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Iranian Studies Seminar Series Past

Friday, March 13, 2015 ,
4:00 PM
- Toronto, Canada

Arguing with Words: Lexicons as Sources for History

Prof. Walter N. Hakala
Department of English and Asian Studies Program
University at Buffalo

The study of pre-print genres of Persianate lexicography draws on various disciplines, including sociolinguistics, material history, philology, and especially literature to make sense of the kinds of terms that are included in these texts, the ways in which they are arranged, and the conditions of their production. I will discuss the challenges in interpreting lexical evidence in the study of the nisab genre of vocabularies in verse. Memorized by children across much of South Asia well into the nineteenth century, extant nisab-namahs are numerous and are occasionally ingenious in their local adaptations. I will explore the ways that words, either individually or collectively, might provide insights into the lives of the people who composed, memorized, and consulted these vocabularies. Case studies include the innocent mention
of atishak (a term that would later come to denote syphilis) in a 13th-century children's primer, strange pharmacological equivalences asserted in a versified Hindi-Persian vocabulary prepared by the emperor
Babur's physician, and scribal interpolations in verses dealing with theological terms. How, for example, might "surface reading" be used to identify broader patterns in language use and material culture? How might we combine these emerging practices with more traditional literary approaches to help avoid the pitfalls of merely mining these texts for their content?

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