Language development and socialisation in Sherpa
AffiliationSchool of Languages and Linguistics
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is currently not available from this repository
© 2015 Dr. Sara Ciesielski
This thesis examines the way in which children acquire Khumbu Sherpa, a Tibeto-Burman language spoken in the Himalayas of northeastern Nepal. The study uses a language socialisation framework to examine the relationship between Sherpa children’s acquisition of language and their acquisition of culture, drawing parallels between the children’s Tibetan Buddhist social environment and language-related caregiver practices. Naturalistic videorecorded data from six focal children, aged between 2;1 and 4;9 at study outset, was collected over a period of two years and forms the core data set for this study. Twenty-four hours of this data was transcribed and analysed in terms of both caregivers’ and children’s directive profiles: the frequency of directive utterances as a proportion of all utterances, as well as the level of explicitness in caregiver and child directives. Results show that directives are very frequent in Sherpa caregiver speech, constituting averages of between 23.7% and 83.3% of all utterances in an hour-long session. Direct imperatives form the bulk of these caregiver directives. Both the frequency and the explicitness of caregiver directives to children decline in a statistically significant manner as the children become older. When compared with children’s speech to their caregivers, Sherpa caregivers’ speech to children has a distinctive directive profile, one that these children then reproduce in their own directives to even younger children. Sherpa children therefore show a high level of pragmatic sensitivity from an early age, tailoring the directive profiles in their speech closely to certain characteristics of their interlocutors. Directives appear to constitute a key means used by Sherpa caregivers to modulate a child’s attention, especially given that typical child-caregiver spatial configurations are characterised by considerable physical distance. Sherpa caregiver directives also carry an array of sociocultural meanings, including the modelling of a high level of attentiveness to actions and their consequences. This focus on the child’s actions, and the consequences of these actions, reflects a pervasive organising concept of Sherpa life: lee, or karma. The findings have implications in the areas of pragmatic development and language socialisation.
Keywordsfirst language acquisition; language socialisation; Sherpa; Tibetan Buddhism; anthropological linguistics; directives; Nepal; child language
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