Dr Olga Campbell-Thomson

I work in the State of Qatar, where I teach English to Arabic language speakers. I am completing my PhD thesis in education at the University of Manchester, UK.  The research site  of my doctoral thesis is located in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), a Turkish-speaking area of the island of Cyprus.

Having moved from Russia to the United States to Great Britain to Cyprus to Qatar, I have naturally found myself surrounded by linguistic diversity.  My professional career as a linguist, language teacher and translator ensured that multilingualism has never been merely a backcloth of my existence but pretty much central to my daily environment.

My own engagement with numerous  languages  has  made me mindful of the fact that language is much more than its lexicon.  Each new language appears to me with its literature, music, customs, tales and, of course, integration with the people who speak it.  Some languages even alter  my world vision as I try to grasp a syntactical structure which requires constant  re-adjustment mentally.  There are frustrating moments of translating from one language to another, and misunderstandings  occur often when communicating across languages and cultures. These moments have kept me conscious of  the complexities of moving between languages and cultures even though I have thoroughly enjoyed my  multilingual and multicultural existence.

I started making distinction between functioning multilingually and researching multilingually when I reached the composition stage of my doctoral thesis.  My initial selection of the predominantly Turkish-speaking environment as the site of my doctoral research was  based on my genuine interest in doing research in TRNC’s educational setting.  Working in the field where languages are mixed seemed  natural and, if not entirely  unproblematic,  easily manageable,  as I was confident I had enough experience of functioning multilingually. It was only at the time when I was faced with the task of presenting multilingual data to my English-speaking audience (my dissertation supervisors at first) that I became aware of the complexities of the task.   An overview of only few immediate language-related issues, which came to the fore during dissertation research and writing process, can give some idea of the challenges of researching multilingually: (1) official documentation – how to handle documentation process in different languages when applying for permission to access schools and how to present the evidence  in the thesis, (2) different sets of ethical guidelines – whose guidelines take precedence and how to present all existing forms in different languages in the text, (3) data behind the text – how to handle hundreds of pages of the data appearing in different languages to make the data  ‘retrievable’ for the purposes of reliability check  of  research, (4) data included in the text of the thesis – how to present multilingual data in the text in order to make data comprehensible to the reader and  without any loss of original data.

Dissertation style manuals include detailed sections on how to present linguistic data in the text of the thesis and extensive scholarship on translation issues contains good advice on  how to go about translation. Other than these, there is paucity of methodological advice on dealing with practical issues of research undertaken in multilingual settings, particularly, with presentation matters.  My hope for the Researching Multilingually project is a set of methodological and practical insights into the know-how of researching multilingually. I anticipate that the outcome of the project will be  some systematization of ad hoc practices collected from various types of research conducted in multilingual settings and, perhaps,  a comprehensive methodological handbook describing procedures of  the presentation of tandem language data in doctoral dissertations and research reports.