February 27, 2011

Voices from the past

Sohini Chattopadhyay reports in OPEN Magazine (26 February, 2011) that the records of India’s first and only Linguistic Survey, conducted by the British Raj over 1914-29, are now available on the internet, thanks to Shahid Amin, professor of history at Delhi University.
The professor is an impatient man, with a penchant for audacious projects. “This is incredible material, I didn’t want it to lie in some stuffy library in the West where only research scholars could access it. The people who really know these languages might be living in a village,” says Amin. So he proposed that the gramophone records be digitised, all 242 of them, and put up on the net where everyone could access it.

Six years later, with the help of a US federal grant, the University of Chicago and his own resourcefulness, Amin’s big idea has materialised: http://dsal.uchicago.edu/lsi/ has all 242 gramophone recordings, categorised by the language group it belongs to, the year and place of recording. And it’s free, open to all.
The original intent behind the recordings was to help train new entrants to the Indian Civil Service, but under George A. Grierson of the LSI, the project was expanded in scope to become a more ambitious survey. As a result, the audio clips now available online include such treasures as the only extant recordings of the lost art of Dastangoi, as practiced by the legendary story-teller Mir Baqar Ali. Here's the Delhi dastango, narrating a story in Urdu.

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