[Lingtyp] coronavirus and Zipf

Östen Dahl oesten at ling.su.se
Sat May 2 19:43:05 UTC 2020

”Digerdöden” (lit. ‘the great death’) is the Swedish name for the medieval pandemic called the Black Death in English. It might be used metaphorically about Covid-19 but I haven’t heard it used as a regular name for it. Actually, even if you use it about the medieval pandemic, you couldn’t say “han hade digerdöden” ‘he got the Black Death’, you would have to say “han hade böldpest” ‘he had bubonic plague’. “Corona” is probably more flexible.

Från: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> För Aleksandrs Berdicevskis
Skickat: den 2 maj 2020 21:31
Till: Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm <tamm at ling.su.se>
Kopia: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
Ämne: Re: [Lingtyp] coronavirus and Zipf

I mean I've heard "digerdöden" in contexts both like "Erik is ill. -- Is it digerdöden?" (illness) and like "The conference is postponed until next year, hopefully digerdöden is over then" (epidemic). I'm not a native speaker, of course, but I think "corona" can be used in both contexts, too. That's probably tangential to Natalia's main question, though.


On Sat, May 2, 2020 at 9:06 PM Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm <tamm at ling.su.se<mailto:tamm at ling.su.se>> wrote:
Sasha, I am not quite sure I understand your mention of “Digerdöden”: do you want to say that Swedish uses the same term for illnesses and epidemics? I don’t think this is completely true right now. The more official name for the virus is “coronavirus”, while “corona” is definitely the preferred term in Colloquial Swedish.  The current pandemics is normally called “coronapandemin” ‘corona+pandemics+DEF.SG<http://DEF.SG>”, and there are many more compounds based on “corona”: “coronacrisen” ’the corona crisis”, “coronatiden” ’the corona time’,”coronapatienter” ‘corona patients’, etc.


Prof. Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm
Dept. of linguistics, Stockholm university, 106 91, Stockholm, Sweden
tel.: +46-8-16 26 20 (office)
tamm at ling.su.se<mailto:tamm at ling.su.se>

On 2 May 2020, at 17:12, Aleksandrs Berdicevskis <alexberd at gmail.com<mailto:alexberd at gmail.com>> wrote:

In Swedish, people say and write both "corona" (sometimes "korona") and "coronavirus". I think the short form is more frequent in colloquial speech, but I haven't done an extensive corpus analysis. It does not have any popular meaning. "Digerdöden" 'Black death' (lit. 'Great Death') is also often used to refer both to the pandemic and the disease.


On Sat, May 2, 2020 at 3:58 PM Spike Gildea <spike at uoregon.edu<mailto:spike at uoregon.edu>> wrote:
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<mailto:lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org>> on behalf of Paolo Ramat <paoram at unipv.it<mailto:paoram at unipv.it>>
Date: Saturday, May 2, 2020 at 4:27 AM
To: 'Natalia Levshina' <natalevs at gmail.com<mailto:natalevs at gmail.com>>, "lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org<mailto:lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>" <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org<mailto: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<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<mailto: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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