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Academic Paper


Title: Sukumar Ray’s “Torture of Language”: An attempted reading
Linguistic Field: Cognitive Science; Discourse Analysis; History of Linguistics; Linguistic Theories; Psycholinguistics; Semantics
Subject Language: Bengali
Abstract: This paper is a meta-commentary on a pioneering paper “bhaSar ottacar” (“Torture of Language,” first published in probaSi, joysTho, 1322 Bangabda [May 1915 A.D.]) by Sukumar Ray, a Bengali nonsense-poet,story-writer playwright, artist and a print technologist. The author of this paper interpreted the discourse of Ray in the light of contemporary or “modern” linguistic theories. Thus, this paper is also a formal elaboration of Ray’s hypotheses on the problems of language. /L//L/When I first went through the reprint Ray’s paper, I was flabbergasted as I found that Ray commented on some fundamental linguistic issues, which were almost unknown at that time, ie, in 1915, in that short paper written in Bangla. /L//L/Ray started his discourse with the “familiarity principle” that disrupts the understanding of “too familiar phenomenon” (it is to be noted that Chomsky, 1972: 24 initiated his discourse on language and mind with this principle). The issues, inaugurated by Ray, include: (a) arbitrariness of signs (in Ray’s phrases: “relations of artificial illogical sounds”) and different types of signs (symbol, icon and index were exemplified by Ray); (b) cultural relativity [as proposed later by Sapir-Whorf in 1929]; (c) the relationship between thought and language and the domination of language over the thought due to the burden of ideology; (d) the existence of signifier without “real” signified and condensation of thought; (e) ideological problems of interpretive translation and changes in meaning (Ray exemplified it with two almost different Bangla translations of Vedic hymns); (f) problems of polysemy, metaphor and metonym; (g) neutralization of meaning; (h) problems of metalinguistic functions. /L//L/However, the main emphasis of Ray was on the controlling power of linguistic order of things over the thought process or cognition and the hermeneutic gap between perception and understanding. As we are living within the prison-house of language and our thought processes are regulated/telescoped/condensed/appropriated/approximated by the linguistic order of things and its subsequent ideology, Ray justifiably called this “torture of language."
Type: Individual Paper
Venue: Kolkata
Publication Info: ObobhaS. II:2.(pp.25-35) Jul-Sept.


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