The Language of Migration

Tawona Sitholé, Heaven Crawley, Dereje Feyissa, Tebkieta Alexandra Tapsoba, Marc Mouoboum Meda, Gabriel Sangli, Seng Guan Yeoh, Alison Phipps

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Words are a dangerous game. They don’t just describe a reality; they also create it. At the same time, words are one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to change dominant, dehumanising, migratory narratives. This piece was inspired by a conversation between MIDEQ colleagues in the early stages of thinking and writing for this volume. During the conversation it became clear that whilst we appeared to be talking about the same thing, in reality, we weren’t. For each of us, the language of migration reflects our own experiences and engagement with the concept of “migration.” It reflects our understanding of what it means to “migrate” and who is viewed, understood, or represented as “a migrant.” These understandings, individual and collective, are shaped by our personal experiences and those of our family and friends, our engagement with the “scholarly literature” on migration from a range of disciplinary perspectives, our work and play as writers, artists, linguists, advocates and campaigners, doers and thinkers. These understandings are formed at the intersection of our complex and interwoven identities. Our conversation revealed the many ways in which the core ideas of “migration” and “migrants” are conceptualised in the various languages spoken, known or used by those working in or otherwise associated with, the MIDEQ Hub. Several contributors mentioned that in the contexts where they live and work, the word “migration” has a very different meaning – or no meaning at all. And that even within countries, different groups use the term “migrant” or “traveller” or “foreigner” to mean many different things, both positive and negative. The significance of this and the potential implications for the work are both exciting and challenging. When we write for a particular journal or audience, we often default to the dominant ways of representing migration linguistically without stopping to consider whether these meanings are the same for others. This piece is the product of that original conversation and our subsequent engagements, woven together in ways that we hope provide a meaningful starting point for better understanding of the multiple meanings and significances of “migration,” as used in this volume.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-26
Number of pages13
JournalZanj: The Journal of Critical Global South Studies
Issue number1/2
Early online date13 Jun 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Published under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International ( CC BY 4.0). Users are allowed to share (copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format) and adapt (remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially), as long as the authors and the publisher are explicitly identified and properly acknowledged as the original source.


  • Global South
  • Migration
  • Language
  • Narratives
  • economic development
  • identities
  • critical studies
  • communication
  • discourse
  • social sciences


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