Multilingualism in a leading Finnish newspaper regarding the Covid-19 pandemic

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 (coronavirus) epidemic to be a global issue or a pandemic.

Since then, in Finland, the health care institutions (hospitals and health care centres), public transportation and shopping centres and malls, etc. have gone multilingual in informing the citizens about the pandemic and recommending safety precautions, including wearing the face mask, either in the form of stickers, posters and public announcements. Overall, the wearing of the mask has been debated a lot, with inconclusive scientific evidence, and the debate has unfortunately involved misinformation and disinformation, too! Unlike in many other European countries, neither the Finnish Government nor the key health-care officials have the authority to make the wearing of the mask mandatory, they can only make recommendations.

A year after the outbreak of the pandemic, Helsingin Sanomat, the leading newspaper in the country (with a circulation of 700.000 readers per day) had its first advertisement regarding these issues, published on March 13, 2021 (see the screen-shot below of its pages B15). The advertisement was issued by major retail sale organizations in the country, and it was published in the Business Section of the newspaper.

Advertisement in Helsingin Sanomat.

Of a total of five safety precautions, one (namely, the wearing of the mask) is repeated in the advertisement six times: first in Finnish (in capital letters) and Swedish (being the two official languages in Finland), followed by Russian, English, Estonian and Somali.

Overall, it seems that the organizations are appealing to Finnish customers doing shopping not only representing the majority of the citizens in the country (Finnish-speaking Finns and Swedish-speaking Finns) but also some of the major immigrant populations in Finland: Russians, Estonians and Somali people. English is probably used as a lingua franca in this advertisement. This precaution measure is followed by another four but only in Finnish (and visualisations, as was the case with the wearing of the mask, too). In fact, the advertisement is not only multilingual but also multimodal: verbal and visual!

14th March 2021, by Paula Kalaja, University of Jyväskylä (Finland).

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