1st Edition

The Languages of COVID-19 Translational and Multilingual Perspectives on Global Healthcare

Edited By Piotr Blumczynski, Steven Wilson Copyright 2023
    264 Pages 14 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    264 Pages 14 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This collection advocates languages-based, translational research to be part of the partnerships and collaborations required to make sense of, and respond to, COVID-19 as one of the major global challenges of our time.


    Bringing together scholars and practitioners from a wide range of disciplines, this volume is bound by a common thread stressing the importance of linguistic sensitivity, (inter)cultural knowledge and translational mediation in the frontline response to COVID-19. Featuring contributors from around the world and reflecting on the language used to frame COVID-19 in diverse cultural contexts of the Global North and Global South, the book proposes that paying attention to the transmission of ideas, ideologies, narratives and history through processes of translation results in a broadening of social, cultural and medical understandings of COVID-19. Spanning nearly 20 signed and spoken languages, the volume argues that only in going beyond an Anglophone perspective can we better understand the cultural, social and political facets of the pandemic and, in turn, produce a comprehensive, efficient global response to disease management.


    This book will be of interest to scholars in translation and interpreting studies, modern languages, applied linguistics, cultural studies, Deaf Studies, intercultural communication and medical humanities.

    Table of Contents


    1. Are We All in This Together?

    Piotr Blumczynski and Steven Wilson (Queen’s University Belfast, UK)


    PART I: COVID-19 and the Global Construction of Language

    2. Worldmaking in the Time of COVID-19: The Challenge of the Local and the Global

    Catherine Boyle and Renata Brandão (King’s College London, UK)

    3. SARS-CoV-2 and Discursive Inoculation in France: Lessons from HIV/AIDS

    Loïc Bourdeau (University of Louisiana at Lafayette, USA) and V. Hunter Capps (SUNY Buffalo, USA)

    4. War Metaphors during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Persuasion and Manipulation

    Patrizia Piredda (University of Oxford, UK)

    5. Prophylactic Nationalism: COVID-19 in Thai Public Health Discourse

    Wanrug Suwanwattana (Thammasat University, Thailand)

    6. COVID-19 as a Foreign Language: How France Learned the Language of the Pandemic

    Emilie Garrigou-Kempton (Pomona College, California, USA)


    PART II: Translating and Communicating COVID-19

    7. Localising Science News Flows in a Global Pandemic: Translational Sourcing Practices in Flemish Reporting on COVID-19 Vaccine Studies

    Elisa Nelissen and Jack McMartin (KU Leuven, Belgium)

    8. Community Trust in Translations of Official COVID-19 Communications in Australia: An Ethical Dilemma Between Academics and News Media

    Anthony Pym, Maria Karidakis, John Hajek, Robyn Woodward-Kron, Riccardo Amorati (University of Melbourne, Australia), and Bei Hu (National University of Singapore)

    9. Risk and Crisis Communication during COVID-19 in Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Communities: A Scoping Review of the Available Evidence

    Demi Krystallidou and Sabine Braun (University of Surrey, UK)

    10. A Lockdown by Any Other Name: Populist Rhetoric as a Communication Strategy for COVID-19 in Duterte’s Philippines

    Marlon James Sales (University of Michigan, USA)

    11. Prophylactic Language Use: The Case of Deaf Signers in England and Their (Lack of) Access to Government Information during the COVID-19 Pandemic

    Jemina Napier and Robert Adam (Herriot-Watt University, UK)

    12. A Pandemic Accompanied by an Infodemic: How Do Deaf Signers in Flanders Make Informed Decisions? A Preliminary Small-scale Study

    Jorn Rijckaert and Karolien Gebruers (Belgium)


    PART III: Translational Cultural Responses to COVID-19

    13. The Visual Language of COVID-19: Narrative, Data, and Emotion in Online Health Communications

    Kirsten Ostherr (Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA)

    14. Reading COVID-19 through Dante: A Literature-Based, Bilingual, and Translational Approach to Making Sense of the Pandemic

    Beatrice Sica (University College London, UK)

    15. COVID-19 Bandes dessinées: Reframing Medical Heroism in French-Language Graphic Novels

    Steven Wilson (Queen’s University Belfast, UK)

    16. Translational Futures: Notes on Ecology and Translation from the COVID-19 Crisis

    Marta Arnaldi (University of Oxford, UK)

    List of Contributors




    Robert Adam is Assistant Professor in Languages and Intercultural Studies and Head of British Sign Language at Heriot-Watt University. He is also Honorary Lecturer at the UCL Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre, Visiting Professor at the Centre for Deaf Studies, Trinity College Dublin and Fellow of the Association of Sign Language Interpreters (UK). A Trustee of the British Deaf Association and member of the World Federation of the Deaf Expert Group on Sign Language and Deaf Studies, his research expertise is on minority language bilingualism and sign language contact. He is deaf, from Melbourne, Australia.

