Language and Communication in Cross-Cultural Qualitative Research

  • Monique M. Hennink
Part of the Social Indicators Research Series book series (SINS, volume 34)


Language and communication are the bedrock of qualitative enquiry. Language is a fundamental tool through which qualitative researchers seek to understand human behaviour, social processes and the cultural meanings that inscribe human behaviour. However, when conducting cross-cultural research, issues of language and communication become more complex and often require the assistance of interpreters/translators as “cultural brokers”. Cross-cultural research poses numerous methodological, epistemological and practical challenges, which are rarely debated in qualitative research. This chapter outlines the epistemological approach to language and communication in different research paradigms and demonstrates the implications of this for the rigour of qualitative enquiry. In particular, concepts of transparency, subjectivity and reflexivity, which are indicators of methodological rigour in qualitative research, are typically not applied to language assistants in cross-cultural qualitative research despite the critical role of language assistants in the generation of knowledge and its cultural interpretation. Improving cross-cultural qualitative research involves understanding how language and communication can affect rigour and addressing language and communication issues that underlie the entire research process. Failure to recognise and acknowledge the role of language and communication issues in cross-cultural research may impact on the rigour and reliability of the research.

Language and communication Translator Cultural broker Rigour and reliability Knowledge generation Qualitative inquiry Methodological challenge Epistemology and research paradigm Cultural interpretation 


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© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Monique M. Hennink
    • 1
  1. 1.Hubert Department of Global Health, Rollins School of Public HealthEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA

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