An update from Angela Creese, Principal Investigator

We are now just over 8 months into the start of our research project, Translation and Translanguaging: Investigating Linguistic and Cultural Transformations in Superdiverse Wards in Four UK Cities or TLANG for short. What have we been doing over those 8 busy months?

Here’s a flavour and update:

Building a multilingual research team:

We are a core research team of 22 researchers based in four UK universities who work with 8 public sector organizations and 3 international research institutes to investigate communication practices in urban, superdiverse, UK cities. Our team consists of people at different points in their research careers, from doctoral researchers to endowed professors. Four of our research fellows are bilingual in English and at least one other language including Arabic, Czech/Slovak, Mandarin or Polish, and within the team many other language proficiencies are in evidence.

Making contacts in multilingual settings in four UK cities:

The focus of our project is to understand how multilingualism is relevant in the everyday lives of British people, and with this purpose in mind we have been developing relationships with people working in linguistically rich contexts in four UK cities. Our first research theme – one of four – is business, workplace and multilingualism and we have selected the following research sites:

  • A Chinese butcher’s stall in Birmingham’s indoor market
  • A small family-run Polish shop in Newham, London
  • A small family-run Arabic shop in Cardiff
  • A community-run advice and support centre in Leeds

Collecting evidence:

Since September we have been visiting the research sites to collect data. We are there at least twice a week, either as lone researchers or in pairs, writing observational field notes. These richly descriptive accounts capture the sights, sounds, smells, actions, and relationships in shops, markets and community centres.   The field notes generate ideas and theoretical concepts which will be essential evidence for the arguments we will go on to make about multilingualism. We have also been recording people while they go about their work and use language to engage with customers or clients. This means we ask each of our key participants to wear a small microphone and carry a digital voice recorder while they are at work and the researchers are observing them. Later we will listen to these recordings again and analyse this data to understand how people are communicating in shops, markets and community settings as they engage in commerce, enterprise and conversation. We anticipate finding that multilingualism serves as a resource for business in our urban centres.

In the last couple of weeks we have also started recording at the homes of our key participants, to understand how language practices serve to maintain relationships with people in families, and also with relatives and friends in different places around the world. We think technology will prove to be important for maintaining these relationships.

We are near to the end of the data collection phase for the ‘business’ phase of the project. However, although data collection has ended for this theme, we will still be busy with the business focus until March. Up to then, we will focus on analysing our data sets, which comprise of field notes, photographs, interviews, and audio and video recordings and other textual data such as text messages, skype recordings etc. In March we will start the next phase of data collection, which is on Heritage.

Other activity:

In addition to this research activity we have been involved in public engagement events. Examples include:

  • On the 17th July we held the project’s launch conference, which saw over 100 people attend to listen to speakers including Gisela Stuart (MP Edgbaston), Gautam Malkani (author) and Venetia Porter (Assistant Keeper (Curator) of Islamic and contemporary Middle East, The British Museum)
  • The Guardian invited Angela Creese to take part in Live Q&A: Supporting community languages: how can policymakers meet the needs of minority groups? (November 2014)
  • The Guardian/British Academy. Angela Creese was invited to speak at British Academy/Guardian Language Festival 2014 on Community languages: policy, pedagogy, public understanding (November 2014)
  • University of Birmingham and Library of Birmingham are co-hosting an AHRC/British Academy funded Being Human Festival of the Humanities. Simon Armitage held a masterclass in translating poetry and gave a poetry reading (November 2014).

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