How we talk about Corona

How we talk about Corona
The collaborative project Patterns at Trier University has been analysing the present pandemic from a linguistic and literary perspective

From “new virus” to “Coronavirus Pandemic”
Until February 2020 English-language media were talking about a “pneumonia outbreak”. From March 2020 onwards, the term “Coronavirus pandemic” was the term which was generally used, replacing others such as “new virus” or “novel virus”. These are the conclusions the computational linguists Prof. Dr Achim Rettinger and Kai Kugler come to in their initial analysis of 1.2 million English news texts from November 2019 to May 2020. Next, they intend to analyse the differences between the terms used for the Coronavirus pandemic in various English-speaking countries and English language areas.


Prof. Dr. Achim Rettinger
+49 651 201‑2271
Kai Kugler
+49 651 201‑2263




The linguistic argumentation of Corona conspiracy theories
Dr David Römer und Dr Sören Stumpf have taken the example of  a Ken Jebsen YouTube video which  was viewed over 3 million times within the first week and have examined the way in which he speaks about the “real background” to the Corona crisis. According to Ken Jebsen, the American millionaire couple Bill and Melinda Gates, whose aim is simply one of profit, are behind the crisis. “In the video he develops in a linguistically prototypical way what we call a “conspiracy theory”, Römer and Stumpf say. He repeats certain expressions again and again.  He uses occasional word formations such as “health prison” (Gesundheitsknast) or “corporate press” (Konzernpresse) particularly often and speaks in metaphors such as “the Trojan horse of health”. Römer and Stumpf say, “From our point of view as linguists, it doesn´t make sense to portray the language used in social and alternative media as wrong or illegitimate. On the other hand, we don’t have to let people tell us that videos like this are part of the democratically necessary alternative public sphere. We can see from the language they use and what they contain that certain techniques are quite consciously employed with the aim of polarizing public opinion.”


Dr. David Römer
Germanistische Linguistik
+49 651 201‑2332
Dr. Sören Stumpf
Princeton University Program in Linguistics


Corona memes
Memes are popular image-text constructs which are shared frequently in social media. A media-studies team at Trier University collected approximately 1,100 memes which emerged in connection with the Corona pandemic. In the coming months Prof. Dr Marion G. Müller, Dr Christoph Barth and Katharina Christ will examine these memes. Among other things, they aim to discover what emotions are expressed by these memes. Initial findings indicate that there are more than thirty different types of Corona meme.


Prof. Dr Marion G. Müller
+49 651 201‑3678


Corona: a backward step for gender-neutral language
Our months with Corona have shown very clearly how brittle and fragile the progress made in gender equality and gender-neutral language use is, Prof. Dr Natalia Filatkina says. Filatkina, a professor of German studies, has identified the following three patterns used in the media coverage: it is very noticeable, she says, that when women are mentioned within the context of Corona, concepts such as “children” and “kitchen” are once more starting to appear with increasing frequency. In addition to this, the generic masculine is being used more and more. Women are frequently not mentioned at all, for instance when “Virologen”, masculine in German, is used to include both male and female virologists rather than “Virologen und Virologinnen”


Prof. Dr. Natalia Filatkina
Universität Hamburg


Neologisms in the Corona crisis
Scientists at Trier University have discovered neologisms connected with Corona in German, French and Spanish. When she was evaluating tweets, Milena Belosovic, a specialist in German studies, discovered that the new word “coronoid” is used when people talk about someone who is afraid of catching Corona.


Milena Belosevic
Germanistische Linguistik
+49 651 201‑3612


Dr Sabine Arndt-Lappe, Professor of Linguistics in the English department of Trier University also discovered the word “coronoid” as well as “zoomathon” (a conflation of the words “zoom” and “marathon”) in tweets in English. “If the world changes considerably, as it is changing under Corona, then new words will be created from familiar material and according to familiar patterns to describe the changed reality,” Prof, Dr Sabine Arndt-Lappe explains.


Prof. Dr Sabine Arndt-Lappe
+49 651 201‑2278


Dr André Klump, Professor of Romance Studies, has  used numerous examples from French, Spanish and Latin American newspaper articles and online portals to examine pandemic-related aspects of language such as the portmanteau zoompleaños (cumpleaños =birthday) in Spanish or covidiots (l´idiot=idiot) in French.


Prof. Dr Andre Klump
+49 651 201 2228


How even in the Middle Ages pandemics were global — from a language point of view
People all over the world know what “Corona” means. In the Middle Ages the word “plague”, applied to lethal epidemics, likewise meant one and the same thing across and beyond borders.  In the early Middle Ages, the Latin terms “morbus”, “pestis” and “pestilentia” were translated into German by, among others, “sterbo”. Later, so language historian Prof. Dr Claudine Moulin has discovered, the word “plague” (“Pest”) became the accepted term. Just like the word “Corona”, she says, “plague” can be classified as an internationalism, as a word that was used throughout the world. And “plague” and “Corona” both share the attribute of being short.


Prof. Dr. Claudine Moulin
Ältere Deutsche Philologie
+49 651 201‑2305

About the collaborative project “Patterns”
The collaborative project “Patterns. Linguistic Creativity and Variation“launched at Trier University in July 2019 and  will be funded by the Forschungsinitiative Rheinland-Pfalz until July 2023.   Academics in the fields of Linguistics, Media Studies, Psychology and Social Statistics are involved.  The aim of the project is to investigate linguistic patterns beyond established disciplinary boundaries and to develop a theory of linguistic patterning.