(De-)Limiting the Universal: Engaging with Arabic in Muslim Tamil Poetry

In: Philological Encounters
Torsten Tschacher Freie Universität Berlin

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This article explores how the encounter of Arabic with Tamil discourses on language limited as well as enabled a particular instantiation of Islamic discourse. It argues that, rather than allowing a hyperglossic extension of Arabic grammatical and poetical discourses to Tamil, Muslim Tamil poets clearly demarcated the respective domains of Tamil and Arabic grammar, thereby making each relevant only to the language it originally defined. The prime space of interaction between the two languages was afforded by Arabic vocabulary, as Tamil grammar implicitly permitted the utilization of Arabic words in Tamil poetry. The equalization of the two languages in the realms of grammar and poetics was, however, threatened both by Arabic’s simultaneous status as a divine language and by the porousness of the boundary between the two languages occasioned by ignorance of the system of equivalences created through learned discourse.

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