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Language in times of crisis: coronavirus on the pages of Croatian magazine Jutarnji list

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Language in times of crisis: coronavirus on the pages of Croatian magazine Jutarnji list



Dominika Kubišová

Masaryk university, Brno


Abstract: The article deals with reaction of the Croatian language to the coronavirus crisis. The discourse analysis provides the basic framework for the study of the texts from online version of newspaper Jutarnji list in January 2022, two years since the outbreak of the virus in Croatia. The text follows specific tendencies of a language in crisis: emphasizing particular parts of vocabulary (medical, military terminology, statistics), creation of new words, use of metaphor or depiction of the near future.

Keywords: coronavirus, Croatia, language, crisis, Jutarnji list



Language adapts to a situation because it reflects external events. The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has brought critical moments to many areas of our life, from public health or politics to economy. Language had to adapt, as new words and phrases with the root “covid” and “corona” emerged. However, in addition to the naming itself, the word coronavirus has been featuring other attributes and topics related crisis and scenarios of the future. This article examines the way language has responded to the coronavirus crisis on the website of the Croatian daily news Jutarnji List. The articles from which the excerpts have been taken were published between 1st January 2022 and 5th January 2022. In addition to the word coronavirus itself, the names of individual variants or the term COVID-19 have been monitored.

Discourse Analysis

This article will use discourse analysis as its basis. It elaborates on the peculiarities of speech or written text relevant to the arguments stated in the analysis (Gee 2011: 117). Fairclough claims that “critical analysis of discourse combines critique of discourse with an explanation of how it features in and contributes to existing social reality as a basis for action to change existing reality in specific aspects.“ (Boréus – Bergström – Ekström 2017: 222) The analysis itself is based on the text, looking at the grammatical structure and locating discourse within a broader social context, which is thus related to other discourses or other areas. (Boréus – Bergström – Ekström 2017: 222) In this article, the analysis is focusing on the discursive area of ​​newspaper articles of current coronavirus crisis period. For the analysis of the discourse to be more accurate, the background of the situation to be examined is needed. The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic spread to Croatia in February 2020 with the first confirmed case (HZJZ 2020). By mid-January 2022, 818,832 cases and 13,157 deaths had been recorded (koronaví and at the time of writing this article, the country was preparing for arrival of the Omicron variant. The society has been following all updates for some time and has become accustomed to the specific language the situation has brought with it. The language will be examined in more detail using the reports on coronavirus from the online version of the Croatian newspaper Jutarnji List. There were forty articles collected in the period under this examination at the beginning of January, proving the topicality of this issue even after two years of the ongoing pandemic.

Language in Crisis

Language adapts to its users and the period it is used in. It is different in time of peace, it is different in time of war, as well as in time of a crisis. So far, the latest crisis that has affected the whole world is (at the beginning of 2022) the COVID-19 pandemic. The language has been affected, too. Suddenly, it was necessary to put emphasis on new information or information we had not paid much attention to until then and, even in everyday conversation, people have been using words and phrases never pronounced before. Newspaper articles that inform about this extraordinary crisis that has affected all people are a reflection of their time.

