Past Events and Projects


Rights, Rules and Rhetoric: Exploring Language for and About Migrants in Australia, Europe and North America

Nov. 17-18, 2020

This online event explored and compared diverse language-related facets of the migration experience in Australia, Europe and North America. These facets can be grouped along three axes:

  1. The rights enacted through laws or directives ensuring procedural fairness for migrants, including their ability to access critical information in their languages through translated documents or interpretation.

  2. The everyday rules, written and unwritten, of language provision and practice in situations involving migrants, which may fall short of formally guaranteed rights and reflect various "language ideologies," that is, common if sometimes misguided understandings of how language works.

  3. The problematic or demonizing rhetoric about migrants and their communities of origin, and the obstacles such rhetoric may create for people on the move.

The exchange also examined the impact of the current pandemic both on the availability and adequacy of language services, which have shifted largely to remote technologies, and on public narratives about migrants from regions that have been described, often inaccurately, as sources of the coronavirus. One discussion board was devoted specifically to the linguistic experiences of international students enrolled in universities on the three continents.

Rights, Rules and Rhetoric saw the participation of 120 persons from 19 countries across the globe, including several in Africa and Latin America. The organizers appreciated the open and thoughtful discourse that occurred during the 48-hour event and over multiple thematic discussion boards. The lively back-and-forth brought forward numerous thought-provoking ideas about communicative rights and language access, and it suggested new ways to emphasize, problematize, decolonize, and prioritize the ways in which migrants and migration are (mis)(re)presented via language.

Summaries and next steps from the exchange will be available in the near future. 

Please visit the Hub’s migration theme page for a wealth of resources relevant to language, culture and migration. 

Conveners and partner institutions

The persons below collaborated over many months on the conceptualization, design and outreach efforts for Rights, Rules and Rhetoric: Exploring Language for and about Migrants in Australia, Europe and North America.

Leigh Swigart, Brandeis University – Waltham, Massachusetts, USA

Hillary Mellinger, Brandeis University, George Washington University and American University – Washington DC, USA

Alexandra Grey, University of Sydney Law School – Sydney, Australia

Laura Smith-Khan, University of Technology Sydney – Sydney, Australia

Jean-Pierre Gauci, British Institute of International and Comparative Law People for Change Foundation – London, United Kingdom and Malta

This learning exchange benefitted from the assistance and cooperation of these institutions:

We thank the Rice Family Foundation whose generous funding supported this program.