Page 99 of my dissertation, Schooling Languages: Indigeneity, Language Policy, and Language Shift in Nepal, is both representative and anomalous as part of my dissertation. In my dissertation more broadly, I investigated how an indigenous minority established a footing relative to the national majority, and within their own community. Specifically, I looked at the implementation of a language policy in Nepal that gives each community the right to basic education in their so-called mother tongue, in particular the case of the Dhimal language. Individual chapters of my dissertation are focused on different levels of scale involved in regimentation of languages in education, from national decisions to community debates over entextualizing the language in textbooks, from discourse practices in schools to interactions at home that teach children which languages they should learn. In the chapter that opens on Page 99, I followed three schools: the two government schools that had begun to teach Dhimal language by the end of my fieldwork, and a third that was seemingly ideally situated to do so but did not. I found that, while the noun phrase the state implies a coherent actor with unified goals, the state was encountered by people and institutions (such as schools) as a momentary and fragmentary phenomenon. The decisions that determined the distribution of languages in schools were more directly influenced by alignments of political party affiliations and activism by an ethnic organization than any sort of force from laws and policies.
Page 99 of my dissertation exemplifies one of my analytical priorities, which was to listen to children. Children and young people are crucial actors in the realms of schooling, enregisterment, and language shift, all issues that I was concerned with in my dissertation. Yet scholars who share these concerns frequently focus on adults without providing full attention to children’s perspectives. In the case of the vignette presented on Page 99 (see below), children’s perspectives showed that they had no problem listing Dhimal as one of their school subjects alongside others, and that they even enjoyed it. At the same time, it exemplifies challenges of conducting research with children, whose claims can be difficult to interpret.
My page 99:
On a sunny afternoon in December, near the end of my fieldwork, I asked a group of second grade students about their favorite subject:
1 MW: ani timharuko sabbhandā manparne bishaya kun ho? And what is all of your favorite subject? 2 S1: malāi manparne bishaya, malāi cahi manparne bishaya, uh, kun ho My favorite subject, uh, the subject I like, um, which is it 3 S2: malāi thāhā cha I know 4 MW: la bhanna ta? Ok, say it then 5 S3: eh bhanna lāunu na Yeah, make her say it 6 MW: la bhanna Ok, say it 7 S2: Dhimal Dhimal 8 MW: Dhimal ho? It’s Dhimal? 9 Teacher: Dhimal bhāshā, Dhimal bhāshā Dhimal language, Dhimal language 10 MW: Dhimal bhāshā ho? Timro favorite? ani Kamalko? It’s Dhimal language? Your favorite? And Kamal’s? 11 S2: bhan Say 12 Teacher: ke bhannu timile What do you say? 13 S1: malāi favorite bishaya Dhimal bhāshā ho My favorite subject is Dhimal language 14 S4: malāi pani Dhimal bhāshā Mine is Dhimal too
: (Group interview, 12/2/15)
On being asked what their favorite subject was, one by one, all but one of the students in the class reported that their favorite subject was Dhimal. The one exception reported that she favored GK, or General Knowledge. This exchange should certainly not be taken as a transparent reflection of students’ feelings: the teacher of the Dhimal and GK subjects was hovering over the conversation and prompting students to answer, the students knew that I frequently attended their Dhimal class, and the less confident students tended to echo the answers of the first few students to speak up.
Miranda Weinberg, 2018. Schooling Languages: Indigeneity, Language Policy, and Language Shift in Nepal. University of Pennsylvania, Phd. Dissertation.
Dr. Miranda Weinberg is a linguistic anthropologist of education and currently Visiting Assistant Professor in Linguistics at Swarthmore College. Her research, conducted in Nepal and the United States, investigates how and when language learning spaces, especially indigenous language revitalization, can support social change. You can reach her via email at email@example.com.