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Item Code: IDG102
Publisher: Indian Institute Of Advanced Study, Shimla
Language: English
Edition: 1977
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.9" X 5.8"
Weight 110 gm
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About the Book:

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".

About the Author:

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 or disorganisation.

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.


  Preface v
1. Communication Matrix of Criminal Subcultures 1
2. The Secret Parlance of Pandas 19
3. Dalali Boli : Milieu and Function 53
Secret and Secondary Number-Names :
  A Functional Perspective
  Appendix 103

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