Viral discourses – How we discuss COVID-19

Dr. Robert Fuchs

University of Hamburg

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended life around the globe, leading to lively debate and a flurry of lexical innovation in many languages. This talk will provide a systematic analysis of the lexical items and discourse patterns that characterize COVID-19 discourse in British English, with some comparative data drawn from German discourse.

The analysis, based on social media and traditional media, will identify not just distinct keywords linked to the pandemic but also track their development over time. The starting point of the study is a contrastive keyword analysis of the discourse of every month of 2019 with its equivalents in 2020 and 2021, comparing pre-pandemic and pandemic discourse, but also filtering out seasonal effects on discourse (e.g. discussion of snow in January). Our data comprises material from January 2019 to December 2021, with more than 10 million geotagged tweets and a newspaper corpus containing 10 % of all articles published in 90 newspapers.

Results indicate that the discourse on COVID-19 in newspapers tends to focus more on the societal impacts of the pandemic, naming frontline workers, airlines and travel warnings, while the discourse on social media is centered more around individual perspectives and restrictions on personal freedom, such as face mask requirements and curfews. The analysis also explores regional differences between and within the two countries and tracks change in lexical innovations and discourse patterns over time.