SHESL Conference 2022

Documentation and Description of Asian Languages: History and Epistemology

January 26-27-28, 2022

Maison de la Recherche, INALCO, Paris

Scientific co-organizers: SHESL, HTL, ICT and Pays germaniques

This conference proposes to address, from a historical and/or an epistemological point of view, the ways in which Asian languages have been documented and described. “Asia” is used here in the wide sense which the French Société asiatique gives to it, that is to say as designating an area going from the Maghreb to the Far East. 

By “activities of documentation and description of Asian languages” we mean:

– On the one hand, the collection of linguistic data in all its forms (word-lists, constitution of archives, linguistic surveys, questionnaires, audio and/or video recordings, corpora, databases, etc.);

– On the other hand, the development of tools for representing a language within a synchronic or a diachronic approach: writing systems, grammars, monolingual dictionaries, lexica, translation tools (e.g. bi- or tri-lingual dictionaries), manuals, rhetorical and poetic treatises, etc.

Any knowledge related to Asian languages has to be addressed as a historical reality, that is to say as an intervention carried out by actors situated in a specific here and now, and occupying a specific epistemic perspective with a view that extends backward (i.e. as far as their own “tradition” is recalled) and possibly forward too (i.e. toward what they aim to accomplish); in other words, actors have to be situated with respect to their historical and epistemic coordinates, their time, their society and culture, their “horizon of retrospection” and possibly their “horizon of projection” (Auroux 1989 : 13). The idea therefore is to study, through the course of history, the various manifestations of linguistic knowledge and documentation related to Asian languages, as well as the evolution of these manifestations. And this study must be undertaken within a fundamentally reflexive perspective.

In this context, we welcome proposals dealing with:

– the “protagonists” of the documentation/description of Asian languages (as well as their cultural environment), whether they are persons (traditional Asian scholars, missionaries, Orientalists, philologists, grammarians, linguists, translators, etc.) or institutions (Fort William College of Calcutta, etc.);

– the projects related to the documentation/description of Asian languages: creation of institutions (Asiatic Societies of various Western countries, congresses, French Institutes in the Near and Middle-East region, etc.), realization of large-scale projects (like the Linguistic Survey of India);

– the methods and strategies implemented for the teaching of Asian languages: interactions with indigenous scholars and scholarly traditions, myths and realities of the “autodidact” approaches of Western scholars, access to relevant materials for the study of the languages (collections of manuscripts and their circulation, libraries…); use of a well-known Asian language for getting access to another (e.g. Manchu and Chinese, Chinese and Japanese, Sanskrit and Persian);

– the theoretical backgrounds of the documentation/description of Asian languages: use of Western descriptive categories or of indigenous categories; extension of the Greco-Latin model to Asian languages or of the model elaborated for one Asian language to other Asian languages (phenomenon of “Extended Grammars”, cf. Auroux 1989 and 1994, Aussant 2017, Guillaume 2020); strategies adopted to deal with complex phenomena, blind spots of descriptions, etc.;

– the methodologies of the documentation/description of Asian languages (the various kinds of grammar/dictionary/manual, transcription, translation, annotation, etc.);

– the aims of the documentation/description of Asian languages (the institution of a language, the establishment and regulation of a literary language, the development of an internal or external linguistic development policy, the teaching of a language, censuses, mapmaking, preservation of endangered languages, cultural interest, etc.);

– the tools and modalities of the transmission of knowledge related to Asian languages (didactic usages and concrete practices of teaching: interlinear translation, repetition, etc.).

This conference proposes therefore to draw up a sharp analysis of the linguistic knowledge related to Asian languages, produced in and out of Europe, as well as contexts in which this knowledge has been produced and circulated. The aim is to clarify the ways in which knowledge is determined, more or less directly, by the complex identities of the protagonists and the institutions which play a role in its elaboration. Hence, it is also an occasion to focus on the very notion of “Asian language”, in Asia/the Orient (does the notion exist there?) as well as in Europe, through the pervasive category of “Eastern languages” (and its numerous variants).

Submitted proposals (please provide a detailed summary – between 2.000 and 2.500 signs, spaces included – as well as a detailed bibliography) must clearly fall within a historical and/or an epistemological perspective. They can deal with one or several Asian language(s), considered at any period of time.

Request for information:

Papers may be delivered in English, French, German, Italian or Spanish.


Auroux, Sylvain, 1989. « Introduction », dans Auroux, Sylvain (éd.), Histoire des idées linguistiques, Tome 1 : La naissance des métalangages en Orient et en Occident, Liège, Mardaga, p. 13-37.

Auroux, Sylvain, 1994. La révolution technologique de la grammatisation – Introduction à l’histoire des sciences du langage, Liège, Mardaga.

Aussant, Émilie (dir.), 2017. « La Grammaire Sanskrite Étendue » (numéro thématique/thematic issue), Histoire Épistémologie Langage 39.2.

Dew, Nicholas, 2009. Orientalism in Louis XIV’s France, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Engberts, Christiaan, Paul, Hermann, 2019. Scholarly personae in the history of orientalism 1873-1930, Leiden, Brill.

Espagne, Michel, Lafi, Nora et Rabault-Feuerhahn, Pascale (dir.), 2014. Silvestre de Sacy : le projet européen d’une science orientaliste, Paris, les Éditions du Cerf.

Guillaume, Jean-Patrick (dir.), 2020. « La Grammaire Arabe Étendue » (numéro thématique/thematic issue), Histoire Épistémologie Langage 42.1.

Kornicki, Peter Francis, 2018. Languages, scripts, and Chinese texts in East Asia, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Larzul, Sylvette & Messaoudi, Alain, 2013. Manuels d’arabe d’hier et d’aujourd’hui, Paris, Éditions de la BNF.

Messaoudi, Alain, 2015. Les Arabisants et la France coloniale : savants, conseillers, médiateurs, 1780-1930, Lyon, ENS Éditions.

Messling, Markus, 2012. Champollions Hieroglyphen. Philologie und Weltaneignung, Berlin, Kulturverlag Kadmos.

Pollock, Sheldon, Elman, Benjamin A. & Chang, Kevin Ku-Ming, 2015. World Philology, Cambridge, London, Harvard University Press.

Rabault-Feuerhahn, Pascale, 2008. L’archive des origines. Sanskrit, philologie, anthropologie dans l’Allemagne du XIXe siècle, Paris, Les Éditions du Cerf.

Raj, Kapil, 2007. Relocating Modern Science: Circulation and the Constitution of Knowledge in South Asia and Europe, 1650-1900, Basingstoke, Palgrave MacMillan.

Xavier, Angela Barreto & Zupanov, Ines G., 2015. Catholic Orientalism: Portuguese Empire, Indian Knowledge (16th-18th centuries), New Delhi, Oxford University Press.

Zwartjes, Otto & Hovdhaugen, Even (dir.), 2004. Missionary linguistics: selected papers from the First international conference on missionary linguistics, Oslo, 13-16 March 2003, Amsterdam – Philadelphie, J. Benjamins.

Société d'histoire et d'épistémologie des sciences du langage