A new language to describe the Pandemic


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“The words we had are not enough to describe the pandemic we are experiencing in 2020.” This is how the doctor in Philology and rector of the University Abbot Oliba CEU, Rafael Rodríguez-Ponga the wave of creativity in the generation of words that is happening.

The vocabulary has changed in just a few months. And is that “the speed of the virus has been linked to the speed of dissemination of concepts and words,” says Rodríguez-Ponga in an interview conducted as a result of the presentation of the book “Pandemic and resilience: academic contributions in times of crisis” , where he participates with the chapter “The birth of a new language.” In it, the author describes different vehicles through which a true «New Covid Language» has been formed. “It is surprising to see the speed and creativity we have experienced this year, in all languages. The linguistic changes are a reflection of the evolution of society as a consequence of the pandemic ”, analyzes the Rector.

This is how reference is made to neologisms borrowed from English (covid) and the popularization of terms previously limited to the scientific field (coronavirus) the legal (lockdown). Furthermore, it is worth mentioning the assignment of new content to existing words (test, capacity), the generalization of acronyms as common names (and, for him) and the creation of neologisms through bypass (covid, coronavirus). As the author expressively reflects on the pages of this chapter, a phrase with words like epi, erte O de-escalation It probably wouldn’t be intelligible in 2019, but it is in 2020.

The introduction of the language of war

In a short space of time the authorities went from speaking of calm to introducing a language hitherto only known in terms of war. In this context there was the contradiction that «tranquility and alarmInstead of being opposite terms, they became words that shook hands, which contributed to generating distrust in the messages among the population. “The truth is using contradictory terms is puzzling. At times, I have heard comments about how complicated it was to know what to expect, among other things, precisely, for declaring the alarm with calls for calm, “confesses the Doctor of Philology Rafael Rodríguez-Ponga.

Coronavirus in all its derivatives

It is also worth analyzing the use of the word coronavirus. In line with this, the author emphasizes that it is a signifier that has come to have three meanings (family of viruses, viruses and disease). The name of the disease itself (covid), besides being a neologism, it has also given rise to countless new words.

Among others, Rodríguez-Ponga mentions covid, covidiano, devious O covidiota. But this is not the end. We are now familiar with terms whose meaning was known primarily to statistics: contagion curve, flatten the curve, bend the curve, peak of the curve O reach the peak O reach the peak. «Statistics is a scientific discipline of enormous importance for our health. We are now aware of it, like never before. It is natural that statistical terms have passed into the common language, because we have them every day in the news media, ”says Rodríguez-Ponga. «The important thing is that the words serve to understand what we want to say. The correct or incorrect use depends, therefore, on whether communication and understanding of the messages is really achieved, ”he adds.

Experts in sanitary terms

Rodríguez-Ponga also emphasizes protection measures, with words like mask, hydroalcoholic gel O and. From the onset of the disease, many words have gone beyond the strict hospital environment to which they were limited. Among others, the author refers, at this point, to the acronyms FIA o go respirators. «All languages ​​have been enriched. This linguistic phenomenon is international, as is the pandemic itself. We had no words and we had to create or recreate them. The interesting thing is that, day by day, we continue to renew our way of speaking. In these times, take care of yourself is a common farewell in any conversation “, reflects the Rector.

New normal, new language

Regarding the social consequences, the change experienced by the word lockdown, which, «from meaning” exile “has come to mean” prohibition to leave the limits of the domicile “or” close the limits and borders “». At this point, Rodríguez-Ponga also refers to expressions such as balconear O balconies to describe the social relationships that were generated on the terraces of the houses in full confinement. «We live with newly created words (covid, invented in February 2020, and its derivatives) and with others that have acquired new meanings, new uses, new dimensions, ”says Rodríguez-Ponga. “How many knew the word coronavirus a year ago? Now a five-year-old girl uses it normally. Without a doubt, we have expanded our vocabulary ”, concludes the doctor of Philology.

The book «Pandemic and resilience. Academic contributions in times of crisis ”(EUNSA, 2020), in which Rodríguez-Ponga’s chapter is inserted, was born from the impulse of the TRIVIUM research group of the Abat Oliba CEU University and is coordinated by three of its members: the doctors Marcin Kazmierczak, Maite Signes and Cintia Carreira.

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