In a language known for its tongue-twisting words, Germans have coined over 1,200 terms to describe the rules and realities of the pandemic.
They’re not alone, of course. Over the past year, languages all over the world have had to expand and adapt to address the pandemic and the lives it has upended. But in German—which has a grammar that lends itself to the formation of long, composite words and which borrows heavily from English—the rate and number of words added during the pandemic have no precedents in recent times.
“I can’t think of anything, at least since the Second World War, that would have changed the vocabulary as drastically, and at the same time as quickly, as the coronavirus pandemic,” said Anatol Stefanowitsch, a professor of linguistics at the Free University of Berlin. “I can think of many other examples of a huge cultural shift that changed the German vocabulary, but they didn’t happen within a few months.”
According to Christine Möhrs, a researcher at the Leibniz Institute for the German Language, part of the need to find words so quickly is psychological. “By being able to talk about the crisis, I think, we reduce fears,” she said. “We can share our insecurities. But that means we have to find many new words because so many things happened during the past months.”
Möhrs and her team have tracked more than 1,200 new coronavirus-related words as part of their ongoing effort to document changes to the language. As in most places, though, their use and meaning are also political. At the start of the pandemic, for example, the prohibition on going outside was called Ausgangssperre (going-out curfew). But German politicians soon realized that was a misnomer because people could still go outside to exercise, shop for essentials, or meet up with another person to go for a walk. The word changed to Ausgangsbeschränkung (going-out restriction) before later being subsumed by the more general English term “lockdown.”
After some restrictions to slow the spread of the virus were eased in the fall, German media started using the term “lockdown light,” while critics of the lockdown’s multiple extensions dubbed the new regimen Salamilockdown, meaning a lockdown that happens in slices rather than at a single stroke. The list of new words that Möhrs and her colleagues compiled includes more than 30 versions of the term.
In recent months especially, with debates over vaccines flaring, words such as “Coronadiktatur” (corona dictatorship) and “Impfzwang” (forced vaccination) have been shared widely on social media and at anti-government demonstrations.
“By using such words, a meaning is suggested that was never intended,” Möhrs said. “Even if a politician says, ‘Vaccines are not mandatory, and there is no Impfzwang,’ the sentence still contains the word.”
Möhrs and her team are evaluating hundreds of new words for their list, with frequency of use among the criteria. It will take at least another year or two to determine whether any of them will make it into a dictionary.
Read Full Article from The Washington Post (DC) (03/01/21)
Author: Beck, Luisa
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