Might Covid-19 Require Revision of Language Management?

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Language management refers to state administrative regulations, policies, and activities on the language(s) use within educational, legal, and other public domains and to the scientific discipline which studies this phenomenon. We argue that during COVID-19 health emergency, the concept of language management might need revision as new topics and contexts have come to light within the discussion on language use amid the current pandemic. We explore key dimensions of this discussion representation in public communication, identify language-use related topics which have been mentioned in this discussion, study its levels and major actors. The texts from official sites of international organizations, national governments, public and non-profit social agencies, mass media were selected. The corpus of 238 sources with a total of 193478 words was subject to manual and computer-based thematic content coding and clustering. The results reveal language-use related topics within the information and discussion topics during the COVID-19, specify the levels at which the above topics discussed, outline those actors who initiate/take part/form the target audience within the discussion on language use during the COVID-19. The research also leads to the conclusion on the critical importance of such issues as the style of international and national leadership’s addresses, production and timeliness of multilingual data on the pandemic, countermeasures against misinformation and anti-nation bias, development of protocols for the use of fact-based rational language. The mentioned items are considered as the key components of a language management framework for policy and actions which need a coordinated interagency response within local and global contexts during the COVID-19.

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INTRODUCTION Academia has shaped a comprehensive theoretical background, integrating such concepts as language policy, planning, and management which have been explored and revisited across 20-21st centuries. Historically the concept of language planning mostly focuses on grounds and argumentation for norm selection, codification, implementation, and elaboration (Haugen,1959, Costa-Carreras, 2020). The phenomenon of language policy has always been associated with a set of societal goals and needs-oriented activities with regard to language use in various domains in settings, with account of state vision of political, economic, cultural goals (Rubin & Jernudd, 1971). The latter have been shaped and introduced through relevant administrative legal regulations (Kaplan & Baldauf,1997). They lay grounds for language planning, which might lead to prevailing interests of some social groups and inequality of others (Tollefson, 1991). Further, the idea of language management as theory and practice of actions (Spolsky, 2009, Neustupny, 2012) has become crucial for language policy and planning (Nekvapil, 2016). The above scholars underline that language management integrates linguistic, communicative and sociocultural aspects of strategies and tactics with regard to language use and recommended change thereof. Moreover, currently researchers specify that these aspects operate specifically at diverse levels, ranging from family preferences and social communities’ traditions to state and supranational policies and actions (Spolsky, 2019). Academia considers the language management concept and its application in various dimensions, including the following: - situation with contact languages in neighboring countries (Fan 2020, Sherman, 2020) with particular focus on national attitudes to linguistic purism (Kristinsson , 2020) - language issues within corporate governance of international multiculturalorganizations (Park, 2020) - language management in major socio-economic dimensions, including edu-cation (Neves, 2020), social services multilingual activities (Woydack, 2019), scientific research and knowledge dissemination (Gajo & Berthoud, 2020) - focus on language management in specific professional domains, for instance,medical area (Ludányi, 2020) - language management initiatives and language use in public spaces (Birnie ,2019) - research in codification with regard to different countries which use the samelanguage (Takahashi, 2020) - investigation of the situation with language minorities and indigenous lan-guages in a particular country with specific focus on legal aspects (Sokolova et al., 2019) - organization and provision of multilingual support and services in humanitar-ian settings, including natural disasters (Cadag, 2019), and the 21st century crisis of forced migration (Marlowe, 2019). As far as the 21st century health pandemics are concerned, researchers have consistently focused on discourse of SARS (2002-2004), H1N1 (2009-2010) and COVID 19 pandemics to explore the following topics with regard to communication and information provision: - global communication trends amidst pandemics (Ding, 2014) - constrains among nations and phenomenon of blaming the other (Barreneche, 2020) - national leadership and government statements (Pop-Flanja, 2020) - information provision by healthcare services (Liu et al, 2020, Powers & Xiao, 2008) - specific medical discourse and terminology of pandemics (Alvarez 2020) - mass media communication and public community talk (La et al. 2020) - metaphor overuse in representation and evaluation of disease situation the (Wallis & Nerlich 2005, Sabucedo et al., 2020) - negative sides of labeling pandemics through animals, colors, geographical names (Vigsø, 2010). The review of respective publications leads to the remark that in general, language issues are mentioned within the consideration of risk communication management. The literature analysis reveals that earlier studies has focused on isolated topics related to language use during healthcare emergencies, and the comprehensive discussion on language management during the COVID 19 times is still ahead. While over 470 papers and preprints have been found on discourse and language related to COVID 19, no paper with an explicit call for language management during the COVID 19 has been found. Meanwhile, the global community has faced a skyrocketing spread of misinformation in social and traditional mass media (Richtel, 2020). Close to this challenge, the discourse of fear and respective language patterns use have become subject to language