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Seven essential messages for the time of coronavirus

The Natural Semantic Metalanguage, an Australian discovery by Prof. Anna Wierzbicka and Prof. Cliff Goddard, is based on empirical evidence that there are sixty-five simple concepts – prime numbers, or atoms of meaning – that can be expressed in all the languages of the world. Let us quickly pronounce some of these semantic atoms present across the globe:

before, now, moment, after, feeling (emotional), thinking, saying, doing, knowing, happening, listening, seeing, touching, wanting, not wanting, good, bad, things, body, you, me, people, mine, someone, kind, can, perhaps, if, inside, like, bigger, smaller, living and dying.

The fact that these words are alive in all spoken languages gives me a sense of belonging, not merely to a group of people, but the whole human race. At the same time, it gives me a sense of political spirituality, thanks to which I become, in some way, a citizen of the world. Even though we are living times heralding de-globalization, we do not want to renounce internationality.

These atoms of meaning are called universal and therefore do not suffer the “violence” of being translated into other languages: they exist in Italian, as in English, Chinese, Swahili, Hindi, Russian, and so on.

Their beauty is that by composing sentences using these universals – and also including some local words – they arrive directly at the essence of being understandable and in simple, clear words: almost like a protolanguage, they convey the message without superstructures.

This is why, at the time of COVID-19, I launched an SOS to linguists to understand how to manage the virus from a linguistic point of view and how – just at the beginning of the lockdown – a possible communication campaign, a health literacy, that could be translated into all the languages of the world. It was for Italy then, but now, as I am writing these lines, it regards the whole world.

Here we present the seven messages that Professor Anna Wierzbicka has worked out for us and everyone. Simple, no veils: if I stay at home so that others don’t die, I become a better person.

Essential message 1

It is good for all of us if we think like this every day now:

This time is not like other times.

Very bad things are happening to many people now.

Very bad things are happening to many people’s bodies because of the coronavirus,

many people are dying because of this.

More people can die if I do some things now as I have always done. I don’t want this.

Because of this it will be good if I can be at home all the time.

If I have to be not at home for some time, I will think like this all the time:

I don’t want to be near other people; I don’t want to be so near someone that I can touch them,

I don’t want to be so near someone that I can breathe some of the same air.

Essential message 2

It is good for all of us if we think like this every day now:

This time is not like other times.

Very bad things are happening to many people now.

Many people feel something very very bad.

I can do some good things for some of these people; I want to do something good for them.

I want to know what I can do; I want to think about it today; I want to do something today.

Essential message 3

It is good for all of us if we think like this every day now:

This time is not like other times.

During this time many people can’t be with other people as before.

They can’t speak to other people like before; they feel something very bad because of this.

I know some of these people. I want these people to know that  I am thinking about them.

I want them to know that I want bad things not to happen to them.

I want to do something because of this.

Perhaps I can write to them, perhaps I can ring them, something like this.

I want to do something today.

Essential message 4

It is good for all of us if we think like this every day now:

This time is not like other times.

Very bad things can happen to me during this time, not like at other times.

At the same time, I can do some very good things during this time, not like at other times.

I can read good books, I can listen to good music, I can write something every day about this day.

I can do many things “good for the soul”, not like at other times.

If I  pray, I can pray more; if I don’t pray, I can do something like it.

I want to do these things. I want to do these things today.

Essential message 5

It is good for all of us if we think like this every day now:

This time is not like other times.

I don’t want to think about it like this:

“ Very bad things are happening now, nothing good can happen because of this”.

I want to think like this:

I can do some very good things during this time, not like at other times.

If I do these things, after this bad time I can be not as I was before:

I can know some people better, I can love some people more.

I want this.

Essential message 6

It is good for all of us if we think like this every day now:

This time is not like other times.

I can’t live during this time as I lived before.

At the same time, I can think about many things more,  not as before.

I can think more about things like this:

Why do I live on earth? What do I live for? How can I live if I want to live well?

If I know that I will die soon, what do I want to do before I die?

If I think about these things more now, after this bad time I can live not as I lived before.

I can then live in another way, I can live better.

I want this.

Essential message 7

It is good for all of us if we think like this every day now:

This time is not like other times.

We can’t live during this time as we lived before.

At the same time, we can think about some things more now, not as before.

We can think about things like this:

“We all live with other people, none of us is like an island.

How can we live well with other people?”

If we think about these things more now,  after this bad time we can live with other people

not like before;  we can live better.

We want this.

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Written by

Epidemiologist and counselor – 30 years of professional life in health care. Classic humanistic background, including the study of Latin and ancient Greek, followed by scientific academic studies, chemistry and pharmacology. First years of career, in private international environment. I worked in medical research, moved to health care organization, getting academic specialization in Epidemiology. Later, in consultancy and health care education. Counselor with transactional analysis orientation. Currently, director of Innovation in Health Care Area of Fondazione ISTUD, an independent not for profit Italian Business School with an humanistic approach acknowledged by the Italian Ministry of Researech.. Active member of the board of Italian Society of Narrative Medicine, tenured professor of Narrative Medicine at Hunimed, Milan, and in 2016, referee for World Health Organization for “Narrative Method in Public Health.” Writer of the book; “Narrative medicine: Bridging the gap between Evidence Based care and Medical Humanities,” edited with Springer and of international publications on narrative medicine in scientific journals. Last book “The Languages of care in narrative medicine: words, space and sounds in the healthcare ecosystem”. Lecturer in different international contexts from Academy to Public and Private Foundations.

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