Heteroglossia in early imperial print in colonial Calcutta (1780-1820).

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Facsimile: A center for early print (1780-1820)
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earlycolonialprint@gmail.com

Facsimile: A center for early print: 1780-1820 (www.colonialprint.wordpress.com) is looking for essays on the early realm of heteroglossic print in colonial Calcutta (1780-1820). For example, newspapers were printed in multiple languages. The collection of essays will be published by Lies and Big Feet (liesandbigfeet.wordpress.com). Please email: earlycolonialprint@gmail.com or liesandbigfeet@gmail.com.

Within the colonial context in Calcutta, that is around the 1780s or so, when we look closely at the debates and rationale raised on how the early realm of print was to emerge, the concerns were not merely with replacing a manuscript culture, but there was an equally strong emphasis on how beautiful the natives types were. Nathaniel Halhed, in the “Introduction” to the Grammar of the Bengal Language (1778) wrote on the mechanical aspects of the fonts:

The public curiosity must be strongly excited by the beautiful characters which are displayed in the following work: and although my attempt may be deemed incompleat or unworthy of notice, the book itself will always bear an intrinsic value, from its containing as extraordinary an influence of mechanic abilities as has perhaps ever appeared. That the Bengal letter is very difficult to be imitated in steel will readily be allowed by every person who shall examine the intricacies of the strokes, the unequal length and size of the characters, and the variety of their positions and combinations. It was no easy task to procure a writer accurate enough to prepare an alphabet of a similar and proportionate body throughout, and with that symmetrical exactness which is necessary to the regularity and neatness of a fount.

The element of beauty involved in the creation of the types in Indian languages is a factor that has never been considered in how print was construed in Europe. In many ways, such a perspective compels us to be more nuanced in how empire worked in the colonial context, legitimizing the need to invest time, labour, money and people in establishing a realm of print.

The heteroglossic newspaper that emerged, thus, was a pastiche of sorts – and in this particular context, more so as a single news item was printed in multiple languages simultaneously on the same page. This heteroglossic text reveals a particular moment in the initial moments of colonial presence in Calcutta, and in many ways, reflects the multilingual nature of Indian society.

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