studies (Rafi, 2020). Amid the above, Academia has already addressed its call towards governments and health care authorities to provide accurate, up-to date, evidence based and knowledge-focused information (Tangcharoensathien et al., 2020), use rational language (Stedman et al., 2020). Moreover, it is healthcare community whose members have specified the language importance during the current pandemics (Brandt & Botelho, 2020). The present research goal is to explore the language management phenomenon during current health emergency related to COVID-19 spread across the world. The research sets forth the following hypothesis: COVID-19 might require updated measures in terms of language policy and management during the pandemic. This goal assumes the description of the language management directions, actors, tools and levels of implementation. Therefore, based on the previous research as introduced above the present paper stipulates the following research questions: RQ 1: What are language-use related topics within the information and discussion topics during the COVID 19? RQ 2: At what levels are the above topics discussed? RQ 3: Who are those actors who initiate/take part/form the target audience within the discussion on language use during the COVID 19? 1. Materials and Methods The research materials were found across the formal communication on language-use -related issues during the current pandemic in the digital sphere which has recognized as a standard environment for official verbal interaction, along with printed paper-based statements, publications, etc. (Leuckert, 2020). Data collection. The search for mentions of language use issues resulted in the list of official sites of international organizations, national governments, public and non-profit social agencies, official international and national mass media. The written verbal information on these sites was produced from January 1st to January 1st, 2021. Data collection was implemented through the Google search engine. The keywords COVID 19 language use/communication/ translation management were used. The above keywords were selected in line with major areas of studies in communitybased language use and its management (Murphy, 2020). The search for mentions of language use issues resulted in the list of official sites of international organizations, national governments, public and non-profit social agencies, official international and national mass media. The respective texts contained the mentioned keywords and formed the empirical database. By the specified period, it covered 238 sources including 33 United Nations (UNO)-affiliated documents, 26 World Health Organization (WHO) documents, seven documents of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), 29 Council of Europe and European Union documents, 14 items related to the statements of the national leaders and governments, 48 publications in the official international and national mass media, 68 posts in independent news digital platforms, 13 sites of translation associations, and non-profit agencies. The variables included the document genre, affiliation, type of its production. The distinctions included the following features: - document theme (s) with regard to language use/management - international/regional/national level of the document production; - production by the institution/ by the leadership representative/by independ-ent professional/non-governmental organization (NGO), the official mass media agency/personal blog publication. Data Processing. Methodology for Language Management research traditionally relies on various types of interviews, focus groups, conversational analysis (Fairbrother et al., 2018). However, as the present paper aims to explore the language management concerning COVID-19 mass communication, the methodology followed the researchers who stand for thematic content analysis of the material related to communication research (Roberts, 2020). To this end, the texts were structured into the electronic corpus, with a total amount of 193478 words. Data processing combined manual and computer-based coding. QDA Minor Lite was used for keywords frequency search. The list of computer-based search for frequent keywords served as the initial list of predetermined codes for manual coding, and emergent codes were considered (Kyngäs 2020). The manual coding was implemented individually by the author and four invited specialists, who have over 20 year-long experience in multilingual discourse studies, to foster the objectivity of coding. In line with the required percentage in statistical research on language (O’Connor & Joffe, 2020), only the codes with 90% coincidence between coders’ data and the computer-based most frequent word combinations were considered. According to the existing practice (Rayson 2008), the computer-based list of frequent key words was used for further identification of major semantic domains that were cross-checked by coders on the grounds of computer-based search. Further, the textual data were structured into the electronic corpus for computer-based analysis through QDA Minor Lite clustering function to identify major themes related to the language use issues within the COVID 19, the level of discussion document production at international/regional/national level, document source. 2. Results The thematic content analysis made it possible to identify major thematic codes in the textual corpus. These codes form clusters of language-use related topics which the society has discussed during the COVID 19 period, as introduced in Figure 1. We consider it relevant to comment on the above figure by providing concrete examples. The first cluster outlines the focus on COVID-19 issues found in speeches and statements delivered by international and national leaders who addressed the pandemic emergency. Their speeches have been subject to discourse analysis. Analysts explored various productions, including the UNO Secretary-General, the Italian Prime Minister, the USA president (Witchalls 2020a), the German Chancellor, the French Prime Minister (Freedman 2020), etc. The experts mention that speakers portray the process of disease tackling as bloody fight, and COVID-19 as the killer and enemy. Healthcare workers are at the front line. The leadership speeches might combine aggression or defensiveness, or focus on clear and concise language to announce the steps to be taken (Dhatt & Kickbusch, 2020). Figure 1. Language-use related topics within the information and discussion