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I have a problem with collocations. I need to say "Slaves were unloaded on these coasts", but I don't know if "unload" is the correct word for "slaves". Moreover, I'm not sure about the preposition. Is it "on the coast" or "in the coast"?

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I think "unload" is fine. Normally you wouldn't use it when talking about people but I think it's appropriate since slaves were just another cargo to the slavers.

"On the coast" is correct, not "in the coast".

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    That they were slaves does not matter. You unload people from a plane or bus, for example, or for that matter from cars: The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only. – choster May 23 '13 at 22:57
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    @choster: That's a somewhat clinical/clipped usage typical of road signs (and with overtones of loading/unloading luggage into/out of car boots). A person wouldn't say "I unloaded at the ferry port" - he'd say "I disembarked". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 24 '13 at 2:24
  • @FumbleFingers: You certainly wouldn't say "I unloaded". It would have to be in passive voice ("I was unloaded ..."). People don't usually say that either, but Google finds a number of hits (although in some of them, this expression is being used because the writers feel like they were treated like cargo). – Peter Shor May 24 '13 at 3:10
  • As far as the preposition goes, at could work, too. The slaves were unloaded at the coast, and then marched inland. – J.R. May 24 '13 at 10:12
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The following ngram shows that 'unload slaves' has been used in published writings.

Google ngram: unload slaves

You can click on the links at the bottom of the page to read excerpts from the texts.

  1. An examination of the numbers shows that the collocation is not common.

  2. I find it interesting that, according to that corpus, the term is exclusively used after the abolition of slavery. I wonder what was used when slavery was in progress. I presume there was another term.

  • The U.S. Constitution uses the word "importation". (It also deliberately uses the word "person", not "slave".) Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1: "The migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year 1808, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importations, not exceeding 10 dollars for each person." – Jasper Oct 1 '15 at 17:07

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