Language…and Disease?

I read one of the most interesting linguistics articles I think I’ve ever read. What’s more is that it’s actually about COVID. Unless you’ve been in a coma for the last year, you’ve definitely been affected by the coronavirus pandemic in some way. Apparently, the language we speak may affect how we spread the infectious disease that has forced us into quarantine. Before I talk about how language influences the spread of COVID, however, we first have to establish that COVID is spread through respiratory droplets that may linger in the air and on surfaces for long amounts of time. Not only does this means of transmission mean that the disease has the potential to be very infectious, but it also means that normal conversation with someone that has the disease can lead to infection. Now that we’ve established how it’s spread, here’s the interesting part: there might be a link between languages containing aspirated consonants and the spread of the virus in countries that speak that language. This idea comes from the first “coronavirus” outbreak that happened in 2003. Scientists found that American travelers were infected at much higher rates than Japanese travelers despite the fact that there were more Japanese travelers in China at the time. They postulated that the reason for this discrepancy was the fact that English contains more aspirated consonants than Japanese. Scientists and linguists attempted examine the possible correlation using COVID data collected from countries around the world, but they were unable to determine if there was a statistically significant link between aspiration of consonants and transmission of COVID. They didn’t, however, rule out the possibility that how COVID spreads might be connected to the language we speak. 

About the author

Om Satapathy

Hi, I'm Om, the author of Lingua Franca.

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