Data Presentation, Analysis and Language

This is a blog response to Bookling who wrote an interesting post this morning that concurs with my own questions. I have occasionally ranted about my issues with appropriate data representation, which symptomatic for ethnography, can be quite messy. I will write an update on this once I am done with the final draft of my analysis chapter next week.

One issue that is closely linked to the data representation however, is the use of language. Language is not only the form for data representation, but it is also an instrument of analysis. Language determines how I think about my data and whilst I exactly know what I want to say and how I want to present it in German, English simply lacks a more conceptualized form of language.

I would need to use terminology like Lernwelten, Lebensinhalte and Referenzrahmen, these three I can somewhat, if not accurately, translate. More difficult are terms like Bildung and Erziehung, which do not have any equivalents in Anglophone  Sprachräumen – linguistic areas.  Again this is not a comprehensive translation, because Sprachraum implies more than geographical dimensions, and should rather be translated with space instead of area.

How ever the worst and actually impossible to translate are Weltaneignung and Lerninhalte.  Trying to translate Weltaneignung results in something like: World Ownership.

The Brain: “The same thing we do every night, Pinky—try to take over the world!”

Totally wrong, Weltaneignung encompasses ownership and control of one owns life, being able to navigate within a culture and negotiate identities successfully. The navigating within a culture includes access to cultural capital etc.

I just read in an article, and have to apologize for loosing the source, that English language has no word for Lerninhalte – I am using learning content or subject content as space holders. Yet, again this is not the full picture. Lerninhalte, as a lot of German words, is a multidimensional term implying strong conceptualisation. See for instance Bildung or Erziehung, whose description took me several pages in my dissertation.

Now these problems impact significantly on my ability of presenting my data analysis. I am code switching in thinking and monologizing about my data  [I told you before I only know what I think once I hear what I say ;P] yet in data representation I cannot code switch and take vast amounts of time to find terminology that is appropriate to my understanding. As my understanding is a bilingual one, combining a language, that is notorious for its complex and long nouns usually implying multidimensional conceptualisation, with  a language that initially appears simple to the learner yet becomes more difficult to handle once subtleties and academic dimensions have to be realised.

So I find the compromises I have to make in language falsify in the data representation my understanding of my research. I feel that it takes away a lot of the depth of knowledge and hinders a conceptualization or theory building from the data, because I am lacking the tools to do so. Not a good thing for my confidence as researcher.

  • I know what I make out of my research – good
  • I have fantastic data – good
  • I don’t know how to represent and express this knowledge appropriately without loosing the complexity of the findings – not good at all
  • writing takes much much much longer than in mother tongue, sometimes it is unpredictable how much and long it will take to track down a single formulation
  • this is accompanied with loosing confidence in my work

Ok, moaning is over and I just try and ‘make do’. Maybe whatever is the attitude to take on…


  1. Hm, I am glad my post has inspired you! And it’s really interesting to see how differently PhD students experience the writing process. It seems like we have a lot of the same problems and some very different ones. I must admit as much as I agree with ‘language gives reality a different shape’, I don’t really have the same problems with translating from German into English – for a very simple reason: Many years ago, when I realised that I would like to become a speaker of idiomatic English, I started consuming culture and knowledge in English. Any book, television programme, film, anything, I would always get the English version. I did not want to be in a situation where the languages don’t match and where German still has primacy, you see. Pretty stupid in some ways, like when I lived in New Zealand and wouldn’t speak to other Germans because they would ‘interrupt’ my practise of English, or when I didn’t want to become friends with my neighbour in Aberdeen just because she was German (she was also a bi#*% as I later found out but anyway…). But overall I’m quite happy about that. I love reading German if that’s the original version of a book but I will always read it in English if I need to quote from it. English is a beautiful language and I am still amazed about it every single day.
    A lot of concepts don’t translate between the lnguages, of course, for interesting epistemological and idea-historical reasons (which my sweetheart might do a postdoc about). The best, I think, is to start with English and to thereby sort of forget German words. They’re not going to help you in your dissertation anyway. There’s no use getting upset about the intranslatability – but I think you know that since you said towards the end that you were moaning. Germans are much more idealistic and Anglo-Americans more empiricistic, that’s the (very) crude distinction. A lot of German concepts don’t make sense in the Anglo-American empirical world, which is why we always appear so obfuscatory and brainy to them. They, in turn, appear slow and unintelligent to us, not all the time, but sometimes (not very often actually but I have to run with this now for my argument ;)). They’re not stupid, they simply don’t do a lot of the academic stuff that we’re doing.
    I’m not sure you were searching for a solution to some kind of clearly circumscribed problem, and this isn’t a practical solution anyway, but my advice would be: Start thinking in English.
    Then there are all the other PhD writing problems…gee-wizz, it’s really crazy eh 😦 I took a day off today to clear my head and I went and bought myself two little crystals, one for balance between relaxation and activity and the other for confidence and clarity. I hope you have both on this last leg of your writing-up!! Gros bisous xxx


    1. Wow I had not expected such passionate response. Where to even begin answering?
      Yes, I was looking, and still am, for a solution, yet find it virtually impossible to follow your suggestion of forgetting about German. I am totally amazed by your ability to wipe out our mother tongue’s impact from subconscious processes. See for me it doesn’t work like this – and exactly this is the problem, insights appear predominantly in German, mixed with some English, thus the code switching. These are subconscious processes of cognitive association networks, I cannot influence.
      Yet, the probably most significant difference in our approaches is, that for me writing in English is almost like ‘going under cover’ – it is not fully and wholly me. I got asked quite often why my stories and poems are mostly in English. The two reasons for this are that English is a great language for story telling (despite the problems, I do indeed like English as a language in general), but also because I am a bit embarrassed writing stories and poems; and writing them in English kind of makes them a little less real, as an entity (not by content). The same process happens when writing my research in English; it is not quite real that way, only when I talk about it and create the personal physical space of dissemination or I talk about it in German it becomes real research, with real impact.
      So I guess the harsh summary of my argument would be: I cannot and want not ignore the German in me. Yet still need to find a way of accessing the English language on an appropriate academic level.
      I hope you enjoyed your day off! Crystals sound like a good idea … I might get my rose quartz out again. Happy Writing and frohes Schaffen 🙂 xxx


  2. Its a very helpful post for those students who are intrested in writing. Many students or experts put down their dissertation very well, but when they reach the last part i.e. writing dissertation conclusion and recommendations; they unknowingly make mistakes that hamper the whole dissertation. The final part of the dissertation must include valid recommendations with a meaningful conclusion. The pattern for writing any dissertation is given below:

    Thesis statement and methodology
    Summary results
    Discussion of summary results
    Dissertation recommendations and conclusion

    Email me for any help or you can try mailing as these guys also helped me with my dissertation.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.