Coronaspeak: Tracking language in a pandemic

by
June–July 2020, no. 422

Coronaspeak: Tracking language in a pandemic

by
June–July 2020, no. 422

Listen to this essay read by the author.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all our lives, and little else has featured in the media for weeks. Unsurprisingly, this has led those of us who work with words to track the language of the pandemic (coronaspeak) closely. Here at the Australian National Dictionary Centre (temporarily WFH, of course), we have been compiling a database of the words emerging from the pandemic; from anti-lockdown protest to zumping (being dumped via Zoom), the Covid-19 isolation lockdown has generated its own vocabulary.

The Oxford English Dictionary team recently undertook corpus analysis to look at how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the language, drawing on English-language sources from across the globe. This analysis, as might be expected, shows the enormous increase in the frequency of mentions of coronavirus and Covid in the past few months. It also reveals that in March 2020 the top twenty keywords were all coronavirus-related, the top five being Covid-19, pandemic, distancing, coronavirus, and self-isolate.

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