Universiteit Leiden

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CADS Research Seminar | Ecological Perspectives on Indian Multilingualism

Monday 3 February 2020
Pieter de la Court
Wassenaarseweg 52
2333 AK Leiden

Ecological Perspectives on Indian Multilingualism: Voices of Women and Educators in the Himalayan Foothills

Educational opportunities are limited for young women growing up in the Himalayan foothills of northern India, where my dissertation fieldwork was based, especially for speakers of the Kumauni language. Focusing on issues of multilingualism and literacy, my research draws upon literature in educational anthropology and applied linguistics that highlights the need for involving local voices, the power dynamics influencing those voices, and the importance of awareness-raising for empowered local decision-making. Language policies and education initiatives sometimes run into roadblocks as they collide with the wants and needs of the communities they are intended to serve. This tension motivated my research in North India, along with the tension between presenting outside opinions as opposed to hearing and trusting the voices of the people. For example, openness to multilingual education for minorities is increasing in Indian language and education policy, and yet, even native speakers themselves often consider minority languages irrelevant. Providing a radical alternative to government schools for the past sixty years, Lakshmi Ashram boarding school, founded in 1946, follows Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophies of holistic education and village-level production. The school primarily serves disadvantaged girls from throughout the Kumaon, using Hindi medium. The philosophies of Lakshmi Ashram contrast with mainstream views and demonstrate an alternative source of influences on a group of young women. I draw on the stories, perspectives, and ecological metaphors shared by young women trained at Lakshmi Ashram and young women in surrounding villages. The struggles and successes described by their educators also provide insights into educational and linguistic policies as situated in their unique contexts.

About Dr. Cynthia Groff

Dr. Groff’s research addresses multilingualism in society, encompassing bilingualism, biliteracy, language policy, language ideology, and minority identity. Her diverse international projects share a common focus on adequacy of education for linguistic minorities and the experiences and discourses of minority youth. She is currently a Marie Curie fellow at the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs.

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