Military Terminology and Statistics Bringing Superlatives

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, language has employed two interesting features: war terminology and numerical statistics. In the first case, one associates expressions such as “pod opsadom”, (Jureško, Krnić 2022) “ratno stanje” (state of war) (Jutarnji List 2022a), or “stožer” (staff) (Jutarnji List 2022b) with comments related to armed conflict rather than medicine, although people often metaphorically “fight” a disease as if it was a visible enemy, even though in this case it is the COVID-19 virus, invisible to the naked eye. Statistics[2] on hospitalized and deceased people often resemble military intelligence on the number of victims. The peculiarity related to informing about the numbers (not only[3]) in Croatia is the comparison of numerical values so that the daily numbers are always in superlatives – the largest / smallest in the last year / week or, e.g., Tuesday two weeks ago. The headline of this article can be used as an example “U protekla 24h zabilježeno dvostruko više slučajeva zaraze nego prije 14 dana, umrlo 46 osoba,” (Krnić 2022) which continues to calculate all positive and tested for coronavirus, its victims and even detailed vaccination data. This is basically a flood of numbers comparing the situation over time (without reference to other countries, in this case only Croatian statistics). Comparative forms appear both in reports from home and in reports from abroad. Expressive words are chosen that should shock the reader, e.g., “Eksplozija omikrona u Americi: Prijavili su svjetski rekord, u 24 sata imaju više od milijun novozaraženih” (Jutarnji List 2022c) or simply compare the individual variants (currently Delta and Omicron) with each other. As Čulenová explains, the role of superlatives is to convince the addressee, or to awaken emotions, mood, evoke an attitude or reaction in them and draw attention to a certain fact (Čulenová 2019: 179). In the case of pandemic news, superlatives are a cause for concern and, at the same time, their aim is to alert consumers to potential dangers. Expressive, heavily colored words appear in many forms, for example, in the aforementioned Omicron explosion, “Izrael bilježi spektakularni porast zaraza” (Jutarnji List 2022d), “omikron se munjevito/vrtoglavo širi” (Jutarnji List 2022a) and, also, from domestic news “virus divlja” and “stanje /…/ bi moglo postati alarmantno” (Jutarnji List 2022e). The problem with raising concern and using highly colored words is that the pandemic has been going on for some time, and one can assume that part of the audience is starting to be immune to shocking and frightening expressions. Over time, dramatic expressions and superlatives have lost their meaning. Statistical reports are published by the media on a daily basis and, they have become part of the news almost in the same way as the weather forecast. Wave size, anti-epidemiological measures, measuring the severity of the situation, all this information is tied to numbers. However, those can be manipulative, albeit unintentionally because people often lose track of them. How many positive cases are a lot? One hundred, two hundred? Eight thousand? And how many are little?

The numbers themselves can be dehumanizing. If we talk only about the number of cases, we are not able to capture the individual stories that lie behind them. That is why there are the so-called human-interest stories. Jutarnji List features two types of them. The first type are well-known people who have overcome the disease, such as the Deputy Mayor of Zagreb. The reports of their illness capture the severity of the development and the call for vaccination, in this case without any significant emotional discoloration (Jutarnji List 2022f). The other side of the coin are tragic cases such as the death of the whole family in Dalmatia. The article conveys the emotion of sadness (“velika tuga u malom mjestu” (Ćosić 2022)), talks about good and cheerful people who suffered enough and offers consolation for the bereaved. Similar texts can join non-specific statistics to specific faces that are easier to identify with and it is easier to imagine one own neighbors or friends behind these stories.[4]

