Tag: Lexis

Expat v. Immigrant v. Migrant Post 2: Dictionary Examples

The public discourse around people who move to the U.S. is ugly at the moment (the moment being Build a Wall, Travel Ban, and Zero Tolerance). This series (Post 1) uses dictionaries and corpus linguistics to reflect on how we speak about people that move from one country to another.

If like my co-bish, Caitlin, you read dictionaries for fun, you might have noticed that there are frequently example phrases and sentences to provide further context of how the word is used. You might even own a book that composed short stories using only dictionary example sentences and you might read it aloud to your indifferent friend, Kaylin.

Lexicographers select example phrases and sentences from corpora that demonstrate how that word is used in a “typical grammatical and semantic context.” That is to say, the examples are intended to be emblematic of the word’s usage as determined by big data (corpus linguistics). Some online dictionaries even populate example sentences from recent media in addition to the official example. What are typical grammatical and semantic contexts for expat, immigrant, and migrant?

An example of a bad example.

We will stick with the same dictionaries from the first post in this series. American Heritage Dictionary online had no examples (can someone old school look them up for me in your real life dictionary pleeaassee). However, our other two dictionaries give us some food for thought.

Compare New Oxford American Dictionary’s examples for expat and immigrant:

  • ‘American expatriates in London’
  • ‘they found it difficult to expel illegal immigrants.’

The difference is jarring. I am jarred. Expats are from a wealthy country neutrally existing in a cosmopolitan city. Immigrants are without status and an ominous ‘they’ attempts to remove them.

(New Oxford American did not have an official example for migrant, but it had multiple example sentences from what I gather to be news sources though they are not credited. From words spelled commonwealthily and references to Australia, I have surmised that most these sources are not American, and must be coming from the sister dictionary Oxford Dictionary of English.)

Merriam-Webster doesn’t chap my lips as much.

  • ‘English and American expatriates in the bars of Paris’
  • ‘Millions of immigrants came to America from Europe in the 19th century.’  
  • ‘migrants in search of work on farms’.

The M-W example for immigrant is not negative like NOA’s, so that’s something. As in NOA, expats are from wealthy, Western countries with white majorities hanging out in a foreign city. This particular example was from a sentence about Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein credited to Robert Penn Warren. The example for migrant squares with M-W’s definition: a person who moves regularly for agricultural work. Agricultural labor, a so-called low-skilled job, is not for expats. Expats move abroad to work as writers and NGO staff and businessbishes. Expats have privilege. Migrants move abroad to toil in fields. Migrants are disenfranchised.

Not blaming Mrs. Dictionary for any of this. She is merely the vessel. Tune in for the next post on the source material: corpus.

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Expat v. Immigrant v. Migrant Post 1: Dictionary Definitions

The public discourse around people who move to the U.S. is ugly at the moment (the moment being Build a Wall, Travel Ban, and Zero Tolerance). This series uses dictionaries and corpus linguistics to reflect on how we speak about people that move from one country to another.

As an American living in Ethiopia, I am frequently referred to as an expat. However, my Ethiopian colleagues in the United States are identified as immigrants. Why is that?

What are the definitions of immigrant, migrant, and expat? For those uninitiated in the dark arts of lexicography, words in dictionaries are not defined by some divinity on high making pronouncements (aka prescriptions). Rather words are defined by lexicography witchstaff who are analyzing how they are used by the speakers of the given language (aka descriptions).

Thhhhhhusly, the definitions below have been determined by and broadly represent how Americans use and understand these labels. Take a peep:

As you can see with your own beautiful eyes, the distinctions are subtle. (Also, how extra is American Heritage Dictionary?) All three dictionaries include reference to permanence for immigrant. There is no analogous qualification for expat, indicating expats may not be perceived as permanently living in a foreign country. The definitions for migrant all include a reference to work and frequent movement.

I have moved in and out of the U.S. to four different countries for work opportunities over the course of my career, but nobody has ever called me a migrant. Qwhite interesting, huh? In subsequent posts I will consider how these terms are used in racialized and class-based ways rather than applied to describe permanent, temporary, or work-related movement.

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Dismantling the Native-speakerarchy Post 1: “Interlanguage Talk: What can breadth of knowledge features tell us about input and output differences?”

Why

A movement has been brewing in the English language teaching field to raise awareness about the discrimination against ‘non-native speaker teachers’ and the privilege of ‘native speaker teachers.’ (The labels themselves are problematic, and, as the incredible advocates at TEFL Equity have argued, can perpetuate the hierarchy.)

