SOAS University of London

SOAS languages and cultures experts to investigate Covid-19 risks among London’s migrant communities

11 January 2021

SOAS University of London languages and cultures scholars have been awarded UKRI/AHRC funding worth £489,826 for a research project examining Covid-19 public health information among linguistically diverse communities in London.

Led by Dr Nana Sato-Rossberg (Principal Investigator) Head of School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics, and the three Co-investigators Dr Yan Jiang, Professor Lutz Marten, and Professor Edward Simpson, the project will involve a team of 14 SOAS languages and cultures experts and anthropologists, who will investigate how information about Covid-19 and associated risks flows is translated in 14 different languages spoken in London.

London is a highly multilingual community – there are more than 200 languages spoken in London’s primary schools alone. Many of London’s multilingual and multicultural communities have access to, and rely on, information about Covid-19 in several languages. As a result, London’s migrant, ethnic, and minority communities are engaged in translating and interpreting Covid-19 information from different sources and often adopt a variety of perspectives, which will inform their understanding of and behavioural response to the pandemic.

The team said: “One of the key responses to the Covid-19 crisis is change in individuals’ behaviour: the success of social distancing, hand-washing, or the wearing of masks/face coverings all depend on individual members of the community adopting these measures. This change of behaviour relies on accurate, reliable and accessible information about Covid-19 and a good understanding of risks associated with Covid-19 among all members of the community. For this, language and understanding of culture are both crucial and this project showcases how expertise in languages and cultures can contribute to society in situations such as this pandemic.”

The communities involved in this project speak languages as diverse as Standard Arabic, Algerian Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Turkish, Urdu, Somali, Swahili, and Yoruba. The project will collect, document, and synthesize individual accounts from community members in London, information in the target languages published in London, and information available to community members from their (historical) home countries, their governments and on social media. The project will draw on the extensive language and cultural expertise at SOAS in collaboration with public agencies and community representatives. 

The SOAS language experts involved in this research are Dr Bukola Aluko-Kpotie (Yoruba), Dr Aicha Belkadi (Arabic), Narguess Farzad (Persian), Dr Ida Hadjivayanis (Swahili), Dr Nancy Hawker (Hebrew), Dr Youkyung Ju (Korean), Dr David Lunn (Hindi and Urdu), Dr Soe-Tjen Marching (Indonesian), Dr Burçin Mustafa (Turkish and Arabic), Naresh Sharma (Punjabi), Dr Satona Suzuki (Japanese) and Abshir Warsame (Somali and Swahili).