Future and Medical Language

As part of their articles, Jutarnji List featured headlines that hid fears and omens of the dark future and created an atmosphere of fear, e.g. “Krizni plan bolnica za omikron: Gasit će hladne pogone, primati samo hitne pacijente” (Jureško, Krnić 2022) and they continue throughout the text in the similar way. They talk about limiting the availability of health care by repeating the phrase “svi se boje /…/ I on se boji posljedica blagdana” (Jureško, Krnić 2022). At the beginning of January, Jutarnji List did not write about the end of the pandemic but was expecting a new variant and the problems that would arrive with it. Positive reports have appeared only marginally, for example in connection with the unconfirmed lower mortality of the new mutation. A separate category of language in crisis, at a time when nothing is certain, are rhetorical questions. „Znači li to da nam uskoro slijedi crni scenarij?“ (Jureško, Krnić 2022) According to Čulenová, rhetorical questions always have an answer. They persuasively put readers into the position where they have to answer and, at the same, time draw their attention to the required content (Čulenová 2019: 185). The very question about the black scenario, i.e. the black future, thus automatically carries negative emotions and negative expectations. In addition to the language itself, the order of the news in the articles is also interesting. With a lot of shocking information, the reader first learns about the negative information, while any positive information is printed at the end of the text.[5] An example of that is the article on the hospital contingency plan, which works with an atmosphere of fear and possible future problems.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the language has gradually adapted to the new reality, for example with words composed of the word corona, or more frequent use of words such as isolation (Jutarnji List 2022h), “epidemioloških mjera, održavanje distance, nošenja maske, prozračivanja i izbjegavanja kontakta,” (Jutarnji List 2022b) which is included among the virus-protection recommendations and thus, became a common part of the pandemic language. Their application varies depending on the number of infected (government decisions), therefore, there are also additional restrictions (dodatna ograničenja (Jutarnji List 2022i)). They convey the assumption that life in a crisis regime is somehow “diminished” compared to what we would otherwise consider normal. The restrictions are just the opposite but the newspapers did not cover them at the time of the analysis, as they expected arrival of the Omicron. As described, they picture the near future in black. As this crisis concerns health, other terms in medical terminology such as oxygen saturation, S-protein, mutation, antibodies have also appeared in current news (Rudež 2022), etc. Even after several months of pandemics, the language is still developing and, neologisms emerge reflecting new phenomena. In the articles under analysis, it is for example “flurona” (Jureško 2022) – a combination of COVID-19 and influenza variants. Due to the speed with which the situation changes, the language often takes on foreign words unless it already has its own term. For example, a mask (in the Croatian language maska) exists in the Croatian language, while the newly formed “flurona” borrows the English word flu and part of the coronavirus term. Over the time, as the coronavirus mutated, its versions were given new names (following the Greek alphabet). While one term has been widely used, they can have different names from strictly scientific “nekoliko slučajeva ove nove varijante na području Marseillea. Zovemo je varijanta IHU /…/ službene oznake B.1.640.2” to geographic “originalne ‘wuhanske’ varijante virusa” (Jutarnji List 2022j). The first one is neutral, although the article mentions the state of Cameroon and the city of Marseille, the second one is characteristic because covid-19 will join the Chinese city of Wu-chan, leaving a negative connotation.

The Wave Metaphor and Actors of the Crisis

If we look at the metaphor that has been reappearing since the beginning of the pandemic crisis, the wave is well known. It has already appeared during the migration crisis around 2015 when there was a talk of migration wave(s). At present, it relates to periods of increase in positively tested / hospitalized patients. “Još se nije okončao ni dug četvrti pandemijski val generiran deltom, a ulazimo u peti.” (Rudež 2022) The metaphor of waves in close succession can make readers feel that they are drowning in crisis which is out of their control.

In times of crisis, personalities who have decision-making powers are important. These can be alive and named, at a time when health is at the center of concern, e.g., doctors, heads of individual hospitals or departments, “prof. dr. Alen Ružić, ravnatelj KBC-a Rijeka” (Jureško, Krnić 2022) but also the current Croatian Minister of Health Vili Beroš or the director of the Clinic of Infectious Diseases Dr. Frana Mihaljevića Alemka Markotić (Jutarnji List 2022b). However, the actors of the reports do not have to be only specific persons, they can be institutions or people without a name. It could be a system “sustav je do sada nudio potvrdu,” (Jutarnji List 2022k) unnamed epidemiologists “epidemiolozi očekuju da će broj zaraženih omikronom porasti,” (Rudež 2022) experts[6] “napisali su stručnjaci,” (Jutarnji List 2022l)  and “vlada u BiH” (Jutarnji List 2022i) is mentioned, too, but also aforementioned ambiguous phrase that “všetci sa boja”. Such a way of expression creates a mysterious community of epidemiologists and experts, this vague narrative can be used by the authors of disinformation.

In times of crisis, political leaders as well as other actors call for unity and common action, calling for solidarity. “Moramo postići kolektivni imunitet, procijepiti se.” (Jutarnji List 2022b) However, the pandemic crisis speaks of a divided society “povećava se i podijeljenost cijelog društva” (Jutarnji List 2022m), that is especially regarding vaccination which reflects distrust to scientific knowledge.

