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Children’s multilingualism and literacy learning in a Tamil Hindu Temple Mrs. Arani Ilankuberan

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Children’s multilingualism and literacy learning in a Tamil Hindu Temple Mrs. Arani Ilankuberan [email protected] 04/09/2010 SS18. About BeLiFS.

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about belifs
About BeLiFS
  • Becoming literate in faith settings: Language and literacy learning in the lives of new Londoners (BeLiFS) is a research project funded by the ESRC.
  • This is a 3-year team ethnography project on four faith groups:
  • Ghanaian Pentecostals
  • Polish Catholics
  • Bangladeshi Muslims
  • Sri Lankan Hindus
belifs research questions
BeLiFS Research questions
  • What is the scope and nature of literacy practices in each faith setting?
  • How do teaching and learning take place during faith literacy activities across different settings?
  • In what ways have faith literacy activities changed over time and in the London setting and how are these changes perceived across generations?
  • How does participation in faith literacies contribute to multilingual identities?
research questions
Research questions
  • 1. What kind of linguistic (Tamil, Sanskrit and English) and multimodal resources do participants (the priest, the children and their family members) draw upon to construct social relations and different forms of knowledge in the context of the Education Ceremony?
  • 2. What kind of material and symbolic boarders do participants reproduce through the faith-based literacy practices involved?
theoretical framework
Theoretical framework
  • Socio-cultural approaches to language and literacy learning where apprentice members of social/cultural groups are initiated by those who are more experienced into the relevant literacies and language forms necessary for membership (Heath 1983; Barton & Hamilton 1998; Gregory & Williams 2000)
  • Vygotskian and neo-Vygotskian theories focusing on how children actually go about learning (Wertsch 1985; Tharp and Gallimore 1988; Cole 1996; Rogoff 2003)
  • Field narratives
  • Photographs
  • Audio recorded data
  • Video recorded data
sri lankan tamil migration to the uk
Sri Lankan Tamil migration to the UK

Driving forces of Tamil migration worldwide and in the UK:

  • education
  • civil war in Sri Lanka

Four main migration waves to the UK:

1. 1940s

2. 1960s

3. 1980 - 1990s

4. 2000s (secondary migration from Europe)

navarathiri the nine nights festival
Navarathiri The Nine Nights Festival

Goddess Saraswathi

Palm leaves symbolic of knowledge

Veena, a musical instrument

Swan, her vehicle is the embodiment of discernment that is a valued quality in education

Seated upon a white lotus flower


eduththodakkam the education ceremony
Eduththodakkam The Education Ceremony
  • The ceremony involving children and their initiation into literacy is called EDUTHTHODAKKAM in Tamil.
  • In the Temple the Priests conduct the ceremony and guide the child in tracing their first letter in rice.
  • It can also be done at home by parents, grandparents and teachers too.
eduththodakkam the education ceremony1
Eduththodakkam The Education Ceremony

At London Sri Murugan Temple

vijayadasami eduththodakkam
Vijayadasami Eduththodakkam

Tray of fruit: bananas and oranges, incense sticks, a split coconut and leaves: namely of two varieties - Mango and Betal.

Tray of rice: white rice, red can also be used too

languages used in ceremony
Languages Used in Ceremony
  • Sanskrit (liturgical language)

Priests chanting prayers throughout all the religious services conducted in the Temple.

  • Tamil (community language)

Priests communicate in Tamil to the devotees who also used Tamil to communicate amongst themselves. He asks them information and to perform actions in Tamil. Tamil hymns are also used in Temple prayers and are sung by devotees too.

  • English (majority language)

One family requested that their child be initiated in the English alphabet too therefore the child also traced the letter ‘A’ in rice

vijayadasami eduththodakkam6
Vijayadasami Eduththodakkam

What children come to see

  • Statue of Goddess Saraswathi central to the ceremony
  • Trays of rice and fruit in a neat row
  • Priests performing the ceremony using oil lamps, flowers, holy water and holy ash
  • Parents performing actions in prayer
  • Priests guiding their and other children’s hand through the tray of rice writing the first letter of the Tamil alphabet
  • Printed handout of the Tamil alphabet given to them by the priest
vijayadasami eduththodakkam7
Vijayadasami Eduththodakkam

What children come to hear

  • Priests chanting in Sanskrit:

‘OM Vaani Thunai’ OM Saraswathi’s blessing

‘Matha, Pitha, Guru, Theivam’

‘Mother, Father, Teacher, God’

  • Devotional music played throughout the Temple
  • Conversations in Tamil where the child’s name and star sign is asked by the Priest
  • The reciting of the Tamil alphabet
vijayadasami eduththodakkam8
Vijayadasami Eduththodakkam

What children come to learn

  • Beginning to understand the connection between the written letter and its accompanying sound
  • Repeating sounds of the Tamil alphabet
  • Tactile movements to the shapes of the letters
  • Hand and eye coordination
  • Listening to and following instructions by elders
concluding thoughts
Concluding thoughts
  • Participants drew on a range of linguistic and multimodal resources to construct and represent knowledge which served to socialise children into Tamil language, literacy and culture and Hindu faith
  • Participants had prescribed roles which were associated with different degrees of access to different forms of knowledge (e.g. knowledge associated with the faith, the liturgical language, Tamil literacy and cultural practices)
  • Material borders: faith-based literacy practices travelled from the country of origin to the UK and how they opened up spaces for potential transformation in the local context
  • Symbolic borders: the child is initiated into Tamil literacy- the initiation functioned as “rite of passage” from non-literate to becoming literate mediated by faith-based literacy practices