Sindhi Multiscriptality, Past and Present: A Sociolinguistic Investigation into Community Acceptance

Sindhī Multiscriptality, Past and Present. A Sociolinguistic Investigation into Community Acceptance

by Arvind Vijaykumar Iyengar

Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical), University of Pune, India Master of Applied Linguistics (Honours), University of New England, Australia

A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Discipline of Linguistics
School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences

University of New England, Australia, June 2017


This thesis is on the sociolinguistics of writing. It investigates the use of scripts for the Sindhī language of South Asia, both from a diachronic and synchronic perspective. The thesis rst analyses the rich but understudied script history of the Sindhī language from the tenth century to modern times. In doing so, it investigates the domains in which certain scripts were used, and identi es de nite patterns in their distribution. Particular attention is paid to Perso- Arabic and Devanāgarī, which emerged as the two most widely used scripts for the language in the twentieth century. The diachronic analysis draws on several linguistic, literary and other academic works on the Sindhī language and brings to the fore hitherto neglected data on historical script use for the language. The thesis then presents and analyses oral interview data on community opinion on the recent proposal to use the Roman script to read and write Sindhī. The synchronic analysis is based on original eldwork data, comprising in-depth qualitative interviews with fty members of the Indian Sindhī community of diverse backgrounds and ages from various geographical locations.

Empirically, this work is one of the rst to provide a comprehensive diachronic and synchronic review and analysis of script practices in the Sindhī community speci cally from a sociolinguistic perspective. It also provides revealing insights into the kinds of expectations an urbanised, highly educated and socioeconomically successful minority has of a writing system for its language. In doing so, the study challenges the prevalent simplistic claim in the literature that minority communities are desirous of seeing their language in writing. Most importantly, this work indicates the emergence of a so-called new variety of Sindhī phonology in India, which differs subtly from the old variety phonology. The implications of this subtle shift in phonology for Sindhī pedagogical material form a key part of the ndings of this study.

Theoretically, this work contributes to the concept of orthographic transfer, which is the phenomenon of phoneme-grapheme correspondences in a particular orthography being inadvertently applied to another orthography. The study also a rms the presence of a scriptal diglossia, or digraphia, in script use for the Sindhī language, where the use of particular scripts for the language is implicitly determined by domain and context. The potential impact of orthographic transfer and digraphia on the pedagogy of lesser-learnt languages is a key part of the study’s ndings.

Methodologically, the juxtaposition of historical and present-day sociolinguistic factors at play offers a fresh and nuanced look at the rise and fall of scripts in the context of a language with a centuries-old written tradition.

The study concludes that usage of a particular script for a language is not the result of a simplistic binary opposition between authoritarian imposition and voluntary choice. Rather, it is a re ection of several pragmatic and symbolic considerations by the community in question. The thesis puts into perspective the various psychological, socioeconomic and cultural forces at work in determining script use for the Sindhī language. In doing so, the thesis makes several additions not just to the existing body of knowledge on the Sindhī language, but also to the edgling eld of inquiry that is the sociolinguistics of writing. These varied and unique contributions set the study apart from previous research on the subject.

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