Rachel Hu is the researcher at the Birmingham end of the project. Here she writes about her experience of interviewing stall owners in Birmingham’s Bull Ring Indoor Market, which she does with the Birmingham Co-Investigator, Professor Adrian Blackledge.
The market is not only about making money. It’s more like a social place for people to meet up and talk to each other, and to be the engine of the social economy. Other businesses and industries are activated by the existence of the market. In the past 11 weeks while I have been in the market, I have been struck by how convenient it is as a meeting place for people from all backgrounds. An empty small space or aisles in between the stalls can easily become a junction where people can stop and catch up with each other, speaking their own languages, talking and chatting loudly as if they were in the village fair.
It’s similarly striking when almost all the stall holders tell you that speaking not much English or not ‘good English’ is not a problem in their trading at all. They can always make sense of each other by pointing, and by using all sorts of body language. Instead of feeling irritated by their lack of English skills many stall holders love immigrants, and more than one even commented that their business wouldn’t survive if it hadn’t been for their foreign customers. One English butcher, who’s been in the trade for more than 27 years, told us “English people don’t cook anymore, they only eat ready meals or microwaved meals, while the immigrants they can easily spend £100 on food shopping as they still cook and eat together as a one big family.”
The function of language is for communication, but it looks far more complex when different social elements are involved in our daily language practice. How does the language establish our roles in society? How does language inform and influence social behaviours? I cannot wait to learn from the other members of the team about their ways of exploring and interpreting the rich bundle of linguistic material we’ve picked up these few months.