Researching multilingually: small languages Adrian Holliday
Mehri, commenting on the textHow best can I transfer this sensation of language,language exchange and interaction in such a small placeto my reader, who happens to be reading in English. …the power of the language given in Farsi, had to besaved. So I tried to translate very accurately the keywords that they were using.They were wearing very beautiful chadors … I, in mychildhood, accumulated an idea of beautiful chadors. …So, these two ladies sitting in the back were obviouslyladies of means, ladies of substance.
Somehow inside their minds … although it’s areconstruction, you feel it really is them speaking.Studied transcription of the actual words they use. So, Iknow that they’re eloquent people and are using thesewords which in contemporary Farsi have a lot ofmeaning. You know, that is not hard. And then findingthe equivalent, in the marketplace, as it were, in societyin London, is very easy. I’m extremely good atlanguages; I feel that my English is excellent.
Straight from listening, to notes, to English reconstructionFarsi was, in fact was my first point. … When this youngervoice behind me said ‘No, they can study these things’,you couldn’t possibly forget that, and make a mistake intranscription. No, it cannot be lost, in translation. It ispowerful. It is already challenging. It’s a dialogue that isnot very extensive; but what is said is very powerful andprecise.I’m not closing one set of experiences in one place, andthen opening them suitable for another place. This taxidriver is no different to a contemporary taxi driver in anyurban place. This is one of my hidden points.
Nothing lost moving from Farsi to EnglishAbsolutely nothing. … when I wrote the English I had the samesensation that I was hearing in the taxi. … This, is something that Isee in my life no matter where I go. I had it in Fayyoum in Egypt, Ihad it with the green grocers in Damascus, I had it with thebutcher, I had it with scholars I have dealt with, in Canterbury. Wehave this. … So this is not a language that is isolated because it’shappening in Tehran in a taxi, in this confinement, or should beconfined in its meaning.Sociological imagination – I consider myself the master of thepsyche of this society too. A social scientist who is not limited toone space. When I come to Britain I am still seeing these things.When I switch on my research brain … The space becomesirrelevant. They make me think this. It is not the confinement ofthe taxi, or of the harsh urban environment of the city, or the toxicenvironment of the régime. What they have to say transcends allof this.
Researcher 2: Bangladeshi born in Kuwait, researching Kuwaiti students I think that I would very much call myself a multilingual researcher of small languages because I did not have much difficulty following the various discursive journeys that my participants took me on. I would relate this particularly to my own multicultural background in the sense of being Bangladeshi born and raised in Kuwait, educated in an American school, and socializing with friends of diverse backgrounds.
Researcher 3: Mexican researching Mexican students The small language of Spanish speaking university students was an issue in my research interviews because it was highly coded. For example the students use a single phrase to refer to a large variety of affective states.
Researcher 4: Australian researching multilingual Asian teachers The breadth of knowledge which enabled participants to discuss language issues was more striking than any difficulties so that for example, a participant from Singapore who said that in the army the Malay commands were similar to the use of Latin in the Catholic Church revealed an understanding of language use which transcended individual ‘big’ languages and cultures. When I wrote a 10,000 word dissertation in French and didn’t really think much about it because in those far-off days I hadn’t reflected on what it felt like to write in another language. I just did it because it was expected
Researcher 5: Turkish researching Turks living in Britain A common first language and coming from the same country … didn’t guarantee anything! There were familiar things but there were many unfamiliar things as well. … to do with age, … profession, … socio-economic class and most importantly they were all living a life here which is so different from mine. In one case, a young couple, to whom I paid a visit in their house … showed so much respect to me, was so careful in their speaking and behaving, and apologized so many times for many unnecessary things that it took hours to start a normal, natural conversation. And all these were because of my job, as they put it.
If ‘foreign’ is simply ‘not familiar’ then it is not ‘writing inEnglish’ which is foreign to me.I am also researching multilingually in the sense that Iusually have to negotiate and reconcile my agenda,priorities, ideas, issues, expectations, etc. with those ofthe participants.There were some instances where I was feeling myselfso much ‘foreign’ to the context and to the peopledespite our common language and nationality. And Iguess those people I tried to have conversations withfelt the same or sensed my feelings and struggles.
Researcher 6: Indian researching Indians in Britain I speak English, Hindi. Punjabi and Urdu fairly well. There are advantages. … I have learnt the trick of the trade. I have picked up catchphrases that makes me insider of the English community The disadvantages are the expectations people have of you. They expect you to have a mastery over these languages. I feel I can speak, read and write these languages well but I am not a Master. I am an in-betweener.