Language and literacy practices of Kurdish children across their home and school spaces in Turkey: an ethnography of language policy

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ABSTRACT

This study examines the language and literacy experiences of Kurdish minority children during their first year of mainstream schooling in a southeastern village in Turkey. I employed ethnographic research

ABSTRACT

This study examines the language and literacy experiences of Kurdish minority children during their first year of mainstream schooling in a southeastern village in Turkey. I employed ethnographic research methods (participant observation, multi-modal data collection, interviewing, and focus groups) to investigate the language practices of the children in relation to language ideologies circulating in the wider context. I focused on the perspectives and practices of one 1st grade classroom (14 students) but also talked with seven parents, three teachers, and two administrators.

A careful analysis of the data collected shows that there is a hierarchy among languages used in the community—Turkish, English, and Kurdish. The children, their parents, and their teachers all valued Turkish and English more than Kurdish. While explaining some of their reasons for this view, they discussed the status and functions of each language in society with an emphasis on their functions. My analysis also shows that, although participants devalue the Kurdish language, they still value Kurdish as a tie to their ethnic roots. Another key finding of this study is that policies that appear in teachers’ practices and the school environment seemed to be robust mediators of the language beliefs and practices of the Kurds who participated in my study. School is believed to provide opportunities for learning languages in ways that facilitate greater participation in society and increased access to prestigious jobs for Kurdish children who do not want to live in the village long-term. Related to that, one finding demonstrates that current circumstances make language choice like a life choice for Kurdish children. While Kurds who choose Turkish are often successful in school (and therefore have access to better jobs), the ones who maintain their Kurdish usually have only animal breeding or farming as employment options. I also found that although the Kurdish children that I observed subscribed to ideologies that valued Turkish and English over their native language, they did not entirely abandon their Kurdish language. Instead, they were involved in Turkish- Kurdish bilingual practices such as language broking, language sharing, and language crossing.