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The linguistic and social dimensions of purism

E. A nnamalai


Linguistic purism may be looked upon from the language planning

point of view as the selection of native source for lexical development. The question of choice arises only when a language has contact
with another language. The choice may have been exercised in the
language right from the beginning of its contact with another language
with the non native vocabulary, therefore, never finding a place in
the language, or it may be exercised following the acceptance of the
non native vocabulary over a period of time. In the latter case the
choice is enforced always with retrospective effect in the sense that
the non native vocabulary is disallowed not only in the present and
for the fulure but also is eschewed from the past. This situation of
accepting the non native vocabu lary during a certain period of time
and rejecting it at a later time ariscs under certain social conditions
(Annamalai 1979) and is precipitated
by a puristic movement or
by the policy of a language planning agency.
Language contact induces diffusion of linguistic fea tu res between
languages. Convergence, by which the linguistic distance is reduced
between the languages in contact, is one process of diffusion. The
convergence may be extensive in the grammar but marginal in the
lexicon, as in the contact situation in India, in order to sirnultaneously
maintain linguistic identity and therefore multilingualism and to have
a cornrnon grammar to ease linguistic production and processing in
more than one language. But there are contact situations where lexical
diffusion is very extensive (Heat! 1978).
The lndian ' situa tion of diffusion through convergence illustra tes
that the native vocabulary may be maintained without puristic efforts.
But there are significant differences betwecn the maintenance of
the native vocabulary with puristic efforts and without thern, though
the question of idcntity is cornmon ~o both cases.
Convergence takcs place within ccrtain sociocultura] relations and
patterns between the linguistic communitics in contact
(Annarnalai: Iorthcoming).
One condit ion for convergence to lake



E. Annamalai

The linguistic and social dimensions of purism

place is mass bilingualism

as opposed
to elite bilingualism,
causes borrowing.
in elite bilingualism
is by and large restricted
to the diffusion
of fonns,
though not exc\usively
of lex ical itcrns, whereas convergence
in mass bilingualism
is basically
the diffusion of rules. Purism, manifest in the situation of elite bilingualisrn, rnay be treated as an effort to intercept
or reverse the process
of borrowing.
There is no attested case of reversal of convergence.'
The maintenance
of the native vocabulary
as a mcans of language
in sorne types of convergence
where the languages
are not of equal social status is, for many reasons, not an
of purismo The maintenance
of the native vocabulary
is not ideological,
as it is in the case of purismo It is
and the function
is identity
Because it is
the maintenance
i~ selective and there may be non native
in the converged
language in cerlain lex ical domains. The
is not due lo any planned
(leadcrs), collective (movements)
or inslilutional
Since purism is a phenomenon
relateel to elite bilingualisrn,
it is
that it is initiateel and legitirnized
by the elite. It is symbolic
and has a rhctoric?
which i~ of an elitist kinel. Since the elite has
the prestige and provieles the model for ernulation,
the mass folJows
both in acccpting
the n011 nativo items as welJ as in rejecting
, al differcnt
periods of time. The elite, as a social group exercising
power in the society,
will use lingu ~lic acts, as well
other social
acts, for the acquisition,
and exercise of power.
It is
for this purp ose that the elite uses non nativo iterns in the language
at one time and rejects thern at anothcr
time. This rncans that the
social conditions
must be elifferent
for the lwo e1iffercnt linguistic
acts at two different
points of time. The relation between the sociopolitical condition
and the puristic moverncnt
in Tarnil has been pointcd out in many studies
(Narnbi Arooran
1976, Sivatharnby
1979, and Annamalai
1979). These condilions
rnay be
generalizeel lo apply universally.
Purism is manifest when there is social change affecling the structure
of social control.
Language is an cffcctive
1001 of social conlrol and
the control
may be exerciseel through
thc control
of a language as
a whole or of a variety or style of a language. 1I is cxcrcised by drawing
a boundary
with language and by requiring
with that
language to allow cntry past the boundary, Thc desirc for identification
with the language uscd for boundary
rcveals the social




