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More than just translation: challenges and opportunities in intercultural and multilingual research

Author(s): L. G. Crane | M. B. Lombard | E. M. Tenz

Journal: Social Geography Discussions
ISSN 1816-1499

Volume: 5;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 51;
Date: 2009;
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Aspects of intercultural and multilingual research are receiving increasing attention from the academic community in human geography and the wider social sciences. Current debates in this area highlight concerns around linguistic hegemony, but this article argues that intercultural research presents opportunities as well as challenges. The three authors here found common ground based on their first-hand experience of the complexities of doing research in intercultural settings and working in "multilingual constellations". In this article, they seek to address some practical issues of dealing with multilingual research, with reflections on using a translator, interviewing in a second language and communicating academic terms. Within this context, it is argued that the key to a better understanding is to unpack and unravel the complexities of such research settings, with translation as one particular aspect of this rather than a dominant frame of reference. Here, cross-cutting themes of language, communication and representation, which it is argued are similarly significant in intercultural research, are also explored. Scholars have drawn attention to significant differences between culturally-specific academic discourses, and the "cultural gaps" that need to be bridged when doing intercultural and multilingual research. Operating in multilingual contexts involves moments of friction and hesitation, and it is this particular moment where our thinking is challenged by new ideas and thoughts – be it while speaking with an interpreter, while reflecting on our positionality or while striving to transfer meaning from one culture into another – that moves things forward in constructive ways. Intercultural research in multilingual settings is thus about critical reflexiveness, a point which it is worth extending to human geography in general.
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