Book: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab

Farina Mir, The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab, New Delhi, Permanent Black, 2010.

Farina Mir’s book is the published version of the Ph. D. she defended with Ayesha Jalal as supervisor. The author is currently Assistant Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Her book is a highly sophisticated study of the vernacular culture in colonial Punjab. It argues that Punjabi vernacular culture “reveals a different story of social and cultural relations that suggested by socioreligious reformists’ tracts, language activists’ propaganda, and the Urdu press” (p. 24). Mainly based on literature published into booklets and other tracts, which were neglected both by the English officers and nowadays by scholars, Mir’s book is a quite innovative study since it gives evidence that the imposition of Urdu by colonial power in Nineteenth Century Punjab did not destroy vernacular culture of Punjab. Her study is mainly based on the exploration of what is usually coined as folklore in a more or less derogatory tone, like for example the different versions of the tale of Hir and Ranjhe. It allows her to demonstrate how vernacular culture, and also the use of Punjabi language, was able to resist State policy as well as religious nationalist discourses.

Farina Mir’s book is the published version of the Ph. D. she defended with Ayesha Jalal as supervisor. Her book is a highly sophisticated study of the vernacular culture in colonial Punjab. It argues that Punjabi vernacular culture “reveals a different story of social and cultural relations that suggested by socioreligious reformists’ tracts, language activists’ propaganda, and the Urdu press” (p. 24). Mainly based on literature published into booklets and other tracts, which were neglected both by the English officers and nowadays by scholars, Mir’s book is a quite innovative study since it gives evidence that the imposition of Urdu by colonial power in Nineteenth Century Punjab did not destroy vernacular culture of Punjab. She demonstrates how vernacular culture, and also the use of Punjabi language, was able to resist State policy as well as religious nationalist discourses.

Michel Boivin


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