By Andreea Calude 13/05/2020


A typological silver-lining

If you are anything like me, maybe a little guilt is setting in about now, regarding the little amount of progress you may have achieved lately. As our country – and indeed so much of the wider World – is in a lockdown of some form or another, we are all getting used to what people are calling “the new norm”. So have you been trolling through social media lately? (If not, honestly, why are you even reading this?)

So let’s put this procrastination to some good linguistic use. While reading so much other than the linguistic articles I should be reading, I came to realise that there is a subtle, yet persistent difference in how people around the world are talking about the current events. And yet, there are similarities too.

Language and culture go together in an insolvable marriage, despite some pretty irreconcilable differences at times – just ask any people who’ve had a conqueror language imposed on them.

So what can the language of Covid19 tell us? There are some world-wide hashtags of course (#Covid19 or #Coronavirus), but what happens when we look more closely at individual languages?

With help from some dedicated like-minded fellow social-media-procrastinators (thank you so much everyone!), I’ve managed to compile a list of the popular hashtags which people are using, around the world to tag their Covid19-related social media posts. You can see a sample of 20 language hashtags and their associated English translations at the end of this post.

Patterns in Covid19 hashtags

So what patterns emerge? There is certainly variation across languages/cultures, for example, while some feel locked in (#lockedin occurs in American English or #lockdownnz in New Zealand English), others talk of escape (#東京脱出 ‘escape from Tokyo’ in Japanese). But there is also some common ground.

First, people like to use swear words (taboo language) in a bid to both, inject force into their message, and also a touch of humour. Humour definitely plays a role in the use of hashtags more generally, so this is not unexpected.

Another function of the hashtags is to express personal stance towards a person or groups of people – some criticise local measures taken (without citing examples, it seems that there are hashtags circulating in Japan which criticise the Prime Minister), while others compliment the efforts of those seen to be doing the right thing (for instance, the British hashtag #thankyouNHS). Political views are certainly a big part of hashtag use (such as in India and the Philippines).

Secondly, there are two main categories of tags:

(1) the emotionally-charged ones (an imperative position, these often involve swear words too; just do it!, and a togetherness position; we can do this, let’s look after our community, see especially the Māori tags #KiaKahaAotearoa ‘be strong New Zealand’, #hewakaekenoa  ‘we are all in this together’) and

(2) the more factually/neutral ones (tagging the actual event, e.g., like the Icelandic #sottkvi ‘quarantine’ or the French #masques),

Thirdly, the most frequently used words used seem to be “home” and “stay”, and the prevalent overarching theme seems to be that of staying indoors/inside, at home, in one’s shed (see Belgium Dutch) or whatever abode one can find. And moreover, many languages borrow English words, for instance, in the French-speaking Canada, Sri Lanka and India.

Stay safe everyone, and #quarantini (not that I like to play favourites but who can resist this wonderful Belgium Dutch pun!?!)

Show me the data

– with thanks to Abdul Aziz, Henri Cohen, Daiki Hashimoto, Halah Hassan, Paul James, William Jennings, Suzanne Kemmer, Charlotte Maekelberghe, Simon Overall, Tihomir Rangelov, Manne Roxas Pelipada, Laura Rosseel, Syed Saurov, Vithya Yogarajan, Hēmi Whaanga.

  1. Arabic

#خليك_بالبيت(‘stay at home’)

  1. Bulgarian

#ОтговорниЗаедно (‘responsible together’)

#ОстанетеСиВкъщи (‘stay at home! (plural)’) #ОстаниВкъщи (‘stay at home singular’)

#ИмуннаСистема (‘immune system’)

  1. Dutch – Belgium

#blijfinuwkot (‘stay in your shed’)

#wezullendoorgaan (‘we’ll keep on going’)

#vanuitmijnkot, #vanuituwkot (‘from my home’)

#quarantaine (Dutch) and #quarantine (English loanword)

#quarantini (‘pun on martini’)

#socialdistancing (English loanwords)

