My dissertation, Learning Language, Transforming Knowledge: Language Socialization in Amdo, Tibet, examines young children’s social and linguistic development in China’s western borderlands. Based on fifteen months of language socialization research with infants and children aged three months to seven years old, Learning Language, Transforming Knowledge demonstrates the persistence of place-based linguistic diversity amidst rapid urbanization and the associated rise of standard language ideologies.
My dissertation “passes” Ford Madox Ford’s test because the ethnographic examples described on page 99 situate my research within broader anthropological discussions about cultural reproduction amidst linguistic change. In Amdo, kinship relationships and spiritual connections to the homeland constitute diverse mother tongues as indexes of place-based belonging. Despite an overt ideological emphasis on language standardization in greater Tibet and western China, Amdo children continue to acquire their family’s mother tongue (Tib. yul skad) as their first language.
Page ninety-nine summarizes place-making practices in young children’s play. These play routines emplace the yul skad in the village homeland and, at the same time, allow children to innovate in the yul skad. From the time they are mobile, children spend their days in groups of related peers, moving throughout the expanded space of the village. Children use movement alongside verbal interaction to embody a form of place-based belonging that is simultaneously social and spiritual. For example, in the peer group, “children invoke skora, or circular movement, in multiple spatial frameworks. Daily play at the mani khang [local temple]…unfolds alongside adults’ circumambulation…While adults perform skora, children mirror their movements through games, including hide and seek (Amdo: bi-ʱtsʰe, [a code-mixed word whose first syllable is borrowed] from the Chinese verb 蔽 [bi, ‘to conceal’])” (Ward 2019: 99). Through games such as bi-ʱtsʰe, children solidify their peer relationships by iconically reproducing spiritual practices linked to the village homeland. At the same time, they use their multilingual verbal repertoires to develop unique ways of speaking among the village peer group. Through this play routine, children therefore reconstitute affective ties between the mother tongue, the kin-based peer group, and the spiritual center of the village homeland.
Shannon Mary Ward. 2019. Learning Language, Transforming Knowledge: Language Socialization in Amdo, Tibet. New York University, Phd.