Has our language changed because of the pandemic?

Has our language changed because of the pandemic?


Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have seen their social lives become considerably more restricted. People with busy social lives are suddenly taking things much more slowly, for their own safety and that of their friends and family. An article by The New York Times has already described how we all become a bit socially awkward because of the coronavirus, which is actually not even very surprising.

We are not meeting new people, not going to parties or festivals, and actually just getting out of the house much less. Some people may even spend most of their time together or with their families. This also leads to behavioral changes: for example, you sometimes hear jokes that divorce statistics are skyrocketing because people are suddenly spending too much time together. Children are probably fed up with their parents by now, too!

But could it be that because we spend so much time with the same people, it also affects how we talk and write?

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Language in isolation

A common assumption about language change is that language is preserved in its original form when isolated from outside influences, such as on an island or in a secluded community. This could mean that by isolating ourselves, as we do now, our language also remains static, if only temporarily. On the other hand, it is also argued that a language weakens when it no longer has contact with the outside world. One can ask whether this kind of question makes sense, because one can also say that the value of language is not determined by whether it changes or not, but based on whether we can communicate with each other with it or not.

Fortunately, our isolation during this pandemic is not at all comparable to the kind of isolation that linguists mean, because we do remain in contact with other people's language through our phones, Internet, movies and more. We are never completely shielded from the language of others, never really alone.

Empathy through language

What can happen is that we adapt to our surroundings. You may adopt something of the language of your roommates, partners, friends or family. Chances are we've been talking more to each other recently than before, whether that's an argument or a loving conversation over dinner. Research has shown many times that people adapt their speech to their surroundings when they want to bond. Matching your language to your conversational partners is an expression of empathy by which you improve communication and connection with the other person.

So if you use the same words as your brother, if your jokes resemble your wife's, or if you adopt your roommate's accent, you can take this as a compliment to yourself. You have simply used the past time to strengthen your bond with those around you, and it shows in how you talk to them.

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