Language, Education, and Empowerment: Voices of Kumauni Young Women in Multilingual India

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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language planning
language ideology
alternative education
Anthropological Linguistics and Sociolinguistics
Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education
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My research explores the language and education situation in the Kumaun region of North India from the perspectives of rural Kumauni young women and in light of their views on empowerment and their aims for the future. My questions address language and education issues in the Kumaun 1) in relation to national policies and local ideologies, 2) as experienced and negotiated by young women, and 3) as applied in a unique Gandhian educational context. Based at Lakshmi Ashram, a Gandhian boarding school serving disadvantaged girls, I used ethnographic methods, focusing on a group of Kumauni young women. National-level language planning through the Indian Census, Constitution, and educational policies minimize some diversity. Locally, discourses about language and dialect, or bhasha and boli, and mother tongue allow for flexible categories and identities. Medium of instruction also takes new meaning through informal multilingual classroom practices. Each language – English, Hindi, Kumauni, and Sanskrit – is valued in its place or environment and in relationship with the other languages. Meanwhile educational opportunities vary in quality and reputation, including a push for English education. While constrained by social and economic realities, Kumauni young women look for ways to improve their lives. Alternative values advocated at the Ashram, and negotiated by the young women, point to empowerment as involving high thinking, self-confidence, and progress within community. I conclude using the ecology of language and continua of biliteracy to highlight significant themes and exploring the issues of collaboration, community, and ecology in relation to language and education.

Nancy H. Hornberger
Kathryn Howard
Daniel Wagner
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