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“I often say that when you can
measure what you are speaking
about, and express it in numbers,
you know something about it...
“What happens when
social science tries to
describe things that are
complex, diffuse and
messy. The answer, […]
is that it...
Giving an account of
myself…
Competent?
Incompetent?
Heroic?
Foolhardy?
Professional?
Unprofessional?
Risks = ‘language / ...
Researching without the language
Ethnographic notes:
Difficulty and struggle to hear and make
meaning
The jouiscence of ma...
Interpellation
“We start to give an account only because we are interpellated
as beings who are rendered accountable by a ...
Mother Tongue: A Mother’s Incompetence
Blen & Tigrinya
New script
Tonality
Linguistic exhaustion and pain – auto-didactici...
Lifelong Learning in Palestine
Arabic - tenderness of lack:
Borders
Welcomes
Security
Research interviews
NGO/academic Eng...
The Value in “Incompetence”
Time to observe
Practice of researcher patience
and humility
Experience of frustration and
pow...
Anthropology
“My main difficulty at this early stage was inability to converse freely with the
Nuer. I had no interpreter....
From Competence to Capabilities
to be a beginner
for relationships
for hospitality
of attentiveness
of sensory awareness
t...
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Summary of linguistic incompetence

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Summary of linguistic incompetence by Prof Alison Phipps

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Summary of linguistic incompetence

  1. 1. “I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.” Lord Kelvin 1883 Linguistic Incompetence How Competent is Competent Enough? Researching multilingually with or without the language
  2. 2. “What happens when social science tries to describe things that are complex, diffuse and messy. The answer, […] is that it tends to make a mess of it.” John Law, 2004
  3. 3. Giving an account of myself… Competent? Incompetent? Heroic? Foolhardy? Professional? Unprofessional? Risks = ‘language / communication’ Avalanches, food poisoning, sleeping sickness, HIV, civil unrest, muggings, robbery, kidnap… I quickly learned: Greetings, food names, Prayer language (Insha'allah), to trust my hosts Gestures and some aggression/suspicion that translation maybe incorrect Linguistic Incompetence and Accountability
  4. 4. Researching without the language Ethnographic notes: Difficulty and struggle to hear and make meaning The jouiscence of making progress Resource to common language (German and English) for rest and reflection and writing Notes full of new words and phrases – mulitlingual research notes
  5. 5. Interpellation “We start to give an account only because we are interpellated as beings who are rendered accountable by a system of justice and punishment. This system is not there from the start, but becomes instituted over time at great cost to the human instincts.” (Butler, 2005: 11) Personal experience of being aware of complexities? Found wanting ....either way. Not competent enough. Punishment and/or Remedy.
  6. 6. Mother Tongue: A Mother’s Incompetence Blen & Tigrinya New script Tonality Linguistic exhaustion and pain – auto-didacticism Paucity of resource and opportunity. Ritual Learning Sensory awareness heightened: incense, cloth, scarf, coffee beans, skin and hair oil; spices, texture Ethics: Linguistic power remains with powerless Tsada: expections of whiteness
  7. 7. Lifelong Learning in Palestine Arabic - tenderness of lack: Borders Welcomes Security Research interviews NGO/academic English Words Fail Me So, what is my experience of becoming aware of the complexities of researching multilingually? “Is there an ethical valence to my unknowingness?” (Butler, 2005: 84)
  8. 8. The Value in “Incompetence” Time to observe Practice of researcher patience and humility Experience of frustration and powerlessness which enables empathy Noticing of greetings, rituals, sensory dimensions Valuable stage, but not status quo
  9. 9. Anthropology “My main difficulty at this early stage was inability to converse freely with the Nuer. I had no interpreter. None of the Nuer spoke Arabic, There was no adequate grammar of the language, and apart from three short Nuer-English vocabularies, no dictionary. Consequently the whole of my first and a large part of my second expedition were taken up with trying to master the language sufficiently to make inquiries (my emphasis) through it, and only those who have tried to learn a very difficult tongue without the aid of an interpreter and adequate literary guidance will fully appreciate the magnitude of the task.” (Evans-Pritchard, 1940: 10)
  10. 10. From Competence to Capabilities to be a beginner for relationships for hospitality of attentiveness of sensory awareness to de-centre To “rest” capability “to risk ourselves precisely at moments of unknowingness....constitutes our chance of becoming human” (Butler: ibid)

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