topics during the COVID-19 (author’s data) The second cluster reveals that international, regional, and national institutions strive to support language rights during the pandemic. They emphasise indigenous peoples’ language needs. The trend can be found in the UNO documents (COVID-19 Pandemic: Language matters 2020), Council of Europe efforts (COVID-19 crisis… 2020), China’ s language response to language minorities’ needs by the publication of information on measures to protect from and fight the COVID in 39 minority languages (Jia 2020). Moreover, the WHO efforts at the international level and the US activities at the national level can be mentioned as examples of multilingual response foreigners’ language rights support. Thus, the WHO has launched real-time training courses in 47 languages on COVID-19 treatment (Responding to COVID-19, 2020) to address health professionals, decision-makers, and the public. The USA system of centres for control and prevention of the US Department of Health & Human Services has launched the information platform in over 55 languages (CDC Resources in Languages Other than English 2020). The third cluster is closely connected with the second one and introduces the multilingual service provision industry response to COVID 19. The relevant examples come from international, regional, and national levels; integrate translation professional associations and NGOs’ activities. Asia-Pacific Translation and Interpreting Forum summarized the translation industry present and prospective contributions to fight against pandemics (Zhang & Gao, 2020). In Canada, a non-profit social agency MCIS Language Solutions has arranged basic info about COVID-19 for foreigners in over 40 languages (MCIS COVID-19 RESPONSE,2020, n/d). In Belgium, a Flemish agency has launched a site on COVID 19 in 36 foreign languages, including 27 official EU languages (Coronavirus: meertalige informatie 2020). In the USA, the nonprofit organization Translators without Borders conduct diverse activities, including translation into 89 languages (TWB’s global response to COVID-19, 2020). The fourth cluster refers to the COVID-19 related misinformation (infodemic). This phenomenon has been subject to counteractions at international, regional, and national levels, including the UN statements (UN tackles ‘infodemic’…2020), WHO address (Novel Coronavirus …2020), EU call to provide fact-based information to reinforce societal resilience (Joint Statement of the Members of the European Council, 2020). Particular countries have undertaken concrete actions. Thus, UK media analysts in cooperation with UK counter-extremism Institute of Strategic Dialogue have found some Facebook sources HumansAreFree.com, RealFarmacy.com which engaged in fake info spread (Miller 2020) and conspiracy theories dissemination (Wirtchhalls 2020b). We should also mention that within this cluster the reference to the power of the social media has been considered from the angle of information dissemination. The fifth cluster seems to have some connection with the infodemic in terms of pandemic influence on language use as a mirror of political and cultural bias and attitudes of particular national actors. Some high profile headlines and speeches can be mentioned. Jyllands Posten, the Danish newspaper published a cartoon of the Chinese national flag with virus-like symbols instead of five stars. China expressed its protest. The Danish Prime Minister referred to the long-standing Danish respect for the freedom of speech (China demands apology…2020). Le Courrier Picard, the French newspaper, used such headlines as Yellow Alert (Alerte Jaune), The yellow danger? ( Le péril jaune ?). Further, the newspaper t published the texts of apology (À propos de notre une du 26 janvier,2020). The sixth cluster covers international and local communities' efforts aimed at careful use of language. At the international level, the WHO, UNICEF, and the IFRC have launched guidelines for governments, media, and local organisations. The document strongly recommends to avoid criminalizing (COVID-19 suspects, suspected cases, victims) or dehumanizing terminology with ethnicity affiliation (Pomeroy 2020). International and national multilingual mass media giants also underline the need to avoid sensationalist and derogatory language (Kwan et al. 2020; Holdeman 2020). The empirical analysis of the texts’ overall corpus has laid grounds for the answer to RQ 2 and explicitly defined the levels at which the mentioned topics are discussed. The data in general, and the examples, introduced earlier in the section, confirm that the identified topics are subject to consideration within international, regional, local national dimensions of communication, and specific industries or communities, as well. The above materials reveal that the major international stakeholder, namely, WHO, UNICEF, and the IFRC produce consistent guidelines for human language - based communication on the pandemic topics. The regional level incorporates activities of major regional organizations. The article has already mentioned the documents produced by the Council of Europe. The activities of the African Union can be mentioned as well (Communication in Africa in the time of COVID-19, 2020). Should be also underlined, that the data reveals the national leadership’s consistent focus on the pandemic issues, as well. The present research data reveals that the international actors focus mostly on measures to tackle the emergency, while regional and national actors include in their statements and comments both factual and evaluative data, sometimes compliment the information with axiological inclusions. Moreover, much depends on the particular institution / agency / community professional / social / political / cultural affiliation and action policies. The respective examples have already been set forth earlier in this section. The data of research sample has allowed the author to answer RQ 3 and identify a tentative pool of actors who initiate and promote the discussion on language use during the COVID 19 include international and regional political and professional organisations, national governmental and mass media, international and national professional associations (those from health services, social care, language industry), journalists and bloggers, the public representatives, see Figure 2. Figure 2. Level and Actors within the information and discussion topics during the COVID-19 (author’s data) Regarding the variables, a number points seem to be relevant. First, we should underline that there are few documents/texts that focus specifically on language issues. The number of such texts in our research did not come over 19%. Although we have to mention that the figure is tentative, as another configuration of sources might lead to another picture. Among the mentioned figure of 19% the overwhelming majority of the sources where the multilingual service provision is concerned come from either the international and regional organizations (among them primarily from those that professionally deal with healthcare issues) or from the language service provision industry. Two major topics within the language issues discussion cover the challenge of multilingual services provision during the COVID-19, both for foreigners and local communities of minority languages speakers. 