Maintaining the Panjabi Language and Culture: Auckland’s Sikh Gurdwaras and the Home Domain

Kaur, Gurpreet
Booth, Alison
Crezee, Ineke
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Master of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

New Zealand is home to approximately twenty thousand Sikhs, a cultural community with its first arrival in 1890, which has grown significantly since 2001, particularly in the Auckland region. This Auckland case study considers the acquisition and maintenance of community’s heritage language, Panjabi, and Sikh cultural identity among young Sikh migrants, within the Sikh religious institutions (gurdwaras) and the home environment. The research also considers indications of any language shift or attrition.
This ethnographic qualitative study used mixed methods in the form of surveys, interviews and field observations to obtain data. Participants included Sikh adults who had children in the age group 8-16 and had migrated to New Zealand, and children of the aforementioned age group who were either born in New Zealand to migrant parents or were born overseas and migrated later. Survey data was collected in-person and online and was supplemented by interviews with ten different families. Observations from field visits to gurdwaras and visits to participants’ homes provided background information on the community.
The findings relating to gurdwaras showed that they are ideal places to continue the teaching and maintenance of Panjabi and cultural identity development among young Sikhs living in Auckland. The fact that the Sikh community greatly values its language is evident from the extensive range of cultural events and classes held within gurdwaras. The study also found that these religious institutions are not homogenous, with the type of institution determining the importance placed on religious transmission events and their content and style. Participants’ interviews confirmed similarities with existing literature on language maintenance/shift and the effectiveness of community domain in maintaining the heritage language fails without preservation in the home domain (Fishman, 1991). The interview phase showed that communication with extended family members, knowledge and use of heritage language and religion were the core cultural values of the community. These were major influences within families to pass the language onto the next generation and pointed to home as the core of heritage language maintenance. The findings identify that there are many challenges to be addressed if language shift and attrition are to be avoided in Auckland. The easy access to the availability of translations of Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh Holy Scriptures) in the dominant language (English), means that children focus less on gaining literacy skills in Panjabi. The findings suggest community members’ awareness of the advantages that bilingualism could offer so that they can make more efforts to maintain Panjabi among their children. The support available in gurdwaras means that language transmission may be successful for future generations depending upon parental perceptions.
This research will add to the existing body of knowledge on heritage language maintenance in New Zealand and will act as a tool for the Sikh community, allowing them to assess better the state of Panjabi while also providing information on potential challenges that might impede their language maintenance efforts.

Heritage language maintenance , Panjabi language , Community domain , Home domain , Sikh community , Auckland
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