Global narration of the COVID-19 pandemic

Old world map illustration

A team funded by UKRI’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) aims to translate, compare and analyse the ways in which COVID-19 has been narrated around the world.

The Language Acts and Worldmaking team at King’s College London is working to provide insights into the global narration of the COVID-19 pandemic across Europe, Asia, the Middle East and beyond.

Professor Catherine Boyle from King’s College London is leading a team of experts from the Worldmaking project on the second project: ‘Worldmaking in the Time of COVID-19’.

Supported by the university’s King’s Together coronavirus rapid response fund, the team is uniquely placed to offer significant insights into COVID-19’s global narration.

The team will lead a process of digital mining from European languages, Mandarin, Korean and Arabic, and translate the most prominent terms. These will then be used to analyse the similarities and difference in how the pandemic has been narrated around the world.

Professor Boyle said:

When people look for solutions to problems, they often begin by telling stories in their communities. These stories set a crisis into context, relate it to historical experience and help people understand it in their local communities.

It is important that we have a clear understanding of the COVID-19 language barriers and the effects that misunderstanding can have on different societies, especially during this pressing time.

Narrating barriers of language

Language barriers can prohibit the real understanding of experiences in diverse societies, which can lead to misunderstanding, xenophobia and violence.

Words like war, conflict, contagion, invasion, fear, sanity and cleansing influence the ways in which people articulate their responses, especially in moments of crisis, but can easily be used in error or lost in translation when describing a pandemic or informing communities.

It’s these differences in translations and cultural understandings that Professor Boyle and her team will try to map in an effort to understand how different societies have shared information amongst themselves.

What is ‘worldmaking’?

‘Language Acts and Worldmaking’ is a flagship project, funded by the AHRC Open World Research Initiative.

Through six interlinking research strands, the language and worldmaking team examine language as a material and historical force which individuals use to construct their personal, local, transnational and spiritual identities.

This is what we define as ‘worldmaking’ – the building of different identifies based on language.

Learning a language means understanding the history of concepts, beliefs and social practices – how they operate in the past and present.

Their research and partnerships demonstrate the indispensable value of language learning for understanding how societies are structured and governed, and for empowering culturally aware and self-reflective citizens.

Last updated: 9 June 2023

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