English title: After Babel: Language and the Fundamental Challenges of Comparative Aging Research

Author(s): Ronald Angel -

Language: English

Type: Journal article

Year: 2013


The rapid growth in comparative survey research carried out in multiple countries, or among different language communities within a single nation, has given rise to a renewed concern with problems of translation. The fundamental problem facing the comparative survey researcher relates to the complexity and subjectivity of language, and the fact that complete equivalence of concepts in different linguistic, cultural, and social class contexts may be in principle impossible to achieve. Yet language remains the only medium through which information concerning subjective states, values, and beliefs can be collected. That language and the subjective constructs to which it refers are influenced by a wide range of cultural and social factors. This fact has particular relevance for comparative aging research since older individuals are often monolingual in their native languages and more tied to traditional cultures than younger individuals. This paper consists of a review of basic issues related to the nature of language and communication, and discusses the possibility of a truly scientific translation process. It outlines current best practices, and also raises questions related to the common practice of using information collected with translated survey instruments in ways that assume it reflects a comparable and quantifiable latent construct.

Volume: 28

Issue: 3

From page no: 223

To page no: 238

Refereed: Yes

DOI: 10.1007/S10823-013-9197-2

Journal: Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology

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