Bilingual researchers as intermediaries of translation in a research team
(Translation and translanguaging: Investigating linguistic and cultural transformations in superdiverse wards in four UK cities)
Trying to capture the experience of fieldwork within Birmingham’s bustling indoor market, Adrian Blackledge writes in a research vignette, ‘This is Mandarin. I cannot understand. Rachel transcribes. I can understand. Teamwork works’. The comment captures the importance of bilingual researchers like Rachel for research teams working in multilingual contexts, and yet (in deliberately foregrounding the immediate relief of being able to understand) downplays the complexities of the translator’s role. What does it mean to ‘transcribe’ and to translate? What does it mean to ‘understand’? How is understanding negotiated, performed and contested through the process of translation within a large team project?
In this talk, I explore the role of bilingual researchers as intermediaries of translation in one research team using two datasets: vignettes written by team members at two points in the project; and a recorded discussion around the translation of Chinese-language social media examples. The vignettes reveal the value placed on the linguistic resources of the bilingual researcher by other people in the team (as well as the research participants), and the immediate feelings of relief and gratitude expressed for the translator’s interpretations. And yet the translators often expressed insecurity regarding their own linguistic expertise, and understanding was often co-constructed between the team members. These complexities are further explored in analysis of the recorded discussion, which shows how a ‘translation’ emerges as the result of a complex interplay of factors (the translator’s repertoire and relationship to the participants, the assumptions and interests of other team members, the immediate purposes and wider research goals) and then becomes the object of further negotiation and interpretation within the team. The analysis highlights the importance of reflective data such as vignettes for raising and maintaining awareness of the complexities of working multilingually.