Kali Charan Bahl, a pioneer in South Asian scholarship, 1917-2018

Kali Charan Bahl, a pioneer in South Asian scholarship, 1917-2018

Associate Professor Emeritus Kali Charan Bahl, a world-renowned linguistics and literature South Asian scholar, passed away at the end of March. In 1967, he joined the University of Chicago faculty in the Departments of South Asian Languages and Civilizations and Linguistics, receiving tenure in 1973 and retiring in 1994. 

A prolific author who wrote several books and made pioneering contributions to the study of both South Asian linguistics and literature, Bahl also contributed to the study of several South Asian languages. Upon retirement, he generously donated a large portion of his personal collection of books and documents to the Regenstein Library’s South Asia Collection, benefiting current and future scholars.

Bahl is representative of the rigorous linguistic study and expertise that has always undergirded the scholarly program of these departments. Joining the department at its inception, his research and pedagogical innovations set the foundation for the study of Hindi at the University of Chicago, even while Bahl continued to contribute to the scholarship on the Punjabi, Rajasthani, and Munda languages.

After receiving his master’s degree in Hindi from Panjab University and a master’s degree in linguistics from Yale University, Bahl completed his PhD in Hindi and Linguistics from Panjab University in 1965. By the time that he retired in 1994, Bahl had built a robust language program at the University of Chicago, teaching Hindi at all levels and offering special seminars on Hindi grammar.

His research ranged widely from linguistics to literature, from religious studies to folklore, and from Punjabi in western India to Korwa in eastern India. In the 1960s, Bahl contributed to Norman Zide’s Munda Language Project, researching Korwa, a Munda language of the Korwa people in northeastern India.

He wrote extensively about Hindi, Rajasthani, and Punjabi, including studies of their language structure, multi-volume reference dictionaries, and grammar guides. Bahl’s work on Indian folklore and literature compared the oral and vernacular sources for intertwined figures of Radha and Krishna in the bhakti poetic imaginary.

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April 27, 2018