Meeting in the Middle: Using Lingua Franca in Cross-Language Qualitative Health Research in Papua New Guinea

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SAGE Journals for the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology (IIQM) at the University of Alberta, Canada
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With words as data, qualitative researchers rely upon language to understand the meaning participants make of the phenomena under study. Cross-language research requires communication about and between linguistic systems, with language a site of power. This article describes the use of the lingua franca of Tok Pisin in a study conducted to explore the implications of male circumcision for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention for women in Papua New Guinea. Utilizing a transformational grounded theory methodology, researchers conducted an analysis of data from an HIV prevention study. Researchers then facilitated individual interviews and interpretive focus groups to explore preliminary categories identified during the analysis. Most focus groups and interviews were conducted in the local lingua franca Tok Pisin, which is neither the researchers’ nor most participants’ first language. Audio recordings were transcribed and analyzed. Researchers returned to research participants to discuss research findings and recommendations. Following critical reflection by the authors and further discussions with participants, it was evident that using Tok Pisin enriched the research process and findings. Using the lingua franca of Tok Pisin enabled interaction in a language closer to the lived experience of participants, devolved the power of the researcher, and was consistent with decolonizing methodologies. Participants reported the use of Tok Pisin, em i tasim (pilim) bun bilong mipela, “it touches our bones,” and enabled a flow of conversation with the researchers that engendered trust. It is critical researchers address hierarchies of language in order to enable cogeneration of quality research findings.
cross-language, qualitative research, Papua New Guinea, Pacific, women, grounded theory