our words make worlds

Worldmaking in the Time of Covid-19

Language Acts and Worldmaking is delighted to have been awarded funding by King's College London's King's Together Coronavirus rapid response fund, for its proposal, 'Worldmaking in the Time of Covid-19'.

The context

We narrate everything. We construct the world around us by telling its stories, shaping the language we use to describe what is happening to us; language that is used and adapted in the media in response to moments of crisis. This language in turn shapes how we see the world. This is what we call worldmaking. When we look for solutions to problems, we so often start by telling stories to each other in our communities, stories that set a crisis in context, relate it to our historical experience, help us to understand it in the context of our local communities and contrast those stories to dominant narratives. In this way, language becomes a physical and material force in our world, through which we construct our personal, local, transnational and spiritual identities.

The proposal

Language barriers prohibit the real understanding of experience in diverse societies and lead to misunderstanding, xenophobia and violence, as we have seen in this country. Language Acts and Worldmaking, led by PI Professor Catherine Boyle, is uniquely placed to offer significant insights into its global narration. Our multidisciplinary team will lead a process of digitally mining sources from, for example, European languages, Mandarin, Korean and Arabic. Linguists working in these languages will engage in translation of the most salient terms and we will use digital tools to compare and analyse the ways in which the pandemic has been narrated. We know from our literary, cultural, linguist and historic research that words like war, conflict, contagion, invasion, fear, sanity and cleansing inhabit the ways in which we articulate our responses – collective and subjective – to moments of crisis. It is important that we have a clear understanding of these articulations at the present moment in an already volatile geopolitical situation.

Next steps

This project is in the very early phase of its development. For further inquiries, please email Prof Boyle at languageacts@kcl.ac.uk.