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French-Speaking Worlds: How Arabic Influenced the Evolution of Vernacular Literatures and Anticolonial Thought in Egypt, Indonesia, and Senegal

Wed May 29th 2024, 4:30 - 6:00pm
Event Sponsor
Department of French and Italian
Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages
France-Stanford Center for Interdisciplinary Studies
Stanford Global Studies Division
Building 260, Pigott Hall
450 Jane Stanford Way, Building 260, Stanford, CA 94305
Rm 252

Please join French-Speaking Worlds: Then and Now for a talk by Annette Damayanti Lienau (Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, Harvard University).

"How Arabic Influenced the Evolution of Vernacular Literatures and Anticolonial Thought in Egypt, Indonesia, and Senegal"

Sacred Language, Vernacular Difference (Princeton University Press, 2023) offers a new understanding of Arabic’s global position as the basis for comparing cultural and literary histories in countries separated by vast distances. By tracing controversies over the use of Arabic in three countries with distinct colonial legacies, Egypt, Indonesia, and Senegal, the book presents a new approach to the study of postcolonial literatures, anticolonial nationalisms, and the global circulation of pluralist ideas. Annette Damayanti Lienau presents the largely untold story of how Arabic, often understood in Africa and Asia as a language of Islamic ritual and precolonial commerce, assumed a transregional role as an anticolonial literary medium in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By examining how major writers and intellectuals across several generations grappled with the cultural asymmetries imposed by imperial Europe, Lienau shows that Arabic—as a cosmopolitan, interethnic, and interreligious language—complicated debates over questions of indigeneity, religious pluralism, counter-imperial nationalisms, and emerging nation-states. Professor Lienau's presentation will explore how France aimed to limit and replace Arabic literacies in its West African colonies, along with how writers sought to offer alternatives to both the dominance of Arabocentric and the Eurocentric hierarchies during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Unearthing parallels from West Africa to Southeast Asia, Sacred Language, Vernacular Difference argues that debates comparing the status of Arabic to other languages challenged not only Eurocentric but Arabocentric forms of ethnolinguistic and racial prejudice in both local and global terms.


Hosted by the French-Speaking Worlds: Then and Now Research Group, sponsored by the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages Research Unit and co-sponsored by the France-Stanford CenterStanford Global Studies, the Center for South Asia, and the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies.

This event is part of Stanford Global Studies’ Global Research Workshop Program.