Karin Zwaan

Radboud University Nijmegen
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karinWhat is the process of researching multilingually? And for a researcher in the field of asylum law? I first got involved with linguistics, multilinguism when I got interested in so-called Language Analysis for Determination of Origin (LADO). LADO is a new branch of applied linguistics, used by governments in processing asylum seekers who are applying for international protection/refugee status. Applicants are interviewed by government agencies seeking to ascertain whether they speak the language of a group they say they belong to, as part of testing their claim to come from a certain nation, region or group. Speech recordings are typically analysed to determine whether an applicant’s speech patterns show expected features of the specific language variety spoken by their claimed group.  The key question that can be addressed scientifically is not one of nationality but of language socialization and speech community membership, which is a sociolinguistic matter. I am one of the three convenors of the Language and Asylum Research Group ( LARG, https://www.essex.ac.uk/larg). LARG is a group of experts who share an interest in LADO as a research topic, from a practitioner’s point of view, or both. LARG seeks collaboration among academics, practitioners, lawyers, qualified linguists, government representatives, NGOs, and anyone else with an interest in responsible, valid and scholarly practices in LADO.

The asylum narrative as such – not only for LADO – but in general plays an important role in the asylum determination process. But this narrative is placed in a multilingual setting (asylum seeker/interviewer/translator), and there simply seems no way to pause the narrative, even though we are aware that the account of the asylum seeker may be bound into the social, historical, familial, political, economic and cultural discourse. Sometimes all that remain is silence. Can silence be translated into a narrative?

To be able to participate in the program ‘Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Language, the Body, Law and the State’ is the methodological, theoretical and practical way forward in dealing with a number of the abovementioned issues and questions.

References: Karin Zwaan, Pieter Muysken and Maaike Verrips (eds.), Language and origin: The role of language in European asylum procedures: Linguistic and legal perspectives, Nijmegen: WLP 2010.