Finally, we cannot ignore the general desire for a normal life (“normalnih tijekova života” (Jutarnji List 2022b)), which is also mentioned by the Minister of Health or a less optimistic version of the future with risk tolerance, (Raknić 2022) i.e., tolerance and coexistence with a weakened coronavirus variant. People long for a pre-pandemic way of life and wait for the notorious light at the end of the tunnel. One of the hallmarks of the end of the crisis will be when the above-mentioned words and phrases disappear from the journalism discourse, when the waves are back at sea or in the weather, military terms return to the barracks and victims’ statistics are not part of the daily news.



Language adapts to the time it is being used, and the COVID-19 crisis is no exception. In this paper, articles from the online version of the Croatian newspaper Jutarnji List from 1st to 5th January 2022 were analysed. The pandemic has been affecting Croatia for two years and experts are expecting arrival of the new Omicron variant soon. There are several language peculiarities in this specific crisis, mainly related to health. Words usually associated with military themes and expressions from medical lexical circle have been used more often. Some of them have been used throughout the pandemic, others are arising gradually in response to the new situation (flurona, mutation names). The news also includes frequent statistics on the infected, deceased, tested or vaccinated. It uses comparative shapes (trying to achieve the largest/smallest point of view) or shocking, expressive discourse. However, it has carried less and less meaning during the pandemic time due to its overuse. To balance numerical statistics, these articles also feature human stories about those infected but with an easy course, or those who succumbed to COVID. As in the context of a migration crisis, a wave is a frequently used metaphor. And it is this period between the two waves that is not very optimistically described in the articles. The headlines themselves speak of the near future as problematic, especially in terms of ​​healthcare capacities. The articles are namely pointing at the actors in this crisis period: the Minister of Health, doctors, as well as unnamed epidemiologists (in general), experts, or the system.

Language reacts very flexibly in a crisis, even in a rapidly changing situation such as this one. It is employing parts of the vocabulary that are used only marginally in common language during non-crisis periods and that are specific to certain areas but are now becoming widely used. It borrows new words, or creates them, often using numbers to maintain objectivity. As for the emotional area, the language is rather negative during this period, it even uses fear. Based on this analysis, we can argue that while the crisis lasts, a specific language also lasts and adapts to it. Maybe, this is how one will be able to notice its end – when the corona-words and the daily statistics disappear.


Primary Sources:

Articles from the Jutarnji list newspapers

Ćosić 2022: Ćosić, Braco. Velika tuga u malom dalmatinskom mjestu: Majka I sin umrli isti dan, nakon njih preminuo i otac. <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Jureško  2022: Jureško, Goranka. Prvi slučaj flurone u Hrvatskoj: Jedna pacijentica u Zagrebu ima covid-19 I gripu.” <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Jureško, Krnić 2022: Jureško, Goranka, Ivana Krnić. “Krizni plan bolnica za omicron: Gasic će hladne pogone, primate samo hitne pacijetne… <>[Accessed August 23, 2022].

