Monday, August 08, 2016

There is migration ... and then there is diaspora

Early on, I  realized that I had a limited vocabulary.  One classmate knew words that I could not even find in the primitive dictionary that we had at home.  As I have noted many times here, my best friend from high school often stumped me with words.  One high school student included a word in her personal statement that was well outside my word list: Sesquipedalian.  It is no surprise to me that she is now wrapping up her doctoral dissertation at Yale!

Maybe that is all the more why Hemingway's works (like here) have always appealed to me, with his short sentences and words that are rarely outside my comfort zone.  William Faulkner may have insulted Hemingway with "He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary" but I don't care; hey, I have never read Faulkner ;)  Seriously, I had planned on reading a Faulkner work five summers ago, but gave up after only a few pages.

In graduate school, I was encountering new words and ideas every single day.  One of those is a word that I now use as if I had known it even from my days at the kindergarten with Mrs. Higgins!


In our daily lives, we don't think much about "diaspora."  But, if we paused to think about it, then in no time we are mighty impressed with the importance of that word and its meaning in the contemporary world.  One can immediately understand why we would want to understand various aspects related to "diaspora."

This essay reminds us that we will be hearing a lot more about "diaspora" given the large-scale movement of people in the recent past couple of years.  However, "while human migration is always part of a diaspora, not all migrations equal a diaspora."  But, of  course, we--including me--use the word "diaspora" a lot more loosely than it ought to be.

There are two weighty ones in human history: the Jewish and African diaspora.  Even a mere mentioning of the Jewish or African diaspora conveys to us that mere movement of people does not make a diaspora.  Right?
Perhaps contemporary Western societies’ misuse of the term “diaspora” to describe any national groups’ geographic migration is changing the meaning of the word. Or, maybe we haven’t done a good job of educating our citizens about distinctions of important universal concepts. Or, maybe we need a new term for many of today’s populations forced to migrate from their homelands. This will be exceptionally true if, unlike groups in the African diaspora, new groups of migrants are socially included in their new locations.
Here is to hoping that we will see more natural assimilation as people move, and not the creation of more tragic diaspora stories.


Ramesh said...

Frankly , if any girl in high school used words like sesquipedalian, all normal, virile, boys would run a mile from her. She really would have no options in life other than to do a doctoral dissertation at Yale :)

Tsk Tsk. Its Mrs Huggins .......

Mike Hoth said...

Diaspora is one of those words I'm convinced only saw use because the "intelligent elite" wanted to prove how smart they were. Once they started to use it, others followed suit until people are running around using a word they have no understanding of. "Genocide" is another such word I can think of, and that word isn't even 80 years old yet. Academics are still arguing what constitutes genocide and what doesn't. Words are quite the tools, eh?

Sriram Khé said...

Huggins, yes.
As for the sesquipedalian, she found another sesquipedalian who is also wrapping up his doctoral degree at Yale. There are some really, really, smart people out there.

Well ... sometimes, we do have a need to invent new words because the old words do not adequately capture the new developments. After all, even a word like "smartphone" was unknown a few years ago, and a "laptop" meant something very different when I was a kid ;)

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