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Register levels of ethno-national purity: The ethnicization of language and community in Mauritius

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 February 2004

Department of Anthropology, Washington University, Campus Box 1114, Saint Louis, MO 63130-4899, USA,


Language is involved in processes of group identification in that it provides a focus for explicit discourses of identity and constitutes a field of less overt practices for creating groupness. Drawing on examples from Mauritian television broadcasting, this study traces the ethnicization of Mauritian Bhojpuri as a “Hindu language” through the hierarchization and subsuming of linguistic practices under larger language labels with ethno-national significance. Purist forms of Mauritian Bhojpuri that are locally perceived as “intermediate” registers between Hindi and Bhojpuri are used to represent Hindi as a language spoken in Mauritius, and at the same time to link Mauritian Bhojpuri ideologically to Hindu identity. This blurring of language boundaries serves a Hindu nationalist agenda in a diasporic location by establishing new links between linguistic forms and ethno-national values.Fieldwork in Mauritius was carried out in 1996 and 1997–1998 and was supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the University of Chicago Council for Advanced Studies in Peace and International Cooperation (CASPIC). I would like to extend my sincere thanks to these institutions. Research in Mauritius was also facilitated by the University of Mauritius, where I would especially like to thank Vinesh Hookoomsing. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Second University of Chicago/University of Michigan (“Michicagoan”) Graduate Student Conference in Linguistic Anthropology and at the Working Group for Urban Sociolinguistics at New York University. My thanks go to the organizers and participants of these events, from whose comments I greatly benefited. I am also indebted to Lou Brown, Sara Friedman, Susan Gal, Vinesh Hookoomsing, Judith Irvine, Michael Silverstein, and two anonymous reviewers for Language in Society for their careful readings and helpful suggestions at different stages in the writing of this article. Of course, any mistakes are my own. Most of all, I am indebted to the many Mauritians without whose help and friendship my research would have been impossible.

Research Article
© 2004 Cambridge University Press

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