Recently the Greek root ‘xenos’ has again cropped up in response to the text and illustrations in picture book The Island by Armin Greder, an illustrated allegory revolving around xenophobia (see the other texts linked with this on our class blog Hold Fast to Dreams). This text is part of our year’s exploration of ‘identity’ where we wrestle with questions such as: What does it mean to belong? When does difference make a difference? How does difference matter?
The Island opens with:
‘One morning the people of the island found a man on the beach, where fate and the ocean currents had washed his raft ashore. When he saw them coming, he stood up.
He wasn’t like them’.
The word ‘stranger’ occurred in the brief text four times:
‘He’s a stranger. He doesn’t belong.”
Students also noted the line: “Foreigner Spreads Fear in Town,” said the newspaper in big black letters.
These words plunged us into an exploration of the synonyms for ‘stranger’ of which the word ‘foreigner’ is one. We examined the following words:
stranger, outsider, foreigner, arrival, immigrant, outcast, misfit, alien, refugee, asylum-seeker, exile, outcast and later pariah.
Students spent some time examining the denotation, determining the morphemes and exploring the etymology that has helped tease out deeper understandings. We learned that:
Stranger, estranged and extraneous are related to the Latin root extraneus meaning foreign or external from extra outside of.
Outsider and outcast are compound words , both made of two free base elements , both having the Old English root ut while the cast in outcast means to throw coming from Old Norse kasta… and yes the cast of the a play is one of many meanings this word contains as it has the sense of the form something takes after being thrown! Cast is a great example of polysemy, one student read that it had eighty-three different verbal senses and forty-two senses used nominally! (Online Etymology Dictionary)
Foreigner has etymological connections to doors as the root Latin foris has a meaning of out of doors and this ultimately from a Proto Indo European root meaning door , doorways! (Online Etymology Dictionary) .
Arrival too revealed an interesting discovery -from the Latin phrase ad ripam:’to the shore’ with Latin root ripa meaning shore. Therefore, riparian is etymologically connected to arrival and that lead to more fascinating comparisons with the Norse root producing the words rift and rifle and riven.
We found that alien and alias are related to the Latin root alius: ‘an other’ and the sense of not belonging to earth as recent as 1920s while the science fiction sense from the 1950’s.
Refugee and fugitive share the Latin root fugere to flee. Initially this meant seeking shelter but evolved to the sense of fleeing home in 1914 as citizens fled Flanders to escape fighting (Online Etymology Dictionary).
Immigrant, migrate, migratory share the same bound base element ‘migr’ from Latin migrare to move from one place to another.
Asylum a Latin loan word from the Greek asylom from the root syle meaning ‘right of seizure’ so with the prefix a- meaning without , it has the sense , according to Online Etymology Dictionary, of an inviolable place . It was in 1776 that it came to mean a benevolent institution for ‘the shelter some class of person'(Online Etymology Dictionary)
Pariah, a Tamil word referring to the lowly caste drummers from theTamil word parai meaning festival drum.
What great tales these words tell! Digging through the layers of time to uncover roots allows students to compare the present day denotation and to consider metaphors implied by the root meaning. This allows students to connect deeply with the words and the texts. From here we then considered the connotation of the words and ranked them from the most positive to negative and then after reaching consensus with the group, reconsidered initial ranking to make adjustments when taking into account power, a suggestion from one group as they clustered their words. We later discovered the word ‘pariah’ as a synonym and threw that into the list after examining the denotation,etymology and morphology. Which word implied more power, which word was associated with the least amount of power? A lot of debate, arguing and thinking!
Watch the clips below:
Comparison of groups:
Teaching word study and asking students to investigate, draw conclusions based on evidence, to critique one another, to provide evidence in support of an idea is teaching thinking. Analysis of the words and ranking them in terms of connotation from positive to most negative will help students later to engage and write more formally about larger moral issues concerning ‘otherness’, difference and identity. As students talk, you’ll see its messiness- the exploratory nature of discussion. These students in this activity argue and are passionate. As students rank the words, they analyze and question one another. This activity allows them and me to test assumptions , and re-evaluate ideas and consider them in regard to the our texts, thereby encouraging us to return to the texts and reread.
Xenization from The Project Twins.