Sydney, who is presumably a college student, emailed:
“I love your site, especially the news service you provide.
I’m spending my first semester in Italy (got here in January!) and have recently learned about the debate (at least in the Florence English speaking community) about using expat versus immigrant.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts about the terms. Who can use them? What does each mean? Why use expat over immigration, or vice verse?
Thank you for sharing slices of your life each week, as well as all of the resources on the site.”
I never need to be asked twice to say what I think! However, before I do, a word of warning to Sydney and other club members – “What does it mean?” is a question I disapprove of and teach my more advanced students (Italians learning English) to avoid if possible.
Why should you be wary of that question? For many reasons. First and foremost, the use that you, the questioner have in mind (We were sitting on the BANK watching the boats go by) may not occur to the person you ask for an explanation, who may explain an alternative use, what’s called a ‘homonym’ – same word, different meaning – (The BANK is closed because there’s a union meeting) and so generate confusion…
But such an obvious misunderstanding is just the tip of the iceberg, and probably the least important. There are also differences in register (more or less formal) as in the British English terms ‘sacked’ and ‘made redundant’, which may or may not accompany differences in ‘meaning’. So you are ‘sacked’ for doing something wrong but ‘made redundant’ because there is no longer a need for your labour, but that may not necessarily be what the speaker intends. Besides, as American readers will have noted, a completely different term may be used by speakers of a different variant of the language to signify the same thing (‘fired’ rather than ‘sacked’.) Variations in register need to be considered, then.
Next there are the ‘three Cs’ that I lecture my students about: Context is obviously fundamental, if for no other reason than that a word can be taboo in one context (bloody coronavirus!) but not in another (bloody bandage), Collocation – a linguistic term to describe the fact that people commonly use a word together with another word (tea + bag/pot/spoon etc. coffee + shop/cup/bar – you can make fun classroom games with these), and Connotation, which is a vital one.
Think, for instance, of the way that Bernie Sanders (currently leading the U.S. Democratic Party primary race) probably feels about the term ‘socialist’ (positively, one assumes) and whether or not a majority of U.S. voters will feel the same way on election day.
Many political terms have a range of connotations – ‘liberal’ for instance can easily be understood to have both positive and negative connotations, and the same applies to many, many words in common use (cheap/expensive) – what the Connotation is will depend on the Context and will in turn govern the likely Collocations (cheap suit, cheap rental, expensive medicine, expensive lifestyle).
Which brings us nicely back to ‘expat versus immigrant’, and hopefully makes the question easy to answer. One has a negative connotation in modern political discourse in many countries, whereas the other might have a negative connotation when used to refer to a certain type of privileged person and their choice of abode (note the register of that last word – it just jumps out at you, doesn’t it?)
The ‘argument’ if there is such a thing is presumably about double standards – a British person who retires to Italy, for example, is not usually thought of as an immigrant, whereas someone crossing the Med. in a rubber boat and subsequently settling in Italy because they can’t get into France or Germany doesn’t quite match the stereotype of an expat.
Personally I wouldn’t use either term to describe myself, though I moved to Italy 20+ years ago and still live here. I’d just say what I just said, that I moved to Italy and live here, and no, I’m not a citizen, but I am a permanent resident. I didn’t think of myself as migrating when I did so back in 1998, not as emigrating (positive connotation) nor immigrating (negative connotation). Just ‘moving’ (no obvious connotation).
Neither do I use the term expat, though not because I object to it because of the connoations, but because the ways the word is typically collocated (community, network, club) aren’t relevant to me (I’m not very sociable…) While I’m married to an Italian, have three children born in Italy, and own a house and a business here, I don’t think of myself as Italian. But I do feel I belong, certainly at this kitchen table, in this house, in this street, in this ‘quartiere’, if not always in this city, in this region, in this country, or ultimately now, in Europe. Though how I feel about it is often not the point – I spent Saturday morning on a course at which the other twenty or so participants were all Italians, and not once did I feel like an outsider – the very opposite, in fact (that’s not always the case, though.)
What else? Personally, I think that immigration is a good thing and most places would benefit from more of it, though I’m sure that’s a minority view. And that living ‘abroad’ is ‘good’ in the sense that it’s never boring, at least, there always being something new to learn or discover. Though I might feel differently if I was an economic migrant in a country that was conflicted about my presence.
One part of Sydney’s email stood out as particularly interesting: “Who can use them?” (the terms). It sounds very modern to me, perhaps very American, to be discussing people’s right to use a particular word or expression, reminiscent of the controversy regarding charged racial or sexual terms (which you may choose to ‘own’ only if you are one or have one, but otherwise must not use.) I’m unsure that the many differences between the terms ‘expat’ and ‘immigrant’ really include this ‘permission’ aspect, but I can see how it would be possible.
For instance, I recall seeing lads from the Indian sub-continent playing a fast and watchable game of cricket in my local park, back when my kids where small enough to want to go out for a walk with dad, and wondering why they didn’t join Bologna Cricket Club (yes, it exists) and so play on a proper pitch rather than scrubby grass. They certainly seemed good enough. Perhaps they did, who knows, but I daresay you see the point.
So there you go, Sydney. I don’t think I’ll have contributed much to your understanding, but many thanks for providing an interesting topic with aspects that are so relevant to language-learners.
New half-price ‘eBook of the Week’
This week’s half-price ‘eBook of the Week’ is Michelangelo e il Mosè.
Sculpure is a topic I know absolutely nothing about, so I will say no more than that there’s a Free Sample Chapter (.pdf) that you can look at, and that the ebook usually sells for £7.99 but is, this week, priced at £3.99.
Oh, and that we have other ebooks in the ‘famous lives’ series if you like this sort of thing (Galileo, Leonardo and Caravaggio were good, Columbus too, though I guessed the ending…)
Only ‘Michelangelo’ is half price when bought individually, but please note, if you buy all seven in a ‘bundle’, then you’ll save 50% on the lot.
A mercoledì, allora.
Don’t forget to read/listen to Saturday’s edition of EasyItalianNews.com, will you? It’s FREE and, as Sydney wrote, very useful.