    Riccardo Amorati is a Teaching and Research Associate at the School of Languages and Linguistics of the University of Melbourne. Following studies at the University of Bologna in Italy, he completed his doctoral degree in applied linguistics at the University of Melbourne. His research focuses primarily on the psychological factors that influence second-language learning (motivation, anxiety, well-being) and on novel approaches to second language teaching.

    Marta Arnaldi is Extraordinary Junior Research Fellow in Italian at The Queen’s College and Lecturer in Italian at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford. Trained in comparative literature and medicine, she held research fellowships at Oxford and Oslo, where she collaborates with the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare Education. Her first monograph, The Diasporic Canon: American Anthologies of Contemporary Italian Poetry 1945–2015, is forthcoming in 2022. She is principal investigator of the projects "Translating Illness" (Wellcome ISFF) and "Translating COVID-19" (OUP-Oxford John Fell Fund), the author of three award-winning poetry collections (Itaca, 2016; Mare storto, 2022; Intraducibile 2022), and a ballet dancer.

    Piotr Blumczynski is Senior Lecturer in Translation and Interpreting in the School of Arts, English and Languages at Queen’s University Belfast, where he teaches on postgraduate programmes and supervises doctoral research. His recent work has been testing the concept of translation beyond its traditionally linguistic boundaries (Ubiquitous Translation, 2016). In 2022–2024, he is co-directing the research programme MISTE exploring various sites of translation and cross-cultural encounter on the island of Ireland. He is the editor-in-chief of the journal Translation Studies.

    Loïc Bourdeau is Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His work has centered on cultural production in France and Quebec, women’s and gender studies, queer studies, literary criticism, film, and care studies. He has published four edited or co-edited volumes—including Revisiting HIV/AIDS in French Culture: Raw Matters (2022), coedited with V. Hunter Capps—in addition to several edited special-themed journal issues. He is the founder and series editor of New Directions in Francophone Studies: Diversity, Decolonization, Queerness (EUP).

    Catherine Boyle is Professor of Latin American Cultural Studies, King’s College London. Her research is on questions of cultural transmission, translation as cultural history and gendered writing and translation and she has published widely on these areas. She is a translator of drama, prose and poetry and leads the Out of the Wings Collective, dedicated to the translation and performance of theatre from the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking worlds. Since 2016, has been director of the Centre for Language Acts and Worldmaking whose goal is to promote research and learning in modern languages.

    Renata Brandão is Lecturer in Multimedia Journalism. Her current research focuses on how data is used in various media outlets. Her work investigates how data are used in the newsroom, as well as new, innovative and interactive ways they are being used to expand research and education. She holds a PhD in Journalism Studies from the University of Sheffield. Her dissertation examined how statistics are used to articulate journalist narratives and shape science news discourses in the newsroom.

    Sabine Braun is Professor of Translation Studies, Director of the Centre for Translation Studies, and a Co-Director of Surrey’s Institute for People-Centred AI. Her research explores human-machine interaction and integration in translation and interpreting, especially to improve access to critical information, media content and vital public services. For over ten years, she has led a research programme that investigates the delivery of interpreting services via video link to improve language access in the public sector. In addition, she is investigating the feasibility of semi-automating audio description (video-to-text translation) to improve media access for diverse audiences.

    V. Hunter Capps is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at the University at Buffalo. His research centres on queer studies, French & American AIDS literature, critical theory, and writing practices centred around disease. He co-edited Revisiting HIV/AIDS in French Culture: Raw Matters (2022) with Loïc Bourdeau and has published "A Small Movement with a Big Agenda: Robin Campillo’s BPM."

    Emilie Garrigou-Kempton is Visiting Assistant Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures at Pomona College, California. Her research focuses on late nineteenth-century France and is situated at the confluence of several academic disciplines—literary criticism, medical humanities, visual studies and religious studies.

