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December 3, 2022

Nepali Migrant Workers' Use of Tamizh in Chennai: Insights into Adult Naturalisitic Acquisition in a Multilingual Context


Dr. Usha Lakshmanan
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

Time: December 3, 2022. 11:00 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Zoom Link: https://bmcc-cuny.zoom.us/j/89330362868

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Meeting ID: 893 3036 2868
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The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu is a favored destination for migrant workers from other Indian states (e.g., Bihar, Jharkand, Orrisa, West Bengal, and Assam) and from the rural areas of the neighboring country of Nepal due to its comparatively better wages and employment opportunities. My presentation builds upon my previous research on children’s acquisition of Tamil (e.g., Lakshmanan, 2000, 2006, 2021) and centers on adult Nepali migrant workers who have been employed in the multilingual city of Chennai in Tamil Nadu for 10 years or more in the service industry (e.g., as security guards, cooks/chefs at homes and restaurants, hairdressers/beauticians etc.). Tamil, a major Dravidian language, is widely used in informal and formal contexts in Chennai, along with English, and to a lesser extent, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Saurashtra, Marathi, and Hindi. Furthermore, it is not at all uncommon to find people code-switching to weave in and out of two or more languages. A challenge facing Nepali migrant workers who have typically attended only primary school is how to pick up the complex aspects of Tamil “on the fly” after arriving to the multilingual city of Chennai, without any formal instruction, via limited exposure to spoken input. Drawing upon the case studies I conducted in Chennai in 2018 on adult Nepali migrant workers’ use of Tamil, I argue that acquisition of a new language during adulthood, even in uninstructed settings, with access only to spoken input, can indeed succeed. This contrasts with the failure-driven approaches to ultimate attainment in adult second language acquisition. Specifically, I highlight evidence from adult Nepali speakers’ use of verb inflections and case morphology in Tamil and explore the sociocultural and psycholinguistic factors within this acquisition context that seems to facilitate successful acquisition of the complex linguistic aspects of Tamil. The results also reveal an unexpected gender difference, with males outperforming their female counterparts which probably stems from differences in the input and type of interactions in the workplace. To conclude, I discuss insights that can be drawn for a deeper understanding of issues central to adult second language acquisition as well as the broader implications for the development of language and educational programs for migrant workers.

Monthly Lectures 2022 - 2023

2022

Date Title Speaker (Affiliation)
March 05 'Talk to (and with) the hand': African American Language, gestures and the Black body Dr. Renee Blake (New York University)
April 09 Toward an Integrated Framework for Studying the Relationship between Bilingual Language Experience and Cognitive Reserve Dr. Laura Spinu (Kingsborough Community College, CUNY)
May 07 A (class)room of our own: Towards a multimodal grammar of pedagogical conversation on the WhatsApp messaging platform Dr. Cecilia Magadán (National University of San Martin, Argentina)
October 01 Singaporean English in Action Dr. K. K. Luke (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)
November 05 15 Years of Chirila Dr. Claire Bowern (Yale University)
December 03 Nepali Migrant Workers' Use of Tamizh in Chennai: Insights into Adult Naturalisitic Acquisition in a Multilingual Context Dr. Usha Lakshmanan (Southern Illinois University at Carbondalea)

2023

Date Title Speaker (Affiliation)
February 04 Recruiting syntax (and more) to learn the meaning of adjectives Dr. Kristen Syrett (Rutgers University, New Brunswick)
March 04 Multilingualism and heritage language practices amongst third generation Australian Italians Dr. Antonia Rubino (The University of Sydney)
May 06 Proto-Basque and the Single Sibilant Hypothesis: Evidence, reassessment, and implications Dr. Juliette Blevins (CUNY, Graduate Center)