How Niqula Nasrallah Became John Jacob Astor: Syrian Emigrants aboard the Titanic and the Materiality of Language

J.L. Bier*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Web of Science)


In this article, i explore the physical afterlife of one victim of the 1912 titanic disaster, the syrian american businessman niqula nasrallah, whose remains would widely be identified as those of the famous multimillionaire john jacob astor. Syrian emigrants constituted 10–20 percent of the titanic's third-class passengers, and their names were overwhelmingly altered as casualty lists were transmitted via an early form of radio. Such transformations only served to reinforce linguistic barriers, in direct contrast to widespread assertions that new technologies would enable instantaneous worldwide communication. A discussion of the substitution of astor for nasrallah thus allows insight into the production of confusion that resulted from the development of wireless technology as a linguistic medium. [migration, technology, materiality of language, globalization, lebanon, syria].
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-191
JournalJournal of Linguistic Anthropology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2008

Cite this