    Karolien Gebruers has been working as a hearing Flemish Sign Language/Dutch interpreter since 2012 in a variety of settings. Karolien has a background in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, and Interpreting. She is the president of Tenuto, a Flemish non-profit organisation offering continuous professional development training to interpreters. Currently, Karolien is a PhD candidate at the School of Social Sciences at Heriot-Watt University focusing on gender in relation to the signed language interpreting profession.

    John Hajek is Professor of Italian Studies and director of the Research Centre for Multilingualism and Cross-cultural Communication at the University of Melbourne. A trained linguist, he completed his university studies in Australia, Italy and the United Kingdom. He has a broad range of research interests, with a particular focus on understanding multilingualism and addressing the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Australia, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Bei Hu is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chinese Studies at the National University of Singapore. She received her PhD in Translation and Interpreting Studies from the University of Melbourne, Australia. Her research interests lie in the reception of high-stakes intercultural communication. Her current projects focus on the communicative effects of translated COVID-19 information on multilingual communities.

    Maria Karidakis is a Lecturer at the School of Languages and Linguistics at the University of Melbourne. Her current research focuses on medical interpreting for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and narrative analysis and narrative identity construction and positioning in small stories told by interpreters. Other research interests are language maintenance and shift in migrant community languages and Indigenous languages and socio-economic variation in the use of these languages.

    Demi Krystallidou is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Translation Studies at the University of Surrey, UK. Her expertise is in multilingual healthcare communication and inter-professional education. She has published widely in healthcare communication, interpreting, educational research and health services research. She is an editorial board member of BMC Health Services Research and the deputy Chair of the policy committee of the International Association for Communication in Healthcare.

    Jemina Napier is Chair of Intercultural Communication and Director of Research in the School of Social Sciences at Heriot-Watt University and an interpreter researcher, educator and practitioner. She is a Visiting Professor at the Centre for Deaf Studies, Trinity College Dublin; Adjunct Professor in the Department of Linguistics at Macquarie University, Sydney; Corresponding Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities and a Fellow of the Association of Sign Language Interpreters UK. She conducts interdisciplinary linguistic, social and ethnographic explorations of direct and mediated communication in sign languages to inform interpreting studies, applied linguistics and has published extensively on these topics.

    Elisa Nelissen is a PhD researcher at the Translation and Intercultural Transfer research group at KU Leuven. She is part of an interdisciplinary team that studies the international circulation of science news. Working at the intersection of translation studies, journalism studies and science communication, Elisa is interested in how science news is adapted as it travels across linguistic or cultural borders and media types.

    Jack McMartin is Assistant Professor of Translation and Intercultural Transfer at KU Leuven, in Belgium. His research draws on insights from the sociology of translation to explain the social conditions that shape the international circulation of literary, journalistic and scientific texts. Jack is vice-director of the Centre for Reception Studies, summer school faculty and research member at the Centre for Translation Studies, and member of the Leuven Centre for Health Humanities. He remains an active freelance Dutch-English translator.

    Kirsten Ostherr is the Gladys Louise Fox Professor of English and Director of the Medical Humanities program at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Kirsten is the author of Medical Visions: Producing the Patient through Film, Television and Imaging Technologies (2013) and Cinematic Prophylaxis: Globalization and Contagion in the Discourse of World Health (2005), and editor of Applied Media Studies (2017). Her writing about the COVID-19 pandemic has featured in The Washington Post, STAT, Inside Higher Ed, and American Literature. Kirsten leads the digital health humanities project "Translational Humanities for Public Health".

    Patrizia Piredda researches on the links between language and ethics with a particular focus on literary and philosophical language and the epistemological role of metaphor. Her publications include: The Great War in Italy. Representation and Interpretation (2013); Ethics and Italian Theatre of the Twentieth Century (2018), and Vera Amicitia. Classical Notions of Friendship in Renaissance, Thought, and Culture (coedited with Matthias Roick, 2022).

    Anthony Pym is Professor of Translation Studies at the University of Melbourne and Distinguished Professor of Translation and Intercultural Studies at the Rovira i Virgili University in Spain. He works on sociological approaches to translation and cross-cultural communication.

    Jorn Rijckaert is born deaf and is bilingual in Dutch and Flemish Sign Language. He holds an MA degree in Film Studies and Visual Culture from the University of Antwerp, where he wrote a dissertation on Deaf Cinema. After graduation he worked for the public broadcaster VRT as an editor and deaf interpreter. He is the founder of Visual Box, an association of deaf film and media producers, where he now mainly works as an anthropological filmmaker for Mobile Deaf, a research group at Heriot-Watt University.

