Aspirated Consonants May Promote the Spread of COVID-19, RUDN University Linguist Says

Aspirated Consonants May Promote the Spread of COVID-19, RUDN University Linguist Says

According to a linguist from RUDN University, the number of COVID-19 cases in a country correlates with the number of aspirated consonants in its main language of communication. This data can help create more accurate models to describe the spread of COVID-19.

СOVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets of liquid coming from the respiratory passages of an infected person. The disease spreads faster through coughing or sneezing, as in these cases the speed of the droplets increases. However, a regular conversation can also lead to infection, and the amount of produced droplets depends on the sounds pronounced by an infected speaker. The exact sounds that add the most to the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses haven’t been identified yet. A RUDN linguist suggested that they might include aspirated consonants, i.e. the sounds that are accompanied by exhalation.

The issue of a correlation between the spread of infections and the language of the infected people was first brought up in 2003, after the outbreak of SARS-CoV-1in South China when over 8,000 cases were registered in 26 countries. The USA accounted for 70 of them, but Japan did not have a single patient, in spite of the fact that the number of Japanese tourists in China at that time was much higher than that of US travelers (3.2 mln vs 2.3 mln, respectively). Some scientists suggested a linguistic explanation: the staff of Chinese stores spoke to US tourists in English, and to Japanese guests in Japanese. Georgios Georgiou from RUDN University found the same correlation for COVID-19.

Unlike in Japanese, in the English language the consonants [p], [t], and [k] are aspirated. When they are pronounced, numerous small droplets are released from the respiratory passages of a speaker into the air. Such droplets may contain viral particles. Japanese has fewer aspirational consonants, and therefore Japanese speakers produce less airborne droplets during a conversation. To confirm whether the speakers of the languages that are rich in aspirated consonants are more prone to the COVID-19 infection, the RUDN linguist used the official data of 26 countries with 1,000+ registered COVID-19 cases as of March 23, 2020.

“Our study did not include Switzerland because it has several official languages. We also excluded countries with too many or too few cases per 1 mln residents (e.g. Italy and Japan, respectively) to avoid extreme values,” said Georgios Georgiou, PhD, a researcher at the Department of General and Russian Linguistics, Philological Faculty of RUDN University.

The languages in the study were divided into two groups by the presence or absence of aspirated consonants. According to the scientists, although the groups did not show statistically significant differences, the countries that predominantly spoke the languages of the first group had more cases of COVID-19: 255 per 1 million residents (as opposed to 206 cases in the second group).

"The spread of COVID-19 can be partially due to the presence of aspirated consonants in a country’s main language of communication. This can be a valuable insight for epidemiologists," added Georgios Georgiou.

The results of the study were published in the Medical Hypotheses journal

News
All news
Science
16 May
RUDN University Scientist Shows a New Mechanism for the Formation of Antitumorigenic Effects in the Tumor Microenvironment

The RUDN University scientist together with colleagues from Germany for the first time showed the unique possibilities of studying the CD38 protein in mast cells using multiplex immunohistochemistry technologies. The obtained results open up new horizons in the study of the antitumorigenic effects of the tumor microenvironment and the development of promising methods of cancer immunotherapy.

Science
28 Apr
The chemist RUDN proposed effective catalysts for water purification from caffeine

The chemist RUDN proposed a way to destroy caffeine with the help of ultraviolet radiation and available composites. The discovery will help to safely clean the water from accidental contamination.

Science
28 Apr
RUDN Chemist Improves Classical Reaction to Produce Complex Amines

The rudn university chemist together with colleagues from Belgium improved the protocol of the classical Petasis reaction, which is used to obtain substances for medicine and agrochemistry. The improved method allows the reaction to be carried out in mild conditions with a high yield of the product.