3. Discussion and Concluding Remarks The study reveals that COVID-19 has promoted the discussion on language use, its values, and its risks during the healthcare emergency. The language-use related topics which have been discussed by the public during the COVID-19, the identification of international, regional, and national dimensions for their discussion, the mapping of actors who initiate and promote the discussion on language use during the COVID-19 confirms the need to revisit language management concept with regard to current and prospective health emergencies. Such a statement comes from the empirical conclusions of those who underline the critical importance for mindful communication dueirng world-wide emergencies (Schlögl & Jones, 2020). This concept continues the Academia’ s tradition to view language management as theory and practice of actions put into practice in line with designed policy and planning (Spolsky 2009, Neustupny 2012, Nekvapil 2016) for consideration at micro (local) and macro (beyond national borders) levels. However, the empirical data on communication and information provision during COVID-19 confirms the idea of those researchers who argue that during the emergencies, language management tends to go beyond linguistic, communicative, and sociocultural aspects (Spolsky 2019). The research data confirm the hypothesis that COVID-19 might require updated measures in terms of language policy and management during the pandemic. Currently interagency collaboration and coordination at international, regional, national levels are crucial to shape collective ideology in terms of planning and implementing strategy and tactics for language use to foster global and local sustainability by providing adequate, factual, impartial, and timely data which can meet the information needs and perception capacities of varied target audiences within the multilingual community with different ethnic, social, religious, educational backgrounds across continents. The above vision requires administrative regulations concerning protocols of language-based communication for health emergencies, identification of major stakeholders who deal with the issue (international, regional, national leadership, governing bodies and institutions, language service industry, mass media and communication corporations, healthcare community, NGOs and professional associations, research institutions), their responsibilities and required activities for comprehensive management of language use within risk communication during health emergencies. The need to develop plain language communication protocols for healthcare services at the national level has already been set forth by scholars (Dauksewicz 2019). Researchers also launch monitoring platforms to understand the communicative patterns and language role in response to the humanitarian crisis in healthcare that pandemic caused (Betsch, 2020). However, the present study argues for a structured interagency response at both national and international levels with regard to language use policy development and management of its implementation within local and global contexts. This will help to improve the provision of up-to date information that is critically important at times of the pandemic uncertainty, as scholars underline Krause et al., 2020). The research findings lead to the conclusion on the critical importance of such issues as the style of international and national leadership’s addresses, production and timeliness of multilingual data on the pandemic, countermeasures against misinformation and anti-nation bias, development of protocols for the use of fact-based rational language. The mentioned items are considered as the key components of a language management framework for policy and actions which need a coordinated interagency response within local and global contexts during the COVID-19. The outlined approach to the concept of language management during global health emergencies requires the establishment and permanent operation of a specific international institution affiliated division/task force formed by national representatives of world countries to unite efforts aimed at comprehensive policy, planning, and actions development. The proposed stance requires comprehensive research through up-to-date technology application with respect to diverse areas, ranging from language use and its perception in multilingual and multicultural society during pandemics across the world, towards the creation of multilingual medical discourse and terminology corpora on the 21st-century pandemic diseases and multilingual protocols for their treatment. The present analysis has limitations in terms of the period of studies and data selection. Currently, there is a limited scope of available data which refer to particular countries, institutions, languages. More facts and aspects related to language issues within the pandemics are sure to further appear for the public consideration, along with the COVID-19 scale down.


About the authors

Anastasia A. Atabekova

RUDN University

Author for correspondence.
Email: atabekova-aa@rudn.ru
ORCID iD: 0000-0003-2252-9354

RUDN Vice Rector for Multilingual Development, Dr.Sc. in Comparative Linguistics, Full Professor, Master of Laws; RUDN University official representative in the International Federation of Translators, the Academic Board of the European Council of Languages; member of the European association of legal interpreters and translators; head and participant of international and Russian cultural and educational projects on multilingual issues

Moscow, Russian Federation


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