10 Jun /15


Thanks to advances in all forms of communication as well as the ease and efficiency of travel and overall relocation, people now have the opportunity to be more mobile than ever before. With recent remarks by politicians and media headlines regarding the changing identity of Europe and what exactly it means to be “European,” it may be best to look at one of the central terms in this discussion: emigration.

Defined as the act of leaving a native land in order to settle elsewhere, the word emigration has its roots in the Late Latin emigrationem, meaning “removal from a place,” and originates from ex (out) as well as the verb migrare (to move). Aside from the definition itself, to English learners as well as a great number of those who have significant experience using the English language, this word often causes usage confusion: when is this word used, and when is “immigration” used? Simply put, using the example of the Irish potato famine in the mid-1800’s, when the Irish decided to leave their native country, they became emigrants. However, when they actually arrived and settled in another location, such as the UK, America, and Australia, they became immigrants.

So, with regards to Europe or, indeed, any geographic area, how is our word causing a potential problem? With lower natural birth rates in European countries as well as higher levels of in-bound migration, there is a worry that those who are emigrating from other continents will soon change what it means to be European by attempting to apply a cultural diversity on a European system that already places a high emphasis on its own values and cultures. Moreover, open opportunities for travel as well as emerging affluence or civil strife in developing countries have only served to increase this desire to emigrate to Europe. Beyond a strictly cultural interpretation, especially in smaller or more densely populated countries, such as the UK, the worry is based on spatial accommodation, or whether there is actually enough liveable space in order to meet the needs of everyone, which has led to some organizations, such as the UK Independence Party, prominently, to propose limits on the number of emigrants from the EU and abroad.

Originating in English in the 1640’s, the term was first used by Bishop Joseph Hall in his devotional work of 1646, The Balme of Gilead, where he writes, “A scorching trial (upon the emigration) in flames little inferior..to those of hell.” Though initially utilized in a religious context, the term soon reached a meaning in the social sciences, as can be seen in Sir Matthew Hale’s The Primitive Origination of Mankind, where he writes in 1676 that, “Plethora has many times occasioned emigrations.” Using our more modern interpretation, the first known author to write about an emigration from a specific locale was Thomas Newte in his 1791 work, Prospects and observations on a tour in England and Scotland, who wrote of, “Those melancholy emigrations..from the Islands..of Scotland.”

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