Words communicate more than their ordinary dictionary meaning. Words tell us about individuals' and communities' conscious and subconscious perceptions. The words we use are evidence of how we think, which, in turn, ultimately determines what we do. In this paper, I examine and compare the usage of the words "immigrant," "alien," and "citizen" to make observations on the nature of membership and belonging in the United States. While it is perhaps intuitive that these words carry very different connotations, here I use corpus linguistics to explore those connotations. I rely on the Corpus of Contemporary American English, a database of natural spoken and written American English from a variety of sources, including newspapers, television programs, literary magazines, and movie scripts, to examine these terms' usage. By comparing the words most exclusively and closely associated with "immigrant," "alien," and "citizen," I highlight the connotations of these terms in modern American usage. Ultimately, I conclude that current usage of these terms suggests a hierarchical and status-based narrative of membership in which "aliens are criminals and outsiders," "immigrants are weak and vulnerable," and "citizens are noble and contributing." This narrative, I argue, contributes to a stratified notion of membership that engenders discriminatory perceptions of and facilitates the denial of rights to noncitizens.
© 2014 Brigham Young University Law Review
D. Carolina Núñez, 𝘞𝘢𝘳 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘞𝘰𝘳𝘥𝘴: 𝘈𝘭𝘪𝘦𝘯𝘴, 𝘐𝘮𝘮𝘪𝘨𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘵𝘴, 𝘊𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘻𝘦𝘯𝘴, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘓𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘶𝘢𝘨𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘌𝘹𝘤𝘭𝘶𝘴𝘪𝘰𝘯, 2013 BYU L. Rᴇᴠ. 1517.