Sonia Das

Sonia Neela Das

Assistant Professor of Anthropology

Ph.D. 2008, M.A. 2003, Michigan; B.S. and B.A. 1999, Stanford

Office Address: Rufus D. Smith Hall 25 Waverly Place New York, NY 10003


Phone: 212-992-7476

Fax: 212-995-4014

Curriculum Vitae

Areas of Research/Interest

linguistic anthropology, language ideology, heritage language education, urban multilingualism, transnationalism, political economy, francophone Quebec, diasporic/mobile South Asians.


2012. La francophonie and beyond: Comparative methods in studies of linguistic minorities. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 22(3): In press.

2011. Rewriting the Past and Reimagining the Future: The Social Life of a Tamil Heritage Language Industry. American Ethnologist 38(4): 774-789.

2009. Review of Little India: Diaspora, Time, and Ethnolinguistic Belonging in Hindu Mauritius.
 Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 19(2): 328-330.

2008. Between Convergence and Divergence: Reformatting Language Purism in the Montreal Tamil Diasporas. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 18(1): 1-23.

2008. The Talk of Tamils in Multilingual Montreal: A Study of Intersecting Language Ideologies in Nationalist Quebec. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 8(2): 230-247.   

Current News/Projects
Updated November 2012

I am currently on leave during fall 2012, although I look forward to returning in the spring to teach the introductory undergraduate class, “Anthropology of Language.” Last year I taught this class and a new upper-division undergraduate seminar, “Language, Power, and Identity,” in addition to teaching the core graduate class on Linguistic Anthropology. I also completed my two-year service as a core member of the Society for Linguistic Anthropology and Committee for Human Rights’ Joint Task Force on Language and Social Justice. Finally, I continue to co-organize the New York Linguistic Anthropology Work Group (NYLWAG), an organization that hosts local scholars working in the NYC area who meet regularly to workshop original research.

This past summer I worked on my book manuscript, titled Mapping Heritage: Tamil Voices in Franco-Anglo Rivalries, which analyzes the multilingual practices of Indian Tamil immigrants (population ~ 3,000) and Sri Lankan Tamil refugees (population ~ 30,000) living in the linguistically polarized city of Montreal, Quebec. In this city, where francophone and anglophone institutions compete to win the language loyalties of immigrants and minorities who are described as speaking different “heritage languages,” Tamils are commonly imagined as a monolithic ethnolinguistic group due to their intertwined histories, mutually intelligible languages, and similar religious beliefs and practices. Yet within the diaspora itself, Sri Lankans will claim to speak a classicalist style of “Written Tamil” and Indians a modernist style of “Spoken Tamil” as their respective heritage languages in order to publicize their distinct ethnonational identities. These activities have contributed to a vibrant and profitable Tamil heritage language industry in Quebec. My book examines the ideologies and practices of this industry and compares it with an earlier industry in mid-19th century colonial India, from where Tamil-speaking indentured workers sent to work in overseas sugar plantations were similarly caught up in imperial struggles between francophone and anglophone regimes. Such an unexpected historical convergence suggests that the causes, mechanisms, and consequences of contact are embedded in everyday social practices through which people, material artifacts, and discourses circulating through time and space are put to service in authenticating diasporas and legitimating empires and nations.

My recent publications include a research article in American Ethnologist analyzing the different language ideologies associated with Quebec’s Tamil heritage language industry and a review article soon to be published in the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology exploring the merits and problems associated with using comparative methodologies to study linguistic minorities across different francophone societies and institutions.  For future projects I continue to explore and develop new comparative vantage points from which to investigate the communicative practices and language ideologies of people inhabiting intersecting francophone and South Asian worlds.

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