JOPOL 1(2019)

Whose Autobiography? A Look at the Unlost

“As a critique on the discipline, contributions to the colonial history of linguistics and to postcolonial linguistics were written in a way that treated linguistics as an agentive, autonomous subject: linguistics did certain things, made and unmade, constructed and erased. Consider, as one example among many, Joseph J. Errington’s introductory remarks on his Linguistics in a Colonial World (2008:viii): ‘Knowingly or not, willingly or not, colonial linguistics carried out projects of physical and symbolic violence, some of them counting clearly as […] unspeakable evils’.

Here and elsewhere, the discipline acts and behaves like those who get disciplined into it, work in it and write about, or for it: a whale that swallows prophets. And as time passes and the whale swims here and there, it becomes the topic of writing. And as in much older visions of what happens in the interior of whales, this writing takes place within — mostly within: who else but linguists (and historians of course) would write on the history of linguistics – and tells stories and narrates history from the perspective of those who have for a long time been internalized by it. And therefore, writing about disciplinary history tends to resemble autobiographic writing: one identifies with the discipline, in a way.”