JoLIE 14:1/2021


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Alcina Sousa

University of Madeira (Funchal, Portugal), ULICES – University of Lisbon

Anna Ivanova

Institute for Education Studies, University of O’Higgins, Rancagua

Diogo Jasmins

University of Évora






Global leaders have addressed the COVID-19 pandemic in various ways and registers well beyond the scientific-technical genre, some of which have been unexpectedly undermined by a war-like undertone broadcast by both the media and social networks (cf. conceptual metaphor as discussed, for example, by Lakoff, & Johnson 1980, and Koller 2011). According to Hartmann-Mahmud (2002), metaphors are often exploited to manipulate emotion and to justify courses of action related, in this case, to a pandemic scenario, thereby potentially fostering the labelling of the virus with lexemes such as an enemy, invisible or hidden, or even as a prompter for war, hatred, prejudice and racism. Particularly interesting for this research paper is the study in progress of the occurrence of metaphors, associated with the pandemic, retrieved from the Twitter of Donald Trump (, especially given his reported high engagement with interlocutors in social media (Walther 1992, Crystal 2006, Greengard 2009, Murthy 2013, Baym 2015, Burgess, & Baym 2020). The corpora comprise all original tweets disseminated by Trump in two periods: the first from September 2019 to January 2020; and the latter from February to June 2020. Drawing on corpus linguistics and a discourse-based approach (Baker 2006), it is possible to account for metaphors associated with the lemma COVID in Trump’s Twitter. Research findings indicate 123 occurrences of the lemma virus closely associated with the following lexical items: corona, Covid, China, Chinese, hidden enemy, invisible enemy and war. This study analyses conceptual metaphors in Trump’s communicative strategies throughout the early and mid-stages of the pandemic. Hence, it reflects upon the impact of figurative language in the social construction of meaning, particularly that of leaders’ interactions with citizens and internet followers in real world interactions via social media, which borrows increasingly from online exchanges (Sousa, & Ivanova 2012) more than any other media (for instance international press).


Keywords: Donald Trump; Twitter; Covid-19; Conceptual Metaphor; Corpus-driven approach.





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How to cite this article: Sousa, A., Ivanova, A., & Jasmins, D. (2021). Uncovering conceptual metaphors in Donald Trump’s Twitter before and after the COVID-19 outbreak. Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education – JoLIE, 14(1), 163-184. doi:



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[1] Cf. Language economy as defined by Martinet (1955) is a principle in linguistic behaviour. It is also related to the principle of less effort, therefore featured by its multiple applications. In this regard, Vicentini (2003: 55) briefly puts Martinet’s so-called “classical definition” and introduces further research notably “about the concept of economy vs redundancy in the fields of communication and information theory”. Borrowing from Martinet Vicentini rightly posits that (Vicentini 2003: 39) “any change occurring within the system -  which is never static - is explained by means of the following dichotomy: a single act of communication requires, on the one hand, clearness and precision, which multiply conspicuous units, and, on the other hand, a remarkable organic inertia, which produces effort relaxation, less numerous, less specific and more frequently occurring units, whose result is a hasty and careless expression”.


[2] Cf. Bally and his explanation about formulaic language as multiword linguistic units in speech and writing (see also Naciscione 2001, and Kuiper 2004).

[3] Cf. China / “Chinese” retrieved from A University Grammar of English, by Quirk and Greenbaum (Longman, London, 1976), p. 70.

[4] Cf. “Chinese”, Merriam Webster Dictionary online, retrieved from, 7th March 2021.