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Writing Lawa: Stimulating indigenous ownership of vernacular literacy through action research

The Eastern Lawa people of Northern Thailand have not had a practical or standardised method of writing their own language. This research began in response to an informal request that help be given to the teachers at Bo Luang school to write Lawa language using Thai script. The exploratory and informal nature of the project led me to use action research’s cyclical concept of action, followed by feedback, followed by planning for further action. This allowed for adjustments to both research goals and methods in response to the Eastern Lawa community. I was also able to document practical language development issues in the context of an ancient but rapidly changing indigenous Mon-Khmer community in Northern Thailand. I began with the traditional linguistic assumption that building a foundation for vernacular literacy would consist of three consecutive phases. A draft orthography would be prepared with the community. Community acceptance of this would allow a working orthography to be used by the teachers of Bo Luang school. The third phase would then be official regional or national recognition of a formal orthography. I also believed that community ownership was the key to all three phases. In reality I encountered a constant tension between trying to force the pathway of language development that I had envisaged and coming to terms with the linguistic and social situation which I discovered within the Bo Luang Lawa community. My plans for action research came to be grounded in a critical, reflexive ethnography. Community ownership became the major goal and the raison d’etre for my research instead of just an outcome of good language development practice. My initial emphasis on linguistic development has transformed into a desire to base both research goals and orthographic objectives on the history, identity and aspirations of the indigenous people. It is my intention that this thesis will be part of the growing body of work that recognises the limitations of Western empirical research models and the necessity for and practicality of alternative approaches. If you don’t know the words, ask your mother; if you don’t know the path, ask your father. (Traditional Lawa saying)
Type of thesis
Holt, M. T. L. (2014). Writing Lawa: Stimulating indigenous ownership of vernacular literacy through action research (Thesis, Doctor of Education (EdD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8778
University of Waikato
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