‘What do you mean?’ The importance of language in developing interdisciplinary research

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Abstract

Unity between human and physical geography continues to be debated widely. However, if geography is to take advantage of its unique positioning between the natural and social sciences, geographers need to be able to communicate more effectively and efficiently across human and physical specialisms. In this paper we focus on the significance and uses of language in interdisciplinary research practice. Interdisciplinary research faces a range of challenges in achieving effective communication between discipline-based experts, of which language is key. This paper draws on a discussion developing the initial ideas for a research application and a field day to familiarize the group members with the study area. Dialects, metaphor and articulation are identified as three overlapping aspects of language which play an important role in developing understandings between different disciplines. These three different aspects of language are illustrated through the analysis of three situations focusing on the words dynamic, mapping and catchment. We conclude that interdisciplinary projects must allocate time to the development of shared vocabularies and understandings. Common understanding derived from shared languages in turn plays a vital role in enhancing the relations of trust that are necessary for effective interdisciplinary working.

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