On not being able to read or speak Malayalam: language and region in Kerala
Abstract This paper attempts to read aspects of language, history, and literariness historically from the perspective of both Brazil and Kerala. It is also an attempt to compare two very distinct places from within a framework centred on the South. Initially, region and nation are discussed, as well as modernity and development, besides the issue of thinking South-South connections from an anthropological perspective. Next, the matter of the complex connected histories of Kerala within the Indian Ocean is mentioned, including Portuguese colonial history. The image and influence of Latin America in Kerala is briefly brought up, especially in what concerns literary influence. There follows an extended discussion of issues of literacy and the rise of the novel in Kerala as well as the historical intricacies of the construction of Malayalam as a modern medium. A contrast with the literary construction of modernity in Brazil is made, and the importance of English in Kerala is accordingly highlighted as well as the issue of the coloniality of Portuguese within Brazil's complex creolized history. An analysis of the pioneering novel of Chandumenon is offered, and a comparison with a novel in Brazil is subsequently sketched. The different historical contexts of nineteenth century Brazil and Kerala are stressed. The close inter-relatedness between issues of language, nation, and region is emphasised as well the internal complexities of modernity in both regions.
Keywords: Brazil - Kerala - Indian Ocean - Malayalam - Portuguese - English - Syriac - novel - region - nation-state - modernity
Fernando Rosa is an anthropologist and historian based in Melaka, Malaysia. His main interest is in Indian Ocean cultural studies, and he has accordingly carried out research in several Indian Ocean locations, in particular Cape Town, Kerala, Macau, and Melaka as well as in Brazil and the Caribbean. He works on languages and processes of creolization. He has published in journals in both Portuguese and English as well as in various edited collections in English, most recently in African Cultural Studies, Social Dynamics, and Cultural Dynamics. He is currently completing a book manuscript on “The Portuguese in the Creole Indian Ocean.”