Researching multilingually, the languaging of research, and the promotion of linguistic-epistemological diversity

Impact: Awareness and understanding, Attitudes and behaviours, Society and culture


As an area of research practice, Researching Multilingually (RMly) is concerned with the transparent management of languages in research. The focus is on language as a research modality, in contrast with Researching Multilingualism in which the research focuses on linguistic phenomena involving multiple languages in a given (e.g. societal) context.

The RMly area developed from reflections with my PhD supervisees (see Fay, Zhou, & Liu, 2010). Their doctoral studies involved both Mandarin and English but were being supervised by an academic team fluent in English but not Mandarin. And their research would be examined in a university context (i.e. Manchester) which, despite being aspirationally internationalised and self-evidently culturally- and linguistically-diverse, nonetheless foregrounded English. Manchester was not unusual in lacking clear regulations regarding the use of multiple languages in research. Moreover, at that time, multilingual research practice was typically un(der)-discussed in studies in which language is not in itself part of the researched topic or phenomenon.

Initial Explorations and Funding
An Exploratory Seminar in 2010 - co-organised by Prof. Mike Byram (the University of Durham), myself, and former Manchester colleague Prof. Jane Andrews (University of the West of England) - began the exploration of the possibilities for, and complexities of, using multiple languages in research. This exploration was furthered through an AHRC-funded Researching Multilingually Network award (2011-12) led by Prof. Prue Holmes (also from Durham) in which I was Co-I. The network grant enabled three symposia (hosted universities in Durham, Bristol, and Manchester) to take place. These involving 30+ peer- reviewed presentations by researchers located in and beyond the UK. From analysis of these presentations, we proposed a prototypical model of developing RM-ly competence involving: an initial triggering of awareness about, and then mapping of, RM-ly possibilities and complexities, leading to purposeful researcher thinking about research design and operationalisation. This model was published in an article by the project team (Holmes, Fay, Andrews, & Attia, 2013) in an RMly-focused Special Issue (for which I was a co-editor) of the International Journal of Applied Linguistics. Further insights from these early RMly explorations were captured in a book chapter (Holmes, Fay, Andrews, & Attia, 2016), as well as in conference papers, conference symposia, and PGR and supervisor training sessions in the UK and more widely (e.g. Hellenic Open University, Greece; Stavanger University, Norway).

Broadened Concerns
The RMly exploration of the possibilities for, and complexities of using multiple languages in research continued in the subsequent AHRC-funded large grant - Researching Multilingually Across the Borders of Language, the Body, Law, and the State (2014-17, and extended for a further year with a particular focus on RMly in Global Mental Health). The broader focus of the large project was the exploration of the languaging of research across disciplines and contexts: What might the implications be of languaging a research study using particular linguistic and epistemological resources? This large project involved a series of events and case studies informed by, but also informing, an applied linguistics hub (of which I was a key member) and a creative arts hub (with which I also engaged as enabled by my arts-based research and musical interests).

Many training sessions, conference papers, articles, chapters, and books have resulted from this project. My contribution - which, as appropriate for the RMly agenda, have been undertaken collaboratively, interdisciplinarily, transnationally, and multilingually - have focused primarily on the following interlinked areas:

- Critical intentionality in researcher thinking and practice vis-a-vis RMly;
- Researcher and supervisor development vis-a-vis a translingual researcher mindset mindset;
- Translanguaging as linked to transknowledging in research and knowledge-generation and its dissemination;
- The promotion of researcher plurilingualism in English-foregrounded and -foregrounding universities;
- The embrace of linguistic-epistemological diversity to support a rich, diverse, and healthy knowledge ecology;
- The problematisation of conceptual borrowing across languages and cultures, time and space, disciplines and practices, and the need for an intercultural ethic to address the dangers of epistemic existing justice in academic life; and
- The role of the creative arts in the interthinking needed for transdisciplinary research informed by diverse linguistic and epistemological perspectives. 
Impact dateJan 2010
Category of impactAwareness and understanding, Attitudes and behaviours, Society and culture
Impact levelEngagement