Quarantinis and covidiots: How language has changed during the pandemic

There’s no social distancing from the fact COVID-19 has changed the way we speak and communicate.

University of Saskatchewan linguistics professor Veronika Makarova said new terms and phrases have made their way into language as a result of the pandemic.

“Every time there is something new happening in our lives, the language reflects that,” Makarova said. “We also need the reflection of the language to comprehend the concept in our minds because it always goes both ways.”

Because language is always changing to reflect what we see and experience, significant developments and crises like COVID-19 are the perfect storm for linguistic developments.

Makarova said a new vocabulary was among the first to emerge during the pandemic.

“To refer to COVID-19, our journalists have sort of selected words like ‘uncertain times,’ ‘unprecedented times,’ ‘challenging time,’ ‘extraordinary time,’ ” Makarova explained.

The more-neutral terms were selected to inform the public without causing a reaction through more negative terms such as “horrible” or “scary.”

“It does not have the same demoralizing effect on people,” Makarova said.

Olga Lovick, another U of S linguistics professor, agreed.

“Every time there’s been a crisis of some sort, there have been new words coming into the language,” Lovick said.

Social or physical distancing and self-isolation are among the new additions to the English vocabulary.

Both professors referred to technological developments for context on significant developments creating new linguistic aspects.

New terms using known words in a new context can lead to new meaning.

“With social distancing, it sounds like the message of desocializing … Do not come anywhere close to your neighbour,” Makarova said. “The more we use words, the less we notice their meaning.

“Words that are perceived as being negative, with common use they become more neutral because people less and less notice the original meaning.”

A crisis can also lead to people finally understanding the meaning of a word they already knew.

“A year ago, most of us would have been hard-pressed to explain the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic,” Lovick said. “Now we know.”

Read more: CKOM

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