SOAS University of London

Alumni Engagement

COVID-19: Can Linguists Save Lives? (Virtual event)

Dr Mandana Seyfeddinipur, Dr Pierpaolo Di Carlo

Date: 28 May 2020Time: 6:00 PM

Finishes: 28 May 2020Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Virtual Event

Type of Event: Lecture


Dr Mandana Seyfeddinipur, Director of the SOAS World Languages Institute and Head of the Endangered Languages Archive and Dr Pierpaolo Di Carlo an anthropologist and linguist at the University at Buffalo will be discussing the role linguists play in translating COVID-19 related information into endangered languages.

COVID19 is spreading through urban centres and is reaching remote areas. One global response is to implement social isolation and distancing measures and to provide information about behaviour change to save lives. However, getting the message across to people is not only a matter of translation into major languages. Half of the world’s population speaks one or more of the 6000 unwritten languages. Media penetration for information transmission is not a given in many areas of the global South. And even in the urban centres in the global North, the cultural and linguistic mosaic of diaspora communities is a challenge that needs addressing. Not only the language, but also the style, the metaphors, the untranslatable words, the medium of transmission, and the very identity of the messenger are all key in getting the message across about what is at stake and what needs to be done. Linguists, anthropologists, and social scientists have been working with vulnerable communities from urban diasporas to remote areas all over the world. The linguistic knowledge and experience can now contribute to the global efforts to save lives and to get the message across. We will introduce one initiative that has taken up this challenge: The event will be the second of the series.


The Continuing the Conversations event series is designed to engage SOAS alumni but open to all. These lecture series will discuss COVID-19 in relation to an academic topic presented by a member of SOAS’ Academic staff. The event will include a talk for about 20 minutes and then a discussion regarding questions from the audience for about 20 minutes. Please make sure to submit your questions when you register for the event.


Dr Mandana Seyfeddinipur is a linguist and the director of the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme ( and heads the Endangered Languages Archive ( at SOAS. Her expertise includes theory and method of modern language documentation, language use and face to face interaction, multimodality of language in interaction and cognitive basis of language production.

Dr Pierpaolo Di Carlo is an anthropologist and linguist at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. His expertise includes the documentation of endangered languages, African anthropology, and the study of multilingualism in rural communities of Africa. He is co-director of a U.S. National Science Foundation-funded research project furthering the use of multidisciplinary methods for the study of traditional multilingualism in areas of Cameroon.
He is author and co-author of articles published in venues like the (Oxford Research Encyclopedia) and is co-editor (with Jeff Good) of a book entitled (African Multilingualisms) whose contributors are for the most part African scholars.


This event is free but booking is required. Book your place via Eventbrite page

This event is open to all - alumni, students, staff and the public.

Organiser: SOAS Alumni Engagement, SOAS Events

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