Emigrants vs. Settlers

In his contribution to ‘Natural Experiments in History‘ James Belich  argues that shifting attitudes towards emigration in Britain and the US were essential for the settler explosions in the American West, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Belich puts the shift in attitudes between 1810 and 1820 and illustrates the transformation with the contest between the use of ’emigrant’ and ‘settler’ on the pages of the Times of London. Always on the lookout for potential application of the awesome power of Google N-gram, I checked whether the shift of attitudes and vocabulary is visible in the larger body of English-language literature indexed  by Google N-gram as well. Here is the graph: ‘Settler’ gets more popular than ’emigrant’ indeed! But the shift occurs a bit later with an initial catch-up around 1930 and the ultimate win of ‘settler’ around 1970. Interestingly, in the corpus of British books, ‘settler’ never surpasses ’emigrant’ in popularity, while in American books the two terms are practically even between 1830 and 1865 when ‘settler’ overtakes ’emigrant’ for good. Actually, it is ‘pioneer’ that rises in popularity beyond ’emigrant’ around 1810 and then surpasses both ’emigrant’ and ‘settler’ after 1845: Overall, Belich’s transformation in attitudes and vocabulary towards emigration seems reflected in literature, although the shift occurs later, and is much stronger for American English.

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