The Grammarphobia Blog

The diaspora of English

Q: I’m working on a paper in which an indigenous film-making group is described as being part of an electronically mediated diaspora. I need an adjective for “diaspora.” Is it “diasporic,” “diasporal,” or something else? I prefer “diasporic” strictly because of how it rolls off my tongue.

A: The noun “diaspora” literally means “dispersion,” and was formed “in allusion to the scattering of the Jews after the Babylonian captivity” in the sixth century BC, according to the Chambers Dictionary of Etymology.

Today, the word is often used to refer to the Jewish communities living outside the Holy Land, as well as by extension to other groups of people dispersed from their original homeland.

The term is also used loosely, as you propose, to refer to the dispersion of something that was originally more or less homogeneous.

The linguist Randolph Quirk, for example, uses it in discussing whether English will suffer the same fate as Latin after the fall of the Roman Empire.

“Small wonder,” he writes in English in the World, “that there should have been in recent years fresh talk of the diaspora of English into several mutually incomprehensible languages.”

The noun “diaspora,” which entered English in 1876, was a borrowing from the Greek diaspora, which comes from the verb diaspeirein (to scatter or disperse), which in turn comes from the verb speirein (to sow).

The English words “spore” and ”sporadic” have the same Greek origin.

Neither Chambers nor the Oxford English Dictionary lists an adjective form.

However, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) gives “diasporic,” and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) gives both “diasporic” and “diasporal.”

So feel free to use “diasporic” if you like the sound of it.

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