Center for the Study of Language and Society

Language and Sexual Modernity in India’s Expanding Middle Classes

Tuesday, 2019/04/02, 16:15


The Forum Language and Society is a series of guest lectures on sociolinguistic topics. Doctoral students of the GSH are credited with 0.25 ECTS per guest lecture attendance. CSLS MA students are credited with 1 ECTS after visiting 6 guest lectures.

Event organizer: Forum Language and Society
Speaker: Kira Hall (University of Colorado Boulder)
Date: 2019/04/02
Time: 16:15 - 17:45
Locality: 106
Hauptgebäude
Hochschulstrasse 4
3012 Bern
Characteristics: open to the public
free of charge

The rise of India’s global economy has reinforced a perception of English as a language of sexual modernity within the expanding middle classes. My talk explores this perception in the Hindi-English joking routines of urban youth in Delhi during the first decade of the new millennium. Their jokes feature the longstanding ethnic figure of the Sardarji as circulating in modernity but lacking the English competence to understand modernity’s sexual semiotics. Although the humor supports a middle class narrative of progress that temporalizes urban, English-speaking, and ethnically unmarked subjectivities as superior, the lesbian and transmasculine youth who participate in these routines—still criminalized under Section 377 when this fieldwork was conducted—shift this narrative by positioning sexual knowledge, and the queer subjects who have it, at modernity’s forefront. My analysis reveals how sexual modernity, here viewed as constituted in everyday interaction through competing configurations of time, space, and personhood, relies on normativity even while defining itself against it.