our words make worlds

Worldmaking in the Time of Covid-19

In March 2020, Language Acts and Worldmaking was awarded funding by the King's College London King's Together Coronavirus rapid respond fund for its project 'Worldmaking in the Time of Covid-19', which investigates the ways in which the coronavirus and the illness Covid-19 has been narrated in different languages across the world.

About the project

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.

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 is uniquely placed to offer significant insights into the pandemic's global narration. Our multidisciplinary team is digitally mining sources from Arabic, English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish. Linguists working in these languages are engaging 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.

Project Team

PI Catherine Boyle

Research Associate Renata Brandao

Language Researchers Juan Albornoz Rodriguez, Judy Alsoufi, Maria Chiara Aquilino, Pola Awdankiewicz-Baeta, Anita Baratti, Wing In Choy, Louise Curtin, Holly Henry, Esther Kentish, Hyun Kyung Lee, Maria Jane Marimon, Aleida Cristina Mendes Borges, Benjamin Oldfield, Eitan Oren, Joseph Prestwich, Natalia Stengel Pena, Iman Taleb, Lindsay Warner, Tatiana Wells