Mehri, commenting on the text
How best can I transfer this sensation of language,
language exchange and interaction in such a small place
to my reader, who happens to be reading in English. …
the power of the language given in Farsi, had to be
saved. So I tried to translate very accurately the key
words that they were using.
They were wearing very beautiful chadors … I, in my
childhood, accumulated an idea of beautiful chadors. …
So, these two ladies sitting in the back were obviously
ladies of means, ladies of substance.
Somehow inside their minds … although it’s a
reconstruction, you feel it really is them speaking.
Studied transcription of the actual words they use. So, I
know that they’re eloquent people and are using these
words which in contemporary Farsi have a lot of
meaning. You know, that is not hard. And then finding
the equivalent, in the marketplace, as it were, in society
in London, is very easy. I’m extremely good at
languages; I feel that my English is excellent.
Straight from listening, to notes, to English reconstruction
Farsi was, in fact was my first point. … When this younger
voice behind me said ‘No, they can study these things’,
you couldn’t possibly forget that, and make a mistake in
transcription. No, it cannot be lost, in translation. It is
powerful. It is already challenging. It’s a dialogue that is
not very extensive; but what is said is very powerful and
I’m not closing one set of experiences in one place, and
then opening them suitable for another place. This taxi
driver is no different to a contemporary taxi driver in any
urban place. This is one of my hidden points.
Nothing lost moving from Farsi to English
Absolutely nothing. … when I wrote the English I had the same
sensation that I was hearing in the taxi. … This, is something that I
see in my life no matter where I go. I had it in Fayyoum in Egypt, I
had it with the green grocers in Damascus, I had it with the
butcher, I had it with scholars I have dealt with, in Canterbury. We
have this. … So this is not a language that is isolated because it’s
happening in Tehran in a taxi, in this confinement, or should be
confined in its meaning.
Sociological imagination – I consider myself the master of the
psyche of this society too. A social scientist who is not limited to
one space. When I come to Britain I am still seeing these things.
When I switch on my research brain … The space becomes
irrelevant. They make me think this. It is not the confinement of
the taxi, or of the harsh urban environment of the city, or the toxic
environment of the régime. What they have to say transcends all
Researcher 2: Bangladeshi born in Kuwait, researching
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
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
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 in
English’ which is foreign to me.
I am also researching multilingually in the sense that I
usually have to negotiate and reconcile my agenda,
priorities, ideas, issues, expectations, etc. with those of
There were some instances where I was feeling myself
so much ‘foreign’ to the context and to the people
despite our common language and nationality. And I
guess those people I tried to have conversations with
felt 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.