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“Is Jaffna Tamil the Best?” Producing “Legitimate” Language in a Multilingual Sri Lankan School



Drawing on research in the Tamil-medium stream of a multilingual Buddhist National school in Kandy, Sri Lanka, this article explores how teachers engage with, negotiate, and contest sociolinguistic hierarchies. Since the colonial period, Jaffna Tamils have maintained a hierarchy over other Tamil-speaking groups (Up-country Tamils and Muslims) in education, with Jaffna Tamil legitimized in the national curriculum. However, as a result of demographic and institutional shifts related to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1983, these hierarchies are shifting. In the first part of the article, I explore teachers' explicit discussions and debates about language that occurred in my presence. In the second part, I show are these ideologies are enacted in difference contexts of practice, including subject-area classrooms, language classrooms, and oratorical performances. I argue that incongruities within and between teachers' metadiscourses and practices reveal subtle dynamics in the configuration of social hierarchies. [multilingual education, social inequality, language ideologies, metadiscourse, Tamil]