Apart from the very compelling reasons of fighting against the inequality, racism, linguistic imperialism, etc. of the native-speakerarchy, there is a lack of evidence in linguistics research that ‘native speakers’ are superior language teachers.

As someone who got my start in ELT through the privilege of my ‘native speaker’ status and a silver spoon passport, I feel the urgency to use whatever influence I have to advocate for equal status of all English language teachers. SO consider this the inaugural post in a series that digs into research showing the emperor has no clothes. ‘Native speaker’ teachers have no magical teaching abilities bestowed upon them by the fairy godmother of English.

What

Scott A. Crossley and Danielle S. McNamara (2010) set out to determine if ‘non-native speaker’ lexical production (that just means words, kiddos) changes whether their interlocutor is a ‘native speaker’ or not.

DISCLAIMER: Crossley and McNamara do not pass the Holliday Test. Adrian Holliday has had it up to here with ‘native speaker’ bullshit. He’s decided not to review any research that uses the labels ‘native speaker’ or ‘non-native speaker’ without a critical discussion of such. This work was published 8 years ago and does not reflect the latest thinking on the use of those terms. I am giving them the benny of a doubt, but I do wish they had called their subjects ‘language learners’ or SOMETHING less incendiary.

How

The researchers recruited ‘native speakers’ (NS) and ‘non-native speakers’ (NNS) from an American university, and collected a corpora of spoken language between a boatload of NNS-NS and NNS-NNS dyads. They analyzed the interactions with a computational tool, Coh-Metrix, focusing on lexical diversity and frequency.

I MUST DISCLAIM AGAIN: There is no mention of how these groups were deemed ‘native’ or ‘non-native speakers,’ or what that even means, so take it all with a grain salt. Re-read what Adrian Holliday has to say on the issue, and proceed with caution.

They hypothesized that NS-NNS interactions would provide more comprehensible input to the language learner. Comprehensible input is the language that learners are exposed to via listening or reading that is modified for their level of proficiency. It is generally acknowledged to be critical to language acquisition. Crossley and McNamara suggest that because ‘native speakers’ alter how they speak when communicating with someone they perceive as ‘non-native’ their speech will be extra comprehensible.

A second hypothesis was that NNSs would “produce more varied and more infrequent vocabulary” with NS interaction. This is the aforementioned lexical diversity and frequency. Lexical diversity is calculated by dividing the number of different words by the total number of words in a given (in this case spoken) text. The idea is that higher diversity equals a wider vocabulary, a signal of higher command of a language. Lexical frequency refers to how common a particular word is in corpora. Therefore, “more infrequent vocabulary” just means less common words, again signalling a wider vocabulary.

Allow me to paraphrase this ménage à deux of hypotheticals: ‘Native speakers’ will have a positive effect on language learners’ lexical input and output.

And so…?

What they found regarding output was NNSs produced more lexical diversity when speaking with other NNSs, which is to say they used a wider range of vocabulary. They also found that NNSs used more frequent vocabulary when speaking to other NNSs. The explanation being they likely simplify their speech to be comprehensible to lower proficiency speakers, much in the same way NSs do.

Furthermore, “the study demonstrates that NNSs receive no specific lexical benefits related to lexical diversity and frequency from interacting with NSs.” The input from NNSs and NSs was equally comprehensible vis a vis lexical features.

There you have it, folks. A study which a) employed problematic terms, and b) hypothesized NS interlocutors would come with lexical benefits actually provided evidence to file in our ‘NATIVE SPEAKERS’ ARE NOT HASHTAG BLESSED WITH LANGUAGE ACQUISITION GIFT-GIVING-POWERS FILING CABINET.

Indeed, it shows that NNS interlocutors are fine and good and great. Can I extrapolate that ‘non-native speaker’ teachers are fine and good and great? Try and stop me. Crossley and McNamara conclude that their findings have implications on the use of pairwork and groupwork in EFL classrooms, but I think we can also point to this study to show that ‘non-native speaker’ English teachers are not at a disadvantage when it comes to lexical features of input and output.

Recommended reading for all language teacher bishes and bishes who wish to arm themselves against the native-speakerarchy. BONUS: It’s pretty short and not behind a paywall.


Crossley, S. A., & McNamara, D. S. (2010). Interlanguage talk: What can breadth of knowledge features tell us about input and output differences? Proceedings of the 23rd International Florida Artificial Intelligence Research Society.

 

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