Whereas most modern South Asian vernacular literatures emerged in concert with nationalism, Tagore moved Bengali literature to its contemporary colloquial form even as he became ever more critical of Indian nationalism. This essay follows Tagore’s anti-nationalist and pan-Asianist predilections, considering his transformations of Bengali towards an increasingly vernacular literature in concert with those of Chinese literature. The essay focuses on Tagore’s 1901 story “Nastanirh,” known in translation as “The Broken Nest,” and contextualizes it within Tagore’s Bengali writings on Bengali literature. These writings are framed with respect to Tagore’s Anglophone ruminations on language while in China, as well as his interactions with Chinese linguistic reformers such as Hu Shi. Tagore’s 1917 dichotomy between the language of books (পুঁথির ভাষা) and that of speech (মুখের ভাষা) maps intriguingly onto early twentieth-century Chinese vernacularization debates and offers a transnational method for the study of vernacularization that decenters European models.

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