of the speakers to clirnb up the boundary
wall. Of the two
motives of lex ical diffusion
viz. prestige
anel need-filling,
the former induces
from the prestigious
language to thc other. The prestige is acquired by the language through
the social doruinance
of its speakers and the borrowing
is therefore
frorn the dominant
language to the other. The identification
with this
is identification
with dorninance
and the entry past the
defined by this language is entry into the class of dominance.
The acqusition
of the non native features from a prestigious
may then be an expression
of inclination
to be with the dominant
group anel indication
of success to have reached
that point. When
in social control
is exercised
a language
or a variety of language,
the language of dorninance
changes both syrnbolically
and instrurnentally.
The new language or
is an effective
of who is in power. When there is
in the variety of language with the non native features
a variety
with the native fea tu res, this is purisml Purism may then
be viewed as a tendency
to reject features perceived
as representing
and threateni.ng
the distinct
and therefore
of the dorninarcq,
Any number
of the cultural
syrnbols may be chosen for rejection,
and language is a very cornrnon
choice, with or without o ther cultural symbols. Jt i:., of course, possiblc
to reject the other cultural symbols of the dominant
c1ass and keep
the language,
but this seems to be rare, It is particularly
rare when
a struggle
for change in the structure
of social control is occurring
because language is a good source of rhetoric and ideology in mobilizing
the masses in support of the change.
The intensity of the puristic tendency rnay vary in different socict.cs.
The varying degrees of intensity
with the intensity
of dominance
and thc intensity
of the struggle against it. Though
rnay be only one dominant
language, the puristic cfforts are dirccted
against all the languages
of influence
in order to provide lhe C;111se
with uniform linguistic ideology.
Purism generally has the tendency
to replace the rejected non nativo
Ieatures with the native features which are classical or creatcd frorn
and are without
This is a
natural consequence
of the puristic efforts being elitistJ. The fact that
the puristic efforts concentrate
on the form rather than thc content
the symbolic
nature of the effoits and the importancc
the syrnbols to succeed in the efforts./fhe
of the dominant



E. Annamalai

The Iinguistic and social dimensions o/ purism

language may be not only in the form - in the lexicon and to some
extent in the grarnmatical structure - but also in the meaning. Nevertheless, unlike lexical purism, semantic purism is rarely attempted
nor is it likely to succeed. There are attempts to establish semantic
purity by restoring the meaning of a word to its etymological meaning,
but these are in tellectual exercises without social acceptance.
The fact that the fonns of the language are the instruments of
social control is revealed in many ways. When an orallanguage becomes
written, it becomes a tool for the reorganization of the polltical and
social structure of the linguistic cornrnunity, The written language
rnakes possible centralized
poltical control through bureaucracy
whose functions depend on it (Goody 1977). The mastery of the
written language is necessary for access (o social mobility in the literate
society and it creates a new elite who. in turn, control it and thus become the interpreters of the collective wisdom of the society as codified
in the written language. An important factor in the supremacy of
the Brahmins in India was their exclusive control of the codified
Sanskrit in which the Hindu wisdorn was recorded. The special registers of the written languauc developcd by lawyers, bureaucrats,
and other professionals and the special language varieties like the
High variety of diglossia (Ferguson 1959) which share many characteris" tics of the written language make access difficult for the ordinary
speakers to the doma in s where these special varieties are prerequisites
for success. The script of the written language is also a powerful symbol
signifying certain identity, value, and aspirations. There are numerous
instances of the script of a language changing to reflect sociopolitical
changes. Thc Sharada script of the Kashrniri languuge was changed
to the Perso-Arabic script whenthe
political power was dictated by
Islam in Kashmir. The Meithei script gave way to the Bengali script
when, through Vaishnavism, Bengali became the acloptecl language
of the royal court in Manipur. The native script of the Maithili language
in Bihar was given up in favor of Devanazari when the latter carne to
symbolize cultural revival and political nwakening against the colonial
It is, however, not the case that the form alone plays a TOlein social
control. The ways of expression through the form are important
as well. The professional rcgisters, the elaborated code (Bernstein
J 977), the High variety and so on have their own styles of organizing
thought and expressing it and they crea te problerns of comprehension
and production to those who are not familiar with them. This is also


true of the pure variety of the language. A question then arises about
the TOle of the cornrnunicative efficacy in puristic efforts. Are non
native features removed to improve communication?
Because borrowing occurs through elite bilingualism, the borrowe
non native features hamper communication
to sorne extent for thc
ordinary speakers. It- is necessary to be bilingua' to understand and .
use the language heavily influenced by another language. Nevertheless, the elite benefits from keeping the language barrier and will not
take the initiative to remove the non native Ieatures which are a barrier
to communication.
This initiative is taken by others who have the
potential to becorne an alternative elite gTOUp because of certain
socioeconomic changes which are beyond the control of the existing
elite. This group finds the existing elite language incomprehensibJe
and difficult to master and identify with. In the case of Tami!, use of
Tarnil words in place of foreign words was advocated by the upper
caste non-Brahrnins rising against Brahmin dornination and by the
middle c1ass rising against British domination. Both groups were also
motivated by Tamil revivalisrn. The former, led by scholars, replaced
the Sanskrit, Persian, and English words with the c1assical Tamil words,
which were, in many cases, equally incornprchensible
to ordinary
speakers. They called their cause puristic. The latter group, led by
joumalists and writers, however, replaced only the Jess comprehensible
foreign words with contemporary
words, if they were available, or
newly created words from conternporary
sources. Their cause was
to simplify the language. This suggests that purism does not have
cornmunicative efficiency as its motivation Ior the removal of the non
native items even though it may be included in the rhetoric in support
of purismo Efforts provoked by such motivation are called simplification. A bilingual speaker may use a mix ed variety of Tarnil and
English when he speaks to another bilingual, but he reduces the English
words drastically when he speaks to a monolingual in Tamil. This
speaker cannot be called a purist, and he is an efficient user of language who is sensitive to the language requirement of the speech sil uation. He makes an appropriate choice of code for meaningful linguistic
interaction. This is an instance of code choice for effective cornrnunication. Communicative efficiency is a matter of rneaning and not of
formo A form or acode is selected or rejeeted for its mcaning potential.
and not for its historical origin, for better communicative efficiency.
Purism or words similar to it are used for different linguistic activities in rnany languages. Avoidance of colloquialism in the language





