Language of the Coronavirus Pandemic

Language of the Coronavirus Pandemic

This article has been written by Liam McAlary, a Years 7 – 12, VCE Legal Studies and VCE English Language Tutor at Learnmate. If you’re interested in private tutoring from Liam then please check out his page here.

Hello everyone, here is my article for May, which will not focus on general course content, but will instead focus on some specific linguistic examples. The specific examples that I am referring to are some of those which are coming up now, in relation to the current pandemic. Most of this language is either new to our lexicon, or has become much more prominent, as a consequence of the current situation. Most of this language has been used by governments to instruct people on how to behave, and to inform them of the dangers that not following guidelines could pose to the community, or by the media in delivering news in relation to the situation.

In researching for this article, I had a look at a few different articles from the media (Please be aware that these articles are not Australian, although most of the language they refer to is used around the world, including in Australia), which are linked below:

SARS (noun, acronym)

SARS is something that most of you will not have heard of before the current pandemic (I was 4 when the outbreak of this illness occurred, most of you would have been 1). SARS is an acronym (said as a word as opposed to the individual letters) for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which was another Coronavirus (more deadly but much less infectious than the current one) that caused a pandemic in 2003. The SARS virus caused similar symptoms to the current coronavirus, as well as around 80% of its genetic make-up, which is why the current coronavirus is known as SARS-Cov-2 (full name is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2).

COVID (noun, blend)

Covid-19 (commonly referred to as Covid), is the disease that the novel Coronavirus causes. Covid is a blend, as it two words have been combined to make one word, with some letters omitted. Covid is a blend of the words Coronavirus and disease.

WHO (noun, initialism)

WHO is an initialism (said as letters W-H-O, as opposed to saying it as a word) for the World Health Organisation. The World Health Organisation (they spell it as Organization, but in Australia it is spelt with an, ‘s,’ not a, ‘z.’), are the body primarily responsible for directing international health within the United Nations. Their updated recommendations, guidelines, and news in relation to the Coronavirus are obviously broadcast regularly in the media.

Acronyms, blends and initialisms all serve similar functions in that they help to convey information more succinctly and efficiently. These are especially important when information is being conveyed on a news banner, which has limited space, and on Twitter, which has character limits.

SOCIAL DISTANCING (noun phrase/phrasal verb)

Probably the term that we are all sick of hearing and reading the most during this pandemic. Essentially, social distancing is staying away from people that you do not live with as much as possible. Social distancing is used as a noun phrase in sentences such as, “we must observe social distancing,” although it is also a phrasal verb (to social distance). This has really come into our lexicon over the last few weeks. Some people (myself included) prefer to use say, ‘physical distancing,’ as opposed to, ‘social distancing,’ because of the potential connotations of social distancing (social isolation, which is bad for one’s mental health).

Furlough (UK, noun/adjective/verb):

In the United Kingdom, there is a, ‘furlough,’ scheme, where the Government are paying up to 80% of people’s wages, up to a defined amount, if their employer needs to temporarily stand them down. Again, this is used as a noun (I am on furlough), and adjective in a noun phrase (the furlough scheme) and a verb (I have been furloughed). This scheme is very similar to the Jobkeeper scheme (Jobkeeper is used in a similar way, although it is not used as a verb in Australia).


Online example from Australia (more colloquial):

Also, many of you will have seen the video, ‘Stay the F**k at Home,’ which encourages people to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus. Expletives such as, ‘f**k,’ are used as intensifiers that help to emphasise the importance of staying home. Given the high tolerance of taboo language in Australian society, this helps to convey a sense of national identity (unit 4, AOS 1), which in turn helps to try and persuade people to stay home.

The video can be found here:

Anyway, I hope that this article has helped you, and that you are staying safe and well.

If you loved this article, you will LOVE all of our other articles, such as: Coherence and Dealing with the Coronavirus, Topic and Floor Management in Conversations and Strategies for Success in English Language.

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Language of the Coronavirus Pandemic