    Marlon James Sales is a co-investigator in the Mellon-funded project Sites of Translation in the Multilingual Midwest at the Department of Comparative Literature of the University of Michigan, where he worked between 2019 and 2021 as Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Critical Translation Studies. His research mainly examines the cultures of translation in the Spanish Philippines, covering topics such as multilingualism, race and colonialism, and translation as a mode of historical writing. In September 2020 he co-organised the virtual symposium Press Freedom and the Pandemic in Duterte’s Philippines at Michigan’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

    Beatrice Sica is Associate Professor in Italian Studies at University College London. Her research focuses on Italian literature and cultural studies; Futurism and the European avant-gardes; and Fascism. She won numerous fellowships and grants, including the EURIAS fellowship at the Institute of Advanced Studies of the University of Bologna, the Lauro de Bosis fellowship at Harvard University, and the Fondazione Sapegno fellowship at the Collège de France in Paris. She was visiting Professor at the University of Geneva and Bologna. She has published on Italian Futurism and French Surrealism; magical realism; literature and art in Italy during and after Fascism; Franco-Italian cultural exchanges in the interwar period; and Italian poetry.

    Wanrug Suwanwattana is Lecturer in French Studies at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University, Bangkok. She completed her DPhil at the University of Oxford. Her research interest includes colonial and postcolonial issues, cultural studies, gender studies, visual culture, and relationships between Global South and North. She is the co-editor of the volume French Decadence in a Global Context with Julia Hartley and Jennifer Yee (2022). She is currently preparing a monograph entitled Colonial Decadence: Indochina and Fin-de-siècle French Literature.

    Steven Wilson is Senior Lecturer in Modern Languages at Queen’s University Belfast. His research explores the ways in which modern French literature and thought contribute to culturally aware, linguistically sensitive understandings of disease, illness, medical practice and dying/death. He is the author of The Language of Disease: Writing Syphilis in Nineteenth-Century France (2020) and has edited special issues of leading international journals on, among others, French Autopathography (2016), French Thanatology (2021), and Cultural Languages of Pain (2023).

    Robyn Woodward-Kron is Professor of Health Communication and a teaching and research academic in the Melbourne Medical School, University of Melbourne. With a PhD in educational linguistics, her language and communication research is interdisciplinary and translational, informing education in the health professions. Her main research areas are communication for inclusive clinical trials using digital technologies, learner discourses in health professions education, and public health messaging for members of culturally and linguistically diverse communities.


    Piotr Blumczynski is Senior Lecturer in Translation and Interpreting at Queen’s University Belfast. He is the author of Ubiquitous Translation (Routledge, 2016) and editor-in-chief of the journal Translation Studies. In 2022–2024, he is co-directing the research programme MISTE exploring various sites of translation and cross-cultural encounter on the island of Ireland.

    Steven Wilson is Senior Lecturer in French Studies at Queen’s University Belfast. He is the author of The Language of Disease: Writing Syphilis in Nineteenth-Century France (Legenda, 2020) and has edited medical humanities-themed journal special issues on French Autopathography (2016), French Thanatology (2021) and Cultural Languages of Pain (2023).

    "With its revelatory observations on language, translation and culture during the COVID-19 pandemic, from a broad geographical, multimodal and cross-disciplinary perspective, this extensive and impressive volume provides a significant contribution to our understanding of the importance of language in health crises."

    – Sharon O’Brien, Dublin City University

    "Never before the intricate relationships between linguistic identity, mental and physical health have been as visible as during the COVID-19 pandemic. Engaging with trust, cognitive and emotive impact, metaphorical and semantic meaning, national and transnational contexts of healthcare communication, and many subtle interconnections in between, the contributors of this volume call us to reassess language as a factor in discourses of personal, national, and global health. A necessary reading."

    – Federico M. Federici, University College London

    "The Languages of COVID-19 provides an eloquent demonstration of how ‘following the science’...is no longer an effective or adequate response to global health crises such as COVID-19...The volume is to be recognised as a key intervention, from the perspective of what Ostherr dubbed the translational humanities, in the area of understanding the multiple impacts of COVID-19 past, present and future...This book deserves to be widely read across a range of disciplines and fields, with its implications integrated to policy and practice." 

    – Charles Forsdick, University of Liverpool, The Translator