Interview and translation strategies: coping with multilingual settings and data
19 Oct 2009
Department of Geography, University of Bern, Hallerstrasse 12, 3012 Bern, Switzerland
Abstract. Central Eastern Europe, the research area this paper is concerned with, is a region characterized by a high diversity of languages and cultures. It is, at the same time, an area where political, cultural and social conflicts have emerged over time, nowadays especially in border zones, where people of different ethnic, cultural or linguistic background live. In this context, it is important for us researchers to get balanced interview data, and consequently we very often have to conduct interviews in several different languages and within changing cultural contexts. In order to avoid "communication problems" or even conflictual (interview) situations, which might damage the outcome of the research, we are thus challenged to find appropriate communication strategies for any of these situations. This is especially difficult when we are confronted with language or culture-specific terminology or taboo expressions that carry political meaning(s).
Once the interview data is collected and it comes to translating and analysing it, we face further challenges and new questions arise. First of all, we have to decide what a good translation strategy would be. Many words and phrases that exist in one language do not have an exact equivalent in another. Therefore we have to find a solution for translating these expressions and concepts in a way that their meanings do not get "lost by translation".
In this paper I discuss and provide insights to these challenges by presenting and discussing numerous examples from the region in question. Specifically, I focus on the deconstruction of the meaning of geographical names and politically loaded expressions in order to show the sensitivities of language, the difficulties of research in multilingual settings and with multilingual data as well as the strategies or "ways out" of certain dilemmas.