Date of Award

2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Education

First Advisor

Nancy H. Hornberger

Second Advisor

Asif Agha

Abstract

What happens when a language is allowed into school for the first time? How do policies and characterizations of languages travel through time and space? How do official metasemiotic regimes relate to linguistic behaviors and their interpretation, and what do we learn from this about phenomena such as indigeneity and states? In this dissertation, I examine these questions through the case of Dhimal, an indigenous Tibeto-Burman language spoken by around 20,000 people in the eastern plains of Nepal. Recent political changes in Nepal, a country with substantial cultural, religious, and linguistic diversity but longstanding one-nation one-language policies, guaranteed all communities the right to education in their mother tongues. Implementation of this bold provision has been a site of political struggle, shaped by relations of power and inequality between languages and their speakers. At the same time, speakers of minoritized languages increasingly demand schooling in English, and many have shifted to using Nepali in daily life.

Working in the traditions of ethnography of language policy and semiotic anthropology, I investigate citizenship, indigeneity and language policy at multiple scales of time and space. Following a brief history of language in education policy in Nepal, I discuss three government schools that have or have not introduced a Dhimal language subject, demonstrating how agents and their affiliations to political parties, not just linguistic or ethnic groups, determined school-level language policy. Through analysis of a textbook lesson as it was written and revised, I show how the voicing structure of a single text illustrated conflicting goals among the participants in a single language revitalization project. At the classroom level, teaching methods influenced by the metasemiotic projects described in the prior chapters shaped teaching methods that focused on demonstrating equivalence and separation between named languages. Outside of school, language shift was taking place due to discourse patterns in which young people were never expected to produce Dhimal language, while close examination of these and other interactions demonstrated that no matter what speech forms children produced, they were never heard by adults as speaking Dhimal.

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