Jutarnji List 2022a: Jutarnji List. Omikron se munjuevito širi, rekordne zaraze u SAD-u I Europi: ‘Prešli smo u ratno stanje!. <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Jutarnji List 2022b: Jutarnji List . Peti val je već tu, spojio se s četvrtim. Omikron neće mimoići nikoga od nas, cijepite se!’. <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Jutarnji List 2022c:  Jutarnji List. Eksplozija omikrona u Americi: Prijavili su svjetski record, u 24 sata imaju više od milijun novozaraženih. <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Jutarnji List 2022d: Jutarnji List. Izrael odobrio četvrtu dozu cjepiva, premijer se obratio naciji: ‘Val omikrona je stigao.’. <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Jutarnji List 2022e: Jutarnji List. Virus divlja: U jednoj županiji više od 50% poziivnih među testiranima, evo kakvo je stanje u Zagrebu. <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Jutarnji List 2022f: Jutarnji List. Zamjenica gradonačelnika Zagreba Danijela Dolenec pozitivna na koronavírus.” <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Jutarnji List 2022g: Jutarnji List. U mjesec dana tri trudnice s koronavírusom primljene u bolnicu, jedna beba I rodilja preminule. <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Jutarnji List 2022h: Jutarnji List. Najmanje 45 putnika kruzera moralo se iskrcati u  talijanskoj Genovi, pozitivni sun a koronavírus. <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Jutarnji List 2022i: Jutarnji List.  Flurona potvrđena  u BiH, obolio mlađi muškarac u Banjoj Luci, stanje mu je stabilno. <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Jutarnji List 2022j: Jutarnji List.  Francuzi kažu da su otkrili još jedan soj korone, nazvali su ga ‘IHU’, u WHO-u ga zasad ne priznaju. <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Jutarnji List 2022k: Jutarnji List.  AKD: Hrvatski korisnici među prvima u EU mogu sami birati vrstu covid potvrde. <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Jutarnji List 2022l: Jutarnji List. Studija: Cijepljenje u trudnoći nije povezano s komplikacijama pri porođaju. <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Jutarnji List 2022m: Jutarnji List. Slovenija: Novi poziv vladi da razmisli o obveznom cijepljenju, usprkos velikom otporu. <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Krnić 2022: Krnić, Ivana. U protekla 24h zabilježeno dvostruko više slučajeva zaraze nego prije 14 dana, umrlo 46 osoba. <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Raknić 2022: Raknić, Damjan. Kako će izgledati kraj pandemije: ‘Ljudi moraju početi razmišljati o toleranciji rizika.’ <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Rudež 2022: Rudež, Tanja. Omikron od delte zarazniji do 37 puta, ali rijetko napada pluća pa većinom izaziva simptome koji se povezuju s prehladom. <> [Accessed August 23, 2022].

Secondary Sources:

Boréus,  Bergström, Ekström 2017:  Boréus, K., G. Bergström, L. Ekström. Analyzing Text and Discourse. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, 2017.

Čulenová 2019: Čulenová, E. Verbálna manipulácia. Banská Bystrica: Belianum, 2019.

Gee 2011: Gee, J. P. An Introduction to Discourse Analysis. Theory and Method. New York: Routledge, 2011.

HZJZ 2020: HZJZ .Covid-19 – Priopćenje prvog slučaj. <> [Accessed August 23, 2022]. 2020: < > [Accessed August 23, 2022].

[1] The text is prepared as a part of the project MUNI/A/1337/2021 Translační ekvivalence jako dílčí problém mezikulturní komunikace v slovanském kulturním prostoru

[2] For example:“Nacionalni stožer izvijestio je danas kako je u protekla 24 sata zabilježeno 5845 novih slučajeva zaraze koronavirusom, što daje novi dnevni porast novozaraženih. Prije tjedan dana, također u utorak, bilo je 4139 novih slučajeva, dok je prije 14 dana bilo gotovo dvostruko manje, 2803.

Broj aktivnih slučajeva u Hrvatskoj danas ukupno 28.889. Među njima je 1.817 pacijenata na bolničkom

liječenju, od toga su na respiratoru 233 pacijenta. Preminulo je 46 osoba. U samoizolaciji je trenutno 16.715 osoba.“ (Krnić 2022)

[3] Similar comparision can be found in Slovak and Czech news too.

[4] Another article from the monitored period features three pregrant women hospitalised with coronavirus. The women are anonymous, mentioning only their stories but not names. (Jutarnji List 2022g)

[5] It can be assumed that in the case of longer articles, many readers do not read the whole content, only its part.

[6] In this specific case, the author at least refers to a specific American institution CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

Dominika Kubišová is a doctoral student at the Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University in Brno. She has a degree in Croatian language and literature, South-Slavic studies, and international relations. During her studies she focuses on political language, verbal manipulation, rhetorics, and critical discourse analysis