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Florence Mourlhon-Dallies: The COVID 19 pandemic on display: multiple temporalities in Paris

"All in all, we believe that our corpus is a means of capturing the double movement of the day-to-day management of the crisis and of the gradual integration of the virus into our daily lives, which has "reshaped" the linguistic landscape. With what we have called "The Pompeii effect", we hope everyone can now better perceive the discrepancy between time as a phenomenological concept and time as an experiential construct since the pandemic began."

This article is a small part of a much larger project, called COVIDSCAPES, based on nearly 1300 photos taken in Paris and other parts of France. The period concerned is from March 2020 to March 2021, which covers one year of COVID 19. COVIDSCAPES is a participatory research project : half the photographs were taken by our own Masters students at the University of Paris and one of them (Matthieu Louis-Jean) even made a short clip presenting our photographic inquiry.


Our purpose today is to show how this photographic material (limiting our focus to Paris) allows us to address a central point in the analysis of linguistic landscapes, which is temporality, or more precisely temporalities, in the plural, as several temporal scales intersect when we seek to interpret the photographs and understand how a photograph provides us with emotions and guides our interpretation. From our point of view, the COVID 19 crisis, which compelled the government to manage the crisis on a day-to-day basis, led to numerous regulatory changes (curfews, lockdowns, closures of "non-essential" businesses) that punctuated an already disrupted daily life. However, apart from a few writings by Blommaert (2015) and Blommaert and Maly (2014), this temporal complexity has so far been little dealt with, as the analysis of linguistic landscapes has mainly focused on space (neighbourhoods and places where posters appear, physical location in shop windows) from a sociolinguistic or semiolinguistic perspective. The question of "who produced the poster?" has also often been raised, under the influence of Critical Discourse Analysis, which emphasises the relationship between power and discourse and invites us to explore the tensions between top-down and bottom up displays, raising the question of the collective and the individual.


The path we have chosen for this contribution is different because we believe that the pandemic and its twists and turns make the problems of temporality more visible than they were in ordinary times. Based on a model by Scollon (2005, p. 26) that seeks to put action and multiple temporal cycles into perspective, we posit that each photograph can be thought of as being at the intersection of five kinds of temporality: the date it was taken (entry 1); the moment of the pandemic it refers to, according to the official governmental calendar (entry 2); the temporal terms and expressions that appear explicitly in this photograph such as tomorrow, soon, or referring to dates in the calendar (entry 3); the period of the year the display belongs : to holidays such as Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter: seasons...(entry 4); the time lived and experienced (wear and tear, time expressed in terms of the lack of waiting in the poster or window, entry 5).


Many photographs play on several levels. The one below was displayed at the end of October 2020 on a shop window with the slogan “It’s time to change your mask” which is an allusion to the wearing of masks during the pandemic (second official lockdown, entry 2). With humour, this advertisement plays with the tradition of scary masks for Halloween (annual celebration, entry 4). The date of our data collection (29 October, entry 1) and the reference to the official date of Halloween (31 October, entry 3) correspond to the Halloween period too.

4 out of 5 types of temporality coexist here in good harmony. In other photographs, on the contrary, the different temporalities are combined in a complex and dysphoric way. We refer here to the time lag between the moment of display and the moment when the photo is taken. Several months can pass between the two, causing what we have called “the Pompeii effect”. We have defined this phenomenon as follows: The "Pompeii effect" is the impression that everything has stopped without anyone having updated the advertisements. The linguistic landscape appears frozen in places, giving snapshots of the "former life" that the passer-by sees as if the passage of time had been stopped. Three types of shift with a dysphoric effect were highlighted:

- Posters, shop windows, advertisements not removed (out of date like this Easter eggs, but still in place 1 months, in May, after the usual date) :


- Displays that are contradictory at first glance (inconsistent with the physical environment, but left there, without human intervention, for example “Open” and the door is closed)


- Displays at odds with the situation experienced (internalised) at the time the photograph was taken - indications that tell us about the world 'before' as if it had lasted.


Having said this, a number of conclusions are yet to be drawn from the study we have just summarised in broad strokes. We hope to have illustrated two points here: the importance of cross-referencing sense and words; the complexity of time referencing. All in all, we believe that our corpus is a means of capturing the double movement of the day-to-day management of the crisis and of the gradual integration of the virus into our daily lives, which has "reshaped" the linguistic landscape. With what we have called "The Pompeii effect", we hope everyone can now better perceive the discrepancy between time as a phenomenological concept and time as an experiential construct since the pandemic began.


Bibliography :

Blommaert, J. (2015) : Chronotopes, Scales and Complexity in the Study of Language in Society / Chronotopes, échelles et complexité dans l'étude du langage en société, Revue annuelle d'anthropologie 44, pp.105-116.


Blommaert, J. et Maly, I. (2014) : Ethnographic linguistic landscape analysis and social change: A case study / Analyse ethnographique du paysage linguistique et changement social : Une étude de cas, Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies.


Scollon, R (2005) : "The rythmic integration of action and discourse : work, the body and the earth / L'intégration rythmique de l'action et du discours : le travail, le corps et la terre ", in NORRIS, S. et JONES, R.-H., Discourse in Action, Introducing Mediated Discourse Analysis, New York, Routledge, 20-3.


Zhu Hua. (2021) : Sense and Sensibility : Urban signs during a pandemic, in Viral Discourse, Cambridge, 37-48.


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