Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Handling Interpretation and Representation in Multilingual Research: A Meta-Study of Pragmatic Issues Resulting from the Use of Multiple Languages in a Qualitative Information Systems Research Work

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Handling Interpretation and Representation in Multilingual Research: A Meta-Study of Pragmatic Issues Resulting from the Use of Multiple Languages in a Qualitative Information Systems Research Work

Article excerpt

Within the past few decades, the forces of globalization have clearly augmented the need for qualitative research work which adequately represents study participants coming from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. A natural expectation, thus, would be that, firstly, the number of qualitative research studies involving more than one language would have steadily increased over the past years, and, secondly, the methodology handling the specifics of multilingual qualitative research would be very mature at this point in time.

While the number of qualitative studies and inquiries using more than one language within a single research piece appears to be rising, a review of the research work conducted in the corresponding methodological space points only to an extremely limited number of studies which attempt to shed some light on some of the pragmatic and methodological issues that arise from the use of multiple languages within a qualitative research work (e.g., Fryer, Mackintosh, Stanley & Crichton, 2012; Harzing, 2005, 2006). Almost all of those scarce methodological studies seem to deal exclusively with the issue of translations, particularly with the problematic use of interpreters and translators in the course of a qualitative inquiry. As expressed by Temple and Young (2004, p. 161), this methodological research is principally "concerned with qualitative research studies where data are collected in more than one language and the research process, at whatever stage(s), involves acts of translation between languages." Moreover, most of the methodological studies examining the translation problematics in qualitative research are language-specific--i.e., they examine the translation issues from the perspective of the English language instead of investigating this at a language-neutral meta-level. Interestingly, many of those methodological studies are coming from the qualitative health research space (e.g., Esposito 2001; Kapborg & Bertero, 2002; Larkin, de Casterle, & Schotsmans, 2007; Temple, 2002).

Methodological studies going beyond the pure translation dilemmas in qualitative research are, however, almost non-existent. The reason for this seems to be obvious--a methodological meta-study of issues inherent in multilingual research implies a very special positioning of the researcher: namely, the researcher needs to have a considerable fluency in all languages used in the particular research work to have the ability to make meaningful observations and meaningful conclusions. However, as formulated by Temple and Young (2004, p. 168), "... the situation where the researcher is fluent in the language of communities ... [where the particular research is conducted] ... is rare."

In the course of my recent qualitative research work conducted in the field of Information Systems I have encountered multiple issues which arose from the use of several languages. My mother-tongue-like fluency in most of the languages used in the study put me in a position to examine and to probe some of the methodological language-related issues arising in the course of this research with considerable depth and nuance. Selected insights of this meta-investigation will be reported in this paper.

Multilingual Research in the Information Systems Field

There is, without any doubt, an abundance of Information Systems research which involves the use of several languages. Many different scenarios are possible-- ranging from very informal multilinguality within of a research project (e.g., several researchers of different mother tongues conducting a joint research) to a formal multilingual nature of the research (e.g., data collection procedures are carried out using a language which is different from the output language of the research).

Although both research streams--qualitative as well as quantitative--can produce research which is to some extent "multilingual." It appears that studies using quantitative research methodologies are more inclined to use multiple languages within a single research work (2). …

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