dharma.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 47
Keywords: code switching, register, legal diglossia, custom, customary law, norm, recognition, administration, comparative, ancient, documentation, Dharmashastra, Dharmaśāstra, India, Dharma, Hindu law, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Sanskrit, Javanese, Khmer, Tamil
JEL Classification: K10, K40
Date posted: December 6, 2010 ; Last revised: April 1, 2013