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Multilingualism among the Sikkimese Tibetans in Finland

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Title: Multilingualism among the Sikkimese Tibetans in Finland
Author(s): Alminas, Juozas
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Arts
Degree program: Master's Programme in Linguistic Diversity and Digital Humanities
Specialisation: General Linguistics
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2023
Adopting the narrative approach of linguistic biographies as the data collection method, this thesis explores the linguistic practices and ideologies of Tibetans living in Finland. Although the presence of many multilingual communities in Finland is known, not many studies on the topic have been done, and there hasn’t been any previous work involving Tibetan speakers. I was curious as to what Tibetans themselves think about their language and the ways to maintain it in an expatriate setting. I came to discover, that the present-day linguistic situation and linguistic attitudes can only be understood through the socio-cultural landscape of consultants’ native Sikkim in India. Through this research I hope to answer two main questions: what are Tibetans’ linguistic ideologies and how do the consultants’ multilingual practices manifest in daily life? The collected data is based on fieldwork interviews conducted with Tibetan consultants. In line with a more inclusive approach towards the linguistic fieldwork, I have tried to present the speakers through their own words, allowing them to speak for themselves. The lives of the consultants have been shaped in the highly multilingual landscape of Sikkim. The linguistic ideologies are deeply rooted within that landscape, but also within the Tibetan Buddhism. Consequently, the puristic ideologies and expectations of a good linguistic performance can sometimes overshadow and hinder Tibetan language learning. However, the demands of the present world are beginning to reshape individuals’ identities, whereby the linguistic performance is not anymore a preclusion for linguistic and ethnic belonging. In the second part of the thesis I analyze how the consultants’ linguistic ideologies have been shaped and what languages have a performative function and in what contexts. I go on to discuss the linguistic practices of the consultants and propose the label ‘translanguaging’ as the most adequate do describe their multilingual performance. The results of the study showcase a multilayered and complex linguistic and social landscape in which Tibetans live. I suggest that the studies geared towards small-scale multilingualism could offer a deeply holistic approach through which to study such landscapes and situations. Which in turn would shine more light on language vitality and its usage. The study’s findings suggest that the vitality of Tibetan language lies in its ability to adapt to the speakers’ world and mix fluidly with other languages. With this work I hope to bring forth the importance of individuals’ ideologies in studying linguistic change and contribute to our understanding of complex multilingual practices.
Keyword(s): Tibetans multilingualism Sikkim language ideologies (trans)languaging

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