[Lingtyp] R: coronavirus and Zipf

Spike Gildea spike at uoregon.edu
Sat May 2 13:57:37 UTC 2020

In my circles, we just call it “the virus”, or elide it altogether, as it is presupposed in any conversations involving infection or death.

An email from a friend who had been out of touch:
“My husband and I both got really sick last week, but we’re pretty sure it was not the virus.”

First question after morning greetings in the family: both the virus and the local context presupposed:
“Have they reported any new infections today?”

Zoom cocktails with a friend from Washington (to the north), response to the question “How are you guys doing?”:
“We’ve been really fortunate so far in Eugene — eight days without a new case and still only two deaths!”


From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf of Paolo Ramat <paoram at unipv.it>
Date: Saturday, May 2, 2020 at 4:27 AM
To: 'Natalia Levshina' <natalevs at gmail.com>, "lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org" <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
Subject: [Lingtyp] R: coronavirus and Zipf

Dear All,
the short form for coronavirus is Covid-19. As in Russian, Ital. corona means ‘crown’; therefore it is not used as clipping for the virus name;  and there have been jokes like the Russian on Prince Charles.

Best wishes and take care, without Clorox injections as it has been suggested…


Da: Lingtyp [mailto:lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org] Per conto di Natalia Levshina
Inviato: sabato 2 maggio 2020 12:47
A: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
Oggetto: [Lingtyp] coronavirus and Zipf

Dear colleagues,

I'm writing an informal blog post about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on language, with a focus on Zipf's correlation between frequency and word/expression length. For example, the clipping corona (from coronavirus) is becoming increasingly popular in English: https://public.oed.com/blog/corpus-analysis-of-the-language-of-covid-19/<https://urldefense.com/v3/__https:/public.oed.com/blog/corpus-analysis-of-the-language-of-covid-19/__;!!C5qS4YX3!WEuNp_Qa-vMRc7VqynfDLViq9DneH3GRhvbL2B43pMocej5_JREu_eEmfbyvibZ7$>
I also have some data from Dutch, German, Russian and Polish. I'm wondering how other languages behave in that respect. In particular,

1) Is there a shorter form for coronavirus, like corona? Can it only refer to the virus, or also to the pandemic and the disease?
2) If there is such a form, is it used widely or occasionally (e.g. humorously/creatively/in quotes)? For example, in Russian koronavirus is the preferred form because korona means 'a crown'. There's an untranslatable Russian joke, Prince Charles finally got a crown (korona), but it was the wrong one.
3) Is there a popular everyday (i.e. non-astronomic) meaning of the word that corresponds to corona in that language (e.g. a crown, like in Russian)?

4) Also, are there any other abbreviations or substitutions (e.g. the use of a shorter formally unrelated word, like car instead of automobile) related to the pandemic you have observed?

I promise to post a summary if I get enough interesting data.

Many thanks and stay corona(virus)-free!

Natalia Levshina

Natalia Levshina
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Wundtlaan 1, 6525 XD Nijmegen
The Netherlands

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