International Journal of

Arts , Humanities & Social Science

ISSN 2693-2547 (Print) , ISSN 2693-2555 (Online)
Naming people on the move according to the political agenda: a study of Belgian media



The aim of this article is to study the different denominations used to name people on the move in the Belgian French- and Dutch-speaking press. Denominations are the main condition for social phenomena to exist as they rely on discourse and not on material reality (Kaufmann, 2006). According to Siblot (2001) naming social phenomena is always a choice and depends on the point of view taken by the speaker. The so-called “refugee crisis” has received huge media attention in Belgium (De Cleen et al., 2017) but, contrary to other European countries, there is no Belgian coverage of the situation. Indeed, the Belgian media landscape is divided amongst a Dutch-, French- and a much smaller German-speaking communities, all of which harbour different journalistic traditions (Raeymaeckers and Heinderyckx, 2018: 14). For these reasons, Belgium is an excellent case study to observe the divergences between the linguistic repertoire of denominations referencing people in the two main linguistic communities. To explore this, an exhaustive corpus composed of press articles was collected between 2015 and 2017 in both French- and Dutch-speaking communities of Belgium. For each community, the tabloid and the broadsheet with the largest circulation were analyzed. The analysis combines Discourse Analysis and Corpus Linguistics, as they complement one another. At first, the repertoire of common nouns in each corpus seems similar but differences lie in the frequency of denominations used to qualify people on the move and also in the collocations that construct their meaning. In both corpora, the word refugee is strongly collocated with status and administrative terms. One important finding lies in the difference in frequencies of the word migrant, which is used less often in the Dutch-speaking corpus than in the French-speaking one. This article also gives special attention to relatively new terms, such as trans migrant, transit migrant and newcomer.