Sociology of Secret Languages is a challenging work on a subject which is at one original and exciting. It seeks to provide, in a multi-dimensional and multi-level frame, and authentic account of the special and secret languages of some small, cohesive, and closed groups in relation to their socio-cultural matrix. The four studies included in this monograph delineate how the language disguise helps the speakers not only to carry on their profession, legitimate or illegitimate, but also to maintain and reinforce their group exclusiveness and we-feeling. In the words of Professor Samarin of the University of Toronto, this book is "a valuable contribution to Indian studies as well as to the study of argots".
Dr. R. R. Mehrotra (b. 1936) has been on the faculty of Banaras Hindu University from 1959. He obtained M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in English from Banaras Hindu University and diploma in Teaching English from the Central Institute of English, Hyderabad. As a British Council scholar he spent one academic year at the University of Leeds where he studied general linguistics with specialisation in anthropological linguistics. He is Member of the Royal Society of Literature of the United Kingdom and Fellow of the Institute of Linguists, London. He was a Visiting Fellow (1971-74) at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla, where he completed the present monograph in addition to Language and Social Interaction (forthcoming).
Dr Mehrotra has published several papers in learned journals on sociolinguistics, applied linguistics, and literary criticism. In socio-linguistics he has been particularly interested in social dialects, speech events, and problems of bilingualism.
This monograph describes some secret modes of communication
within the broad framework of the sociology of language. This
aspect of language behaviour has not yet received the disci-
plined attention of scholars in our country, although one can
easily identify it as a "strategic research site" which provides
impetus and occasion for exploring new dimensions of a
complex social structure and its linguistic remifications. My
study of the secret parlances, included in this volume IS a
preliminary venture in this direction.
The monograph includes four studies in "speech fellowship"
of certain closed groups who seek to conceal their communi-
cative content from out-groups. The first chapter deals with
some general principles and patterns of argot in relation to the
deviant behaviour of certain criminal and fringe groups. The
other three studies are heavily data-oriented and are based on
my fieldwork among the panda, the dalal, and other profes-
sional groups, particularly those belonging to the city of Varanasi.
This effort apparently assumes some knowledge of the Hindu
social structure in general and the socio-cornmercial character
of the city of Varanasi in particular. I deliberately choose
Varanasi as the field of my investigations, for I have been
intimately acquainted with the behaviour--both linguistic and
non-linguistic-of its people for more than thirty years.
Besides Varanasi, some other cities of North India like Delhi,
Mathura, Allahabad, and Gaya were also visited with a view
to collecting comparative data. It is important to mention in
this context that my intention in pursuing these studies has
been purely academic and should not be construed as being
motivated by the desire to expose the nefarious activities of
the concerned groups. The last chapter describes the esoteric
number names used by the silk merchants, the dalal, the panda,
and the fruit and vegetable venders of Varanasi and a few
other places in relation to the specific roles and professional
requirements of the groups using them. An attempt has been
made in this chapter also to give an account of hattha, the
secret finger language of diamond dealers and the situations in
which it is used.
The analyses in the present monograph, in the main, are
polysystemic, multi-level, and ad-hoc; entailing frequent and
unrestricted crossing over into the domains of history, culture,
psychology, sociology and anthropology-an approach which
frowns upon the segregation of academic disciplines and believes
with Newman that knowledge is one and indivisible. I must
confess that both linguistics and anthropology are fields that I
entered by the back door. Having no professional competence
in either of these subjects I was obliged to take the position of
a lay student of socially motivated language behaviour.
Additionally, the absence of satisfactory model, the exigencies
of extensive fieldwork involving multiple hazards, and the
complexities of theoretical orientations implicit in this kind of
cross-disciplinary study imposed severe constraints on me in
making my analysis exhaustive and complete. Much remains
to be said and from many other points of view. The study
will offer, I hope, some insights into how a secret lexicon and
its patterning are related to a corresponding social organisation
It is a very personal need for me to express my deep sense
of gratitude to Professors William J. Samarin, Dell Hymes,
and John Pride who offered encouragement as well as some
very helpful suggestions and critical comments which illumi-
nated my path and saved me from a number of pitfalls.
My greatest debt, however, is to the Indian Institute of
Advanced Study, an august and congenial home for scholars,
which offered me a Visiting Fellowship but for which this
monograph would not have been written. Professor S. C. Dube,
Director of the Institute, deserves my very special thanks for
extending ungrudging help and for never allowing me the
luxury of losing heart.
Secret and Secondary Number-Names :
A Functional Perspective
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