The multilingual turn in literary studies emphasizes the fairly recent emergence of a monolingual attachment to language. While this rightly calls into question the academic focus on monolingual competencies and offers a substantial area of inquiry for scholars working with the linguistically diverse regions of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, this essay posits that the persistence of multilinguality among historical actors from these regions does not merit a shift away from monolingualism in contemporary scholarship. This argument derives from the claims analyzed in this essay, made by South Asian writers in colonial India, about the singularity of one's own language (swabhasha) and the writers' anxieties to protect this language from vulgar speech (gramyam). Building on contemporary work on the vernacular, the essay seeks to draw renewed attention to the role of speech in language debates in Telugu, a language whose particularity has not become a metonym either for the nation (like Hindi) or for a pan–South Indian identity (like Tamil). In tracing the movement from vulgar speech to proper language in this archive, this essay reframes vernacularity as an ethical compulsion premised on the common.

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