Online Lecture on Pandemic Storytelling

Donnerstag, 10.12.2020, 19.00 Uhr


Elena Semino (Lancaster University): Metaphors and Stories about Covid-19

Elena Semino Urheberrecht: © Elena Semino


Metaphors have been widely used in communication about the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus has been described, for example, as an “enemy” to be “beaten”, a “tsunami” on health services and even as “glitter” that “gets everywhere”. Different metaphors frame the virus and the pandemic in different ways, including by facilitating the telling of different stories about the past, present and hypothetical futures. In this talk I discuss a range of different metaphors, including both highly conventional and highly original ones, and consider their different story-telling implications, especially when they contrast with one another. I also offer some reflections on the importance of sensitive and effective uses of metaphor in public health messaging about the virus.


Elena Semino is Professor of Linguistics and Verbal Art in the Department of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster University, and Director of the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science. She holds a Visiting Professorship at the University of Fuzhou in China. She specializes in health communication, medical humanities, corpus linguistics, stylistics, narratology and metaphor theory and analysis. She has (co-)authored over 100 academic publications, including: Metaphor in Discourse (Cambridge University Press, 2008) and Metaphor, Cancer and the End of Life: A Corpus-based Study (Routledge, 2018).

Recommended Reading:


Jarmila Mildorf (University of Paderborn): “Crisis and Creativity: Poetry in Times of Corona“

Jarmila Mildorf Urheberrecht: © Adelheid Rutenburges, University of Paderborn


The Corona pandemic and its effects on everyday life have called forth numerous reactions by people worldwide that are shared in various contexts. The crisis has also sparked creative impulses in many people, among them the impulse to write poetry. The Corona poems written to the editor of The New York Times by both laypersons and writers are a case in point. In this talk, I want to discuss examples from this group of poems with a view to identifying how they capture and convey people’s personal experience with the current situation. I focus specifically on poems that have a narrative dimension and that juxtapose the past and the present, often in subtle and complex ways. On a more abstract level and drawing on psychological research, I discuss what such creative output tells us about the role that artistic expression may have as a coping strategy in times of crisis.


Jarmila Mildorf completed her PhD in Sociolinguistics at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland) and has since then taught English language and literature at the universities of Stuttgart, Wuppertal and Paderborn. She was a visiting professor at Masaryk University (Brno, Czech Republic) in October 2019. Her doctoral thesis was published under the title Storying Domestic Violence: Constructions and Stereotypes of Abuse in the Discourse of General Practitioners (University of Nebraska Press 2007). Her ‘Habilitation’ entitled Reading (Fictional) Dialogue: Text, Context, Cognition was completed in 2019. Mildorf has published widely in the fields of socionarratology, second-person narration, audionarratology, radio drama, fictionality, dialogue, literature and medicine, and has co-edited fourteen collections of essays and special journal issues to date, among them Audionarratology: Interfaces of Sound and Narrative (with Till Kinzel, De Gruyter 2016); Dialogue across Media (with Bronwen Thomas, John Benjamins 2017), Narrating Selves in Everyday Contexts: Art, the Literary and Life Experience (with Mari Hatavara and Matti Hyvärinen, special issue of Style 51.3, 2017), and Radio Art and Music: Culture, Aesthetics, Politics (with Pim Verhulst, Lexington Books 2020)