My doctoral thesis investigated the ‘Construction of Identities in the BBC Sitcom Citizen Khan’ by analysing a corpus of over 40,000 words, which consisted of transcripts from all the episodes of the show within the first two seasons. In my analysis, there were a number of instances where I had made some assumptions in relation to the motivations of the scriptwriters when incorporating certain scenes into the programme. Therefore, in order to triangulate my findings, I decided to interview the content creator (Adil Ray) and ascertain from him if my assumptions had been correct. (Transcript of the full interview is available at: https://allaboutcorpora.com/adil-ray-interview)
It would not be feasible in this short article to highlight all the various points discussed within the interview and how they correlated with my findings. However, I aim to provide at least one very vivid example, which highlights the importance of triangulating especially the qualitative aspects of a corpus-based analysis. For the readers who have viewed the sitcom Citizen Khan, they may have noticed the ‘running-gag’ throughout the series, where the mosque manager Dave (a Caucasian convert to Islam) would offer the Islamic salutation (As Salaamu Alaikum) to Mr Khan (a Pakistani British Muslim) and Khan would respond to him by saying ‘hello Dave’.
In total, there were ten such instances in the corpus, where such an exchange occurred; and in my thesis (pp.136-145), I discussed in some detail the various textual evidences from the Quran and Prophetic Traditions (Hadeeth) that indicate the importance of greetings within Islam and the etiquette involved when giving or responding to an Islamic salutation. Taking into consideration this contextual information, I concluded that the scriptwriters had incorporated this gag into the show to indicate that Mr Khan did not consider Dave to be a ‘real’ or ‘proper’ Muslim. Furthermore, I argued that they were also trying to highlight how Muslim converts are part of an ‘out-group’, which can sometimes be ostracised from those who are born Muslim.
During my interview with Ray, I questioned him on the significance of Mr Khan responding to Dave’s Islamic greeting with ‘hello’. Ray said that from his own point of view, it could be seen as signifying that Khan was not comfortable with ‘this white chap coming in and being the manager of the mosque and being a Muslim’. However, Ray then went onto explicitly state that he believed that Khan’s main grievance was that Dave had the job of mosque manager, as opposed to him:
‘I don’t think it was the fact that he was uncomfortable necessarily with his race, it’s not that, but he was uncomfortable that there was somebody who was a manager and probably had more authority than Khan and in a way he was better than Khan at managing and doing things. And that was the thing that riled Khan, Khan probably thought he would be that person, he would have that job.’
I then specifically mentioned that there was a Quranic instruction that dictated how an Islamic greeting should be responded to and thus the interaction could indicate that Khan did not see Dave to be a full Muslim. However, Ray did not seem to fully entertain this notion and once again went onto stress that he believed Khan’s main gripe with Dave was due to the mosque manager position and ultimately Khan would always be there for Dave.
The main premise of my argument in the thesis was that the scriptwriters chose to highlight Khan’s usage of ‘hello’, to clearly indicate that he did not fully accept Dave as a Muslim. However, after my discussion with Ray, it became abundantly clear that this was not in fact their primary motivation. Citizen Khan has three co-writers (Anil Gupta, Richard Pinto, Adil Ray), with Ray being the only Muslim amongst them and thus, if the intention was to signify a contravention in Islamic etiquettes, it is presumed he would be the most aware of it from the three.
Thus, through triangulating my research findings in such a manner, it has highlighted that when engaging in linguistic analysis, an analyst may at times ‘over-analyse’ language usage, in their pursuit of extracting ‘meaning behind the text’.
Bilal Kadiri is an Assistant Professor at King Khalid University and completed his PhD at Lancaster University under the supervision of CASS’s Paul Baker. He can be contacted by email at bilal(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)allaboutcorpora.com