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Akshya Saxena

Assistant Professor of English

I am an assistant professor of English and a 2021-23 Dean’s Faculty Fellow. I study twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature and media of the English-speaking world, focusing on South Asia and Anglophone Africa. I research how linguistic meaning becomes intelligible across practices of word, image, and sound. “Is there a contemporary theory of language? What is it?” These are the big questions that drive my scholarship. Located in the global South, I am particularly attuned to racialized and caste-marked 

practices of mediation that shape language. I am committed to the decolonial possibilities of comparative methodologies and work across South-South political geographies as well as Hindi, English, and Urdu media. 

My first book Vernacular English: Reading the Anglophone in Postcolonial India (Princeton 2022) tells the story of English in India as a tale not of imperial coercion or global linguistic massification, but of a people’s language in a postcolonial democracy. Through the example of English in India, Vernacular English returns to an enduring question in literary theory and philosophy: How does a language mean? In response, it radically reimagines what is readable—and thus, knowable—about a language. It explores how English lives in other Indian languages and media forms, and centers embodied experiences of listening, watching, remembering, and speaking English in the Anglophone world. The book articulates a new postcolonial theory of the English language, as it explores what happens when, in its journey worldwide, the English language faces those who see or hear the language but can neither read nor speak it 


I am also the co-editor (with Pooja Rangan, RaginiTharoor Srinivasan, and Pavitra Sundar) of Thinking with an Accent: Toward a New Object, Method, and Practice (University of California Press 2023). This volume brings together thirteen scholars of diaspora, media, literature, gender, education, law, language, and sound who examine case studies of call centers, surveillance, literature, voice synthesizing software, transcription algorithms, accent reduction programs, and sign languages. Accent, the volume argues, is not an index of identity in one’s speech. Instead, accent is an event and a powerfully coded mode of perception that happens in the interaction of bodies and media. Against its commonplace understanding as a stereotype or deficiency, the volume mobilizes accent as a practice of dialogical and multimodal inquiry that does not stigmatize the speaker but furthers coalition between the speaker and the listener. 


Currently, I am working on my second monograph, tentatively titled Linguistic Utopias: Infrastructures of the Future in the Global South, that extends my research beyond South Asia and English to explore a theory of language from the Global South. It asks: what happens to scholarly understanding of language when we shift attention from modern Europe, where most of the language philosophies that dominate Western academic discourse were born, to the contemporary media-saturated Global South? The book examines institutional sites where language is operative and implicitly theorized to imagine political futures. It turns specifically to contemporary English and Hindi literature,internet trolling, humanitarian education ventures, border surveillance, indigenous language ecology, and postcolonial state-building.