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How Covid has affected our use of language

After a long two years (has it really only been two?!), it seems we’re finally coming out of the Covid tunnel on the other side. As England and the other home nations begin to lay out their plans for “living with Covid”, we’re starting to get a glimpse of what post-pandemic life could look like.

But that’s not to say that Covid will be all but a distant memory, as the long-lasting effects of the pandemic won’t be going anywhere. This includes the way in which it’s affected language and how we communicate.

Historically, major world and social events have had a defining impact on the way we use language. World War II gave us “radar” (RAdio Detection and Ranging)”, and, thanks to Brexit, we now have “brexiteers” and “remoaners”.

But, with something as unprecedented (yes, that word again) as a pandemic, what kind of changes have been happening? In a time where we’ve had to physically distance ourselves from others, how have we adapted our communication skills? And what about the terms that have become commonplace in our vocabulary?

As a company passionate about language and communication, we thought we’d take a look.

New words

In the pre-Covid world, we could expect quarterly updates from the Oxford English Dictionary that detailed new words and their meanings. However, back in the summer of 2020, in the height of the first lockdown, the world’s biggest dictionary made two special additions to document the impact of Covid on the English language.

You may expect that these updates contained a whole host of new words due to our ‘new normal’, but the OED claim that the pandemic has produced only one truly new word: the acronym Covid-19. Instead, the terms we all suddenly started using weren’t in fact ‘new’, but actually just older, more obscure words that were catapulted into common usage.

Terms like “social distancing” and “self-isolate” have existed for a long time, but not been used in the way they are now, for obvious reasons. Therefore, these OED updates served more to update the meanings of these terms to reflect their current usage, than to introduce a whole new specialised vocabulary into the language.

That’s not to say that, despite not being in the dictionary, we haven’t taken it upon ourselves to create some new words of our own to accurately describe parts of pandemic life. Some of the most widely-used Covid neologisms include things like “covidiot” (fairly self-explanatory), “Blursday” (an unspecified day thanks to the disorientation of time), and “quaranteams” (online teams created during lockdown).

The introduction of these terms and the way they’ve seamlessly become part of our vocabularies reflects how language quickly adapts and evolves based on the needs of speakers. When we needed more accurate ways to cope and communicate our feelings during the pandemic – whether that be through laughing or commiserating – we relied on language to be there to help us.

Changes to our communication style

So, we quickly became used to the new words and terms introduced thanks to Covid, but how did the pandemic affect the way we used them? As we shut ourselves away and physically distanced ourselves from each other, how did our communication style change?

As we mentioned earlier, changes to language and communication styles as a result of world events is not a new phenomenon. But these changes are usually due to people coming together in ways they usually wouldn’t, whereas, with Covid, it’s the opposite – we have been kept apart.

As a result of this physical distance, we have seen an increasing reliance on digital communications. As we adapted to less face-to-face interaction, we’ve had to change the way we use our body language and facial expressions.

Experts suggest that more than 90% of communication is non-verbal, with speakers more likely to trust physical cues over verbal language. The power of non-verbal communication is indisputable, as we rely on it to convey meaning, to complement what we’re saying, and to regulate the flow of our interaction. As we begun communicating through screens and from behind masks, we had to adapt to make up for the absence of facial expressions and non-verbal cues.

For example, when wearing a mask, instead of reinforcing pleasure or happiness with a smile, we would use language and tone to express these emotions. Furthermore, when chatting on Zoom, it’s easy to appear bored or disinterested if we become distracted by our surroundings, so we have learnt to communicate our continued presence and focus through language.

Research shows that these changes have helped increase engagement and strengthen interaction, reflecting how social changes can have a long-term impact on language use.

The future

So, as Covid cements itself in our lives, so will these changes to our language and communication styles.

Although we’re now experiencing more face-to-face interaction and relying less on Zoom to aid our communications, it’s clear to see that the effects Covid and lockdown have had on the way we interact with each other will be long-lasting. We’ve got a whole host of new terms in our vocabularies, and more of an awareness of the effect physical language and non-verbal cues can have on how we communicate.

Above all, we’ve seen just how quickly and seamlessly language can adapt based on the needs of speakers. As Covid took over our lives, and we searched for accurate ways to express ourselves, language evolved to help us.

As well as this, we’ve learnt just how important accurate communication is. Here at Matinée Multilingual, we’re passionate about precise and clear-cut messaging. With our professional voice-over, subtitling, and translation services, we can help you connect with your desired audience with concise, accurate, and engaging communication.

Whether you need a voice artist to narrate your latest explainer video, or a set of multilingual subtitles to connect with global audiences, we’ll be able to help you. So why not get in touch with us today and find out how we can help you?

Call us on +44 (0) 118 958 4934

Or email project@matinee.co.uk