#coronabliss

#coronavirus

  1. English – American

#lockedin

#saferathome

#weareallinthistogether or #InItTogether

#stayinside

#stayhome

#SocialDistancing

  1. English – British

#thankyouNHS (context: NHS is the National Health Service in the UK)

#stayconnectedstaysafe

#lockdownUK

#selfisolation

#campingathome

  1. English – New Zealand

#lockdownnz

#staythefuckhome

  1. English – Singapore

#StayHomeSG

#SGUnited

#CircuitBreaker (context: ‘the circuit breaker’ references a softer measure to break transmission while avoiding a full lockdown)

  1. French – European

#Confinement (‘confinement’ often with a number, e.g. #ConfinementJour15 “ConfienmentDay15”)

#RestezChezVous (‘stay at yours.plural/formal place’)

#masques (‘masques’ – original French word borrowed into English)

#resterchezvousbordel (‘stay home ffs’, often with images of traffic or people in parks ignoring the lockdown)

  1. French – Canadian

#çavabienaller, often accompanied with a rainbow (‘it’s going to be ok’)

#staysafe (English loanwords)

#quarantine (‘quarantine’)

  1. Germany

#armesdeutschland (‘poor Germany’)

#Lockerungen (‘lockdowns’)

#SchulenSchilessen or #SchulenZu (‘schools closing’)

#Schuloeffnung (‘schools opening’)

#BleibtzuHause (‘stay home’)

  1. Icelandic

#verumheima (‘let’s stay home’)

#vertuheima (‘stay home!’)

#sottkvi (‘quarantine’)

  1. Japanese

#東京脱出 (‘escape from Tokyo’ (context: suddenly many Japanese people who were previously reluctant to live in rural areas are seeing the appeal)

#駆け込み帰省 (‘emigrant going back to a hometown’)

#コロナ疎開 (‘evacuation from corona’)

#マスク入荷 (‘arrival of surgical masks’)

#マスク在庫 (‘stock of surgical masks’)

  1. Macedonian

#коронамк, #СедиДома (‘stay at home’)

#СедиДомаЕбате (‘stay at home, fuck you!’)

  1. Māori

#KiaKahaAotearoa (‘be strong New Zealand’)
#hewakaekenoa  (‘we are all in this together / we got this, family!’)
#NohoKiTeKainga (‘stay at home’)
#nohokitekainga
#nohokitekāinga
#KiaTupato (‘be safe’)
#whakamohoao (‘self isolation’)

  1. Portuguese

#FiqueEmCasa (‘stay at home’), with variants #FicaEmCasa (with informal imperative) and #FiquemEmCasa (with plural imperative); another variant is

#FiqueEmCasaCaralho (‘stay at home, ffs!’).

#Quarentena (‘quarantine’).

  1. Romanian

#staţiacasă (‘stay home’)

#eștibineacasă (‘you are good at home’)

  1. Spanish – European

#Cuarentena (‘quarantine’)

#QuedateEnCasa (‘stay at home’) and #QuedateEnCasaCarajo (‘stay home ffs!’), also #YoMeQuedoEnCasa (‘I’m staying home’).

I’ve also seen #QuedateEnTuPutaCasa (‘stay in your fucking house!’)

18 Spanish – Chilean

#Quedateencasa (‘stay at home’)

#EntreTodxsNosCuidamos (‘we all look after ourselves’, using gender-neutral nouns)

19 Tagalog

#wehealasone – English borrowings

#ecq (‘enhanced community quarantine’) – English borrowings

#istandwith the president – in response to the “shoot them dead report

#bigasHindiBala (‘rice + no + ammunition meaning we need food not harm’) – in response to the “shoot them dead report

20 Tamil (Nadhu)

#stayhometn

#StopCoronaTN

#TN_Together_AgainstCorona

#PerfectCitizenThalaAJITH (context: Ajith is a popular actor in Tamil Nadhu movies and Thala means ‘leader’ in Tamil)

21 Tamil (Sri Lanka)

#ගෙදරඉන්න  #வீட்டில்இரு  (‘stay at home’)

#curfew (English borrowing)