Sociolinguistic Aspects of the Linguistic Visuals across the Ganges in Varanasi

Author: Anil Thakur, Pursotam Kumar (Indian Institute of Technology (BHU), India)
Speaker: Anil Thakur, Pursotam Kumar
Strand: Sociolinguistics
Session Type: General Session


The paper reports an initial study of some of the sociolinguistic aspects of the linguistic visuals (signs and symbols including alphabets and scripts) across the landscape of the Ganges in Varanasi. The primary focus and the source of the data are the ghaats (banks) and the neighboring galiis (narrow lanes) of the Indian city of Varanasi, a heritage city with rich socio-cultural diversity further enriched by its complex linguistic landscape and still continuing and lively display of some of the ancient traditions. Varanasi happens to be one of the most sought after tourist destinations for both the domestic and international tourists including the salvation seekers and settlers. The lively display of city’s linguistic diversity equally matches that of its socio-cultural diversity. An amalgamation of a large number of major as well as minor Indian languages along with several foreign languages from across the globe adorns the city with a rich heritage of linguistic diversity. The visual display of the city of Varanasi is an interesting interplay of the complex visuals of the Ganges ghaats, the narrow galiis, the busy bazaars and the bustling temples. One of the main components of this complex display of diversity is at the level of interesting and complex interplay of diverse speech in the form of myriad slogans, sign-boards and advertisements on shops, restaurants, walls, boats, trolleys and ghaats’ road and stairs; hawkers’s hue and cry, beggars heckling, commoners casual conversations, chats and pandas (priest-workers) code of negotiation to convince their clients. The visual linguistic interplay is visible at the levels of both the forms and the functions. The complexity of linguistic interplay further deepens because of diverse socio-cultural variables. From intermixing of diverse scripts and language to designing fonts shape, size and color, there are certain linguistic and sociolinguistic aspects that determine the direction of the design of the linguistic visuals at display. Some of the illustrative instances are innovative blends of spellings, scripts and alphabets that reflect not only the commercial concerns of the users but also their socio-cultural affinity and linguistic solidarity with the target tourists and customers. References Heller, Monica; Adam Jaworski; Crispin Thurlow (2014). “Introduction: Sociolinguistics and tourism- mobilities, markets, multilingualism”. In Journal of Sociolinguistics 18(4). DOI:10.1111/josl.12091 Holmes, Helen Kelly (2016). “Theorizing the market in sociolinguistics”. In Nikolas Coupland edited Sociolinguistics: Theoretical Debates (Part II: Language, markets and materiality). CUP Online. Mehrotra RR (1977). Sociology of Secret Languages. IIAS, Shimla.

Keywords: Linguistic visuals, Varanasi, Sociolinguistic aspects.