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Field Research

My research is founded on the need for an in-depth understanding of cultures and languages in translation and the application of this to current translation studies theory.  Whilst I could spend years and years with my head in books studying the research of others, analysing theoretical concepts and the literature and translations of a distant land, I could not continue my PhD into its third year without spending some time in the country I have become so passionate about - Senegal.  During 2008, I spent two months in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, doing primary research.  My key objectives were as follows:

  • to interview Senegalese writers and feminists
  • to learn Wolof, the lingua franca of Senegal
  • to gain a greater understanding of Senegalese cultures
  • to make use of the facilities at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop
  • to find texts which are unavailable in Europe


The trip was incredibly productive.  I lived with Senegalese families both in Dakar and Ndiobène, so I could experience the stark contrast between city and village life.  Unless you live the life of the people of Senegal, how can you truly understand their cultures?  It was about eating Ceebu jën (Senegalese national dish of fish and rice) from a communal bowl on the floor, helping Mama cook on an outside burner, sweeping up in the morning and accepting that men don't, not having a clue who's in the house as so many people come and go all day, cold showers and electricity cuts, the wily ways of the Griotte, clicking the back of your mouth to agree, shaking hands, celebrating a family christening and the slaughtering of a goat, living with polygamy, sitting in on Papa's mosque gathering on the roof, supping ataya (delicious Senegalese tea) as the sun goes down over Ndiobène, visiting the markets and the tailor, wearing a boubou (Senegalese dress) and a modern boubou, little Amina's sports day, hanging out of the back of crowded buses, the heat, the great baobab trees and blessing the first mango of the season! 

Whilst I was there, I took private lessons in Wolof, which were taught to me in French - great practice for both languages!  The useful thing was being able to flit between Wolof and French when needed, as this doesn't sound at all odd to the people of Dakar who use both Wolof, French and other local languages to communicate.  I had the opportunity to travel out to the islands off the coast of Dakar, most significantly Isle de Gorée, a beautiful place with a terrible history of slave trade and imprisonment, and Ngor, a small, peaceful and idyllic holiday island - an escape from the hectic city of Dakar.

I was welcomed as a visiting doctoral student to the Humanities department at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD) of Dakar.  There, I was generously treated by staff and pupils, could freely use the language library and take books out at the main university library.  I also attended classes on doctoral research and Francophone literature, a conference on Blaise Cendrars and a PhD viva.  Thanks to the university staff, I was also given contacts for writers currently living and working in Dakar, and because of this I was able to conduct five interviews before leaving Senegal.  You will find more on these interviews by clicking here.

I left England with just one email from a contact at UCAD, nowhere to live but a hotel room for a few days and no idea as to whether I would achieve my goals.  My Wolof was so basic that holding a conversation would have been impossible.  Luckily, the Senegalese people made life very easy for me - by the time I left, I felt as if I had been living there for years, could communicate reasonably well in Wolof, had lots of new friends and a brand new name - Khadija Tine.  Khadija given to me by my new Mama in my Dakar family, and Tine from the Sereer family I lived with in Ndiobène.  I would have liked to have stayed longer and travelled more, but financial constraints as well as time issues of completing the PhD within three years meant I needed to return to the UK to begin writing up my thesis.  I did return, however, with a suitcase full of books, photocopies and notes and a wealth of understanding I never could have had without visiting and living in Senegal.

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“translators often stress the need for a sense of affinity with the poet they are translating” (Connolly 175)