Politics Magazine

Research in a Foreign Language

Posted on the 15 October 2014 by Calvinthedog

Lately I have been doing a lot of research on Iberian Romance languages. I tend to dive into one subject and then I often just tunnel away at it like a tunnel rat until it feels like I am one of the world’s leading experts on the subject. Then at some point, when I have completely tunneled out the subject as far deep as I want to tunnel, I move over to something else and I am might start tunneling away at that one too.

Research is a blast to me. I could research all day and all night to my heart’s content. I usually take notes while I am doing it, and I am typically formulating hypotheses, testing them out, seeing the results, drawing conclusions, and then changing my conclusions around. What is great is that when you do research all of these new questions keep popping up. Questions that don’t have very obvious answers. Some of the questions are suggested by others, and others I dredge up myself just by looking at the data. For a given subject, at times there are  number of competing theories that try to explain the data. I like to work through the theories and try to figure out which one fits the data best.

Plus I get to get away from the frequently ugly world of other humans and politics and just wallow away in something fun. People can be a pain sometimes and politics often just makes me depressed and angry. Like real depressed and real angry. But the stuff I research about is often outside of politics. Or if there is politics involved, I could care less about those particular issues because they are not important to me.

So for Iberian Romance, unfortunately, there is but a limited amount of data in English. Much of the data is in, you guessed it, Spanish! Quite a bit is also in Portuguese. Some of it is Galician. And unfortunately some of it is in Asturian or Extremaduran. You can use translators to translate some of these languages, but the translators do not work real well. A lot of times when the translation looks a bit funny, you go back to the original language and then compare that L2 with the English translation. For Spanish, Galician and even Portuguese, I can often figure out what they are really trying to say by looking at the original text and the English translation.

Some of the data is in online books, and those are written in Spanish only. Not only that, but there is no way to translate it from the books. So you just have to work your way through the Spanish and try to glean what you can get out of it. It is not as hard as it seems.

I was amazed at how well I can read Portuguese, but I must say, reading Portuguese is dramatically more difficult than reading Spanish.

Galician is sort of in between. It is like Portuguese with a lot of Spanish mixed in, so it seems easier to read than Portuguese.

Asturian and the few texts in Extremaduran are total disasters. I really do not have the foggiest clue what they are saying. The written standard for both languages is very odd and even if you can understand Spanish, Galician and Portuguese fairly well, good look with Asturian!

Anyway, if any of you had to do research in a foreign language, could you do it? Have you ever done research or in depth type reading in any language (L2) other than your native language (L1)? If so, tell us what your native language is and what languages you are capable of doing research or in depth reading in.

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