E. A nnamalai

The lingulstic ond social dimensions o[ purism

is considcrcd

ami puristic in many languages. The use of
as codified
in a venerated
trcatisc is logical :1I1d puristic. Some styles of language are considered
and puristic,
Efforls of clussicalizationr
are also called
puristic. The dcvelopment
of a standard dialecn (or standard language
Irom thc uscrs' poinl of view) rcmoving variation amounts to purifying
the languagc for some observers. Puristic tendencies are often strong
when a languagc is codified;
whether this involves giving a writing
systcm to an unwrittcn
lanuuagc, or providing a grammar, or creating
new technical
The reason for this is that the written
forrn is perceived as permanent
ami visible and, like the gramrnatical
treatise which prescribes
Ihe code of conduct,
the written code is


2. What Neustupny (ths volume:212) cal1s idiom may include rhetoric, If we

include under idiom not only the labeling people use to describe their Iinguistic
act but also the language they use lo legitimize the act. Though the symbolic
aspect of purism wi1\ come under the ideology in his framework since symbolism
has an Ideological base, it s societal and basic in my framework.
3. My views on the subject were c1arified and crystalized during the discussion
in the conference, when a different versin of this paper was presented , The
nteractions with Ncustupny were particularly helpful to identify the differences
in emphasis between rus approach and my own. This paper was revised when
1 was a Visiting Fellow al the Osmania Univcrslty, Hyderabad.




these conu.umicativc
and codification
efforts be called
There are theorctical
to restricting
the nolion
of purism lo refer lo a single phcnorncnon. The rejeclion of non native
Ieatures may occur during different linguistic acts, Not all rejections
of non native [eaturcs are acts of purismo Though the rejeetion is
a prerequisite
for purism, it is not sufficient in itself. Purism is a linguistic manifcstation
of a social act to reject dorninance
and asserr'
sclf-idcntit y. 1I ariscs in ccrtain contcx ts of social conflict ami it is
an indicator of chango in thc structurc of social conlrol. It is a societal
aud not <In individual phcnomcnon.
Il is a symbolic act and therefore
in the actual use of th language sorne non native features rnay persist
for their communicative
value. The norm, however, insisted upon
the leaders of purification
is to use only the nativo fcatures, irrcspcctivc of the cornmunicative
Bcing syrnbolic,
affeets thc visible Iorms of the languagc, particularly
thc lexicon.
Being concerned with form, it is amenable lo itstitutionalized
ilnd evcn more so to collcctivist
action such as purism movcments
This way of looking at purism ' helps to reveal the conflict that may
arise in the use of language as an instrumcnr
of social contro) and as
an instrument of cornrnunication.



Annamalai, E,
Movement for Iinguistic purismo The case of Tami1. In E. Annamalai
(ed.) Language movements in India. Mysore: Central Institute of
Indian Languages, 35-39.
(To appear) Convergence: A study o[ Indian languages, Pune: Linguistic
Society of India.
Bernst ein, Basil
Social e1ass. Iinguistic codes and grammatical elements. In B. Bernstein
(ed.) Class, codes ond control. Vol. 1. London: Routledge & Kegan
Ferguson, Charles
Diglossia. Word 15, 325-340.
Goody, Jack
The domestication of the savage mind. Cambridge. Cambridge Unversity Press.
Heath, Jeffry
Lexical diffusion in Arnhem land, Canberra: Australian lnstitute of
Aboriginal Studies.
KaiJasapathy, K.
The Tamil purist movement: A reevaluation. Social Scientist 7:) O.
Nambi Arooran, K.
The Tamil renaissance and Dravidian nationalism 1905-1944, wth
special reference to the works of Maraimalai Atikal. University of
London. Ph,D. Dissertation,

l. Relexificalion of a pidgin or elaboration of a creole through literacy in the
contact languagc that produced the original pidgin are not instances of reversal
of convergcnce as pidginization and creolzation are not cases of convergcnce.

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The politics of a literary style , Social Scientist 6:6.