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Doing multilingual research and
J a n e W o o d in
U n iv e r s it y o f S h e f f ie ld
M oving from :
C o nc e p tu a l fra m e w o rk s :
w ha t w e ( p e rha p s ) ta k e
fo r g ra nte d w he n
r e s e a r c h in g a c r o s s
la n g u a g e s
W h a t is t h e r e la t io n s h ip
b e t w e e n r e s e a r c h in g
m u lt ilin g u a lly a n d
M utlilingual research focus:
• How tandem learners talk with each other about word meaning; this
• Consideration of differences in word meaning (conceptual
frameworks) in the research design through word association tasks
(Schmitt and Meara, 1997, Shore, 1996 also Wierzbicka 1992, 1997, 2003).
• Conversation analytic approach to conversations (Spanish/English)
Exam ple: cooperate/cooperar
oblig. party people devpt impt help bring tog. comm. govt. work
• How interlocutors talk about word meaning
interdiscursive misunderstanding is not
uncommon and can at times be put down
to conceptual meaning in contexts (e.g.
UK media reporting of Merkel’s ‘multikulti’
speech (Schroeder, 2012, presentation at
BAAL SIG conference)
• Assumption of differences in word meaning between English
/Spanish (however, this could change according to context)
• Assumption that as language students they might recognise
possible differences in word meaning between English and Spanish
(see Byram 1997)
• ‘Cooperation and communication about anything whatever requires
some minimal access to the interlocutor’s current states of belief
and intention. …..
• [It] also requires a shared conceptual map of the world, as
represented in the group’s commonly-held lexical-semantic
From m y research into tand em learners’
bilingual conversations on word m eaning :
• Conceptual meaning is affected by context (temptation to assume fixity)
• Interlocutors regularly positioned themselves temporarily as ‘native/non-
native speaker’ to resolve linguistic ‘trouble’
• Interlocutors rarely positioned themselves as ‘native/non-native speaker’
over semantic content-related differences even where there might be
evidence to support semantic differences in Spanish/English (either they
didn’t notice the differences or weren’t aware of them or ‘owned’ the
conceptual meaning in a different way from the ‘tools’ to express it…or
Som e strategies in m ultilingual research (frequently offered
• Within multilingual research, strategies exist for the consideration of
possible linguistic/conceptual clashes/difference/, e.g. Use of back
translation; contrastive analysis techniques e.g. corpus studies
In my research:
• Differences in linguistic structures within the languages meant that
different approaches needed to be taken to achieve the same
results in the data collected in Spanish and in English
• Glossing of conversations in Spanish for the non-Spanish speaking
• Do I assume that native speakers of a language will have a similar
understanding of the meaning of a word in their own language?
• Who is a native speaker? (Davies, 2006, among others)
• Spanish mother tongue support brought in for judging categorisation
of word associations (following Díaz-Guerrero & Szalay)
Infrequently asked questions
(infrequently reported ?)
• In which language should I speak with the interlocutors during interviews? I
chose for a number of reasons their mother tongue
• Have I the ‘right’ to make decisions on what I think is being said in another
language without the need to consult a ‘native’ speaker?
• At what points should I involve a native Spanish speaker in the research?
Funding limited their involvement, but their involvement at particular points
raised a further question: Will involvement of a native Spanish speaker
‘expert’ solve multilingual issues in the research project?
Reflections on researching multilingually and multilingual
• ‘ It will be ok’ because I speak
• ‘Oh, you are lucky’
• ‘You are the expert’
Som e issues
• Discomfort with Spanish ‘expert’s views at some points
– tension between respecting her greater knowledge
and my own interpretation / researcher knowledge ?
• But what right have I to claim ownership ?….
• Would my informants have reacted differently to a
Spanish-speaking researcher? (In this case not so
• While power elements were to some extent minimised
by the reciprocal nature of the conversations (speaking
first in L1 and then in L2) it was undertaken in a UK
institution with an English-speaking ‘bilingual’
• Also issues of proficency and power in the dyads .
Researching m ultilingually:
Som e thoughts on points raised in Tem ple & Young, 2004):
• Speaking for others is a political act (Temple & Young, 2004:167)
‘if researchers see themselves as active in the research process, then they
have a responsibility for the way that they represent others and their
languages. When they don’t speak the same languages as research
participants then they have to question the baseline from which they make
claims about them’.
• How does this change if we DO speak the language? It raises (infrequently
asked) questions about native-speakerness, whose voice is represented
etc. – these questions often being hidden by the fact we do speak the
language (see Risager)
• All communication is an act of translation (Steiner)
• Researcher/ researched matching not a straightforward issue; neither is
translator/interpreter nor ‘native speaker’
Researcher as translator
• Translator makes assumptions about meaning/
adopts ideological position
• Dual role of researcher/translator unquestioned
in multilingual research
BUT: this point is still relevant to
translators/interpreters who are not the
researcher (another perspective, however).
• How far to involve translators/researchers in the
(H ow) Should the translation
process be id entified ?
• This is an ethical question;
• As part of methodological description of
• In research design
• In discussion of results where relevant
• Gain consent in relation to languages /
Som e tentative conclusions: m ultilingual research and
researching m ultilingually
• Are the issues often the same, only to a different degree?
• Researcher as translator (Yes, where possible? BUT make the process clear)
• How far to involve the translator/interpreter in the research process: fit for purpose?
But translator/interpreter position needs to be triangulated /interrogated – not taken as
• Matching of researchers and researched – not necessarily but issues made explicit?
• Everyone should learn a language – any language
• The translation process should be identified
Som e further thoughts
• How is working multilingually different from working across
multilingual groups using English as a Lingua Franca?
• Or across for e.g. institututional speech communities?
• What is the difference between interlingual and intralingual
communication (Verschueren, 1998)
• What assumptions do we make with regard to translatability of
conceptual meaning when working with data/teams multilingually?
• What would happen if we repeated research in another language