Has Our Language Changed Because of the Pandemic?

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 most of us have had to become more self-reliant when it comes to our social gratification. People with a large social network have had to tone it down, for their own safety and that of their peers. The New York Times already posed that we may have become more socially awkward due to the consequences of the coronavirus, which really isn’t so strange when you think about it.

We haven’t met many new people, we haven’t been to parties, festivals, or generally got out of the house much. Most of our time might even be spent alone, or with our family. This is due to influence our behaviour in more ways than one: some have jokingly predicted a steep increase in divorce requests because people would be forced to spend too much time with their spouses. Kids will probably be just as frustrated having to be around their elders all the time, but we’ll simply interpret that as the ‘natural’ way of things.

Is it possible though, that because we spend significantly more time with the same people, this has influenced the way we speak and write?

Language in Isolation

One of the biggest preconceptions about language change is that a language is preserved in its original state when ‘isolated’, for example on an island or otherwise separated community. This would mean that by isolating ourselves, our language would remain static, even just for a little while. Another, more pessimistic, view is that language deteriorates when not being in touch with the outside world. Probably neither of these are true, since the value of a language is not measurable by whether it changes or not, but by how it allows us to communicate with each other.

Luckily, our isolation during pandemic times is not in any realistic way comparable to ‘real’ isolation that linguistic theory speaks of: we still have our cell phones, the internet, movies and what else to keep us in touch with how other people speak. We are never really completely without external linguistic input, never really alone.

Empathy Through Language

What might be going on however, is that we adapt more to the people we live with. Whether they are housemates, partners, kids, friends or family: we might start to sound more like each other. Chances are that we talked more to each other in isolation than we have in a long time, nevermind if it was yelling in annoyance or a loving conversation over dinner. Many researches have already proven that people adapt their way of speaking to the people around them when they want to connect to them, to make it easier to be accepted. Converging with other people through the way you use your language is a form of empathy that strengthens your communication and bond with the other.

So if you find yourself using the same words as your brother, starting to make similar jokes to your wife, or sounding like your housemate who comes from the neighboring country: take it as a compliment to yourself. You may just have used your time in isolation to come closer to the people you live with, which is showing in the way you talk to them, and possibly others.