Linguistic diversity in a time of crisis: language challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic

Jie Zhang*, Ingrid Piller, Jia Li

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    139 Citations (Scopus)
    46 Downloads (Pure)


    Multilingual crisis communication has emerged as a global challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic. Global public health communication is characterized by the large-scale exclusion of linguistic minorities from timely high-quality information. The severe limitations of multilingual crisis communication that the COVID-19 crisis has laid bare result from the dominance of English-centric global mass communication; the longstanding devaluation of minoritized languages; and the failure to consider the importance of multilingual repertoires for building trust and resilient communities. These challenges, along with possible solutions, are explored in greater detail by the articles brought together in this special issue, which present case studies from China and the global Chinese diaspora. As such, the special issue constitutes not only an exploration of the sociolinguistics of the COVID-19 crisis but also a concerted effort to open a space for intercultural dialogue within sociolinguistics. We close by contending that, in order to learn lessons from COVID-19 and to be better prepared for future crises, sociolinguistics needs to include local knowledges and grassroots practices not only as objects of investigation but in its epistemologies; needs to diversify its knowledge base and the academic voices producing that knowledge base; and needs to re-enter dialogue with policy makers and activists.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)503–515
    Number of pages13
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright de Gruyter 2020. Article originally published in Multilingua, Volume 39, Issue 5, Pages 503–515. The original article can be found at Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • multilingual crisis communication
    • Chinese public health communication
    • language challenges of COVID-19
    • intercultural dialogue in sociolinguistics
    • emergency linguistics
    • English-centric multilingualism


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