ELF-mediated modal metaphors of ‘inclusion’, ‘exclusion’ and ‘seclusion’ in an online discussion on Covid-19 fake news: A case study in cross-cultural Cognitive Linguistics


This paper introduces a case study in cross-cultural Cognitive Linguistics focused on the variable use of English modal verbs conveying new Covid-triggered experiential metaphors conceived by a focus group of multicultural participants in online discussion. The group was composed of Italians, Greeks and migrants from Nigeria, Morocco and Yemen, all non-native speakers of English – a language that they used as a ‘lingua franca’ (ELF) while participating in the intercultural interaction taking place in the computer-mediated dimension of a virtual university classroom. The case study intended to determine wheth­er the group’s pragmatic use of modals introducing novel metaphors actually diverged from habitual high/low-context schemata related to the multicultural participants’ different native sociolinguistic communities. Schema divergence was assumed to be prompted by the particular ‘emotion-raising’ topic chosen for the case study – namely, the probable fake news on the causes of the Covid-19 pandemic, as they were conveyed by three journalistic texts submitted for discussion. More specifically, the case study explored the new cognitive metaphors of ‘inclusion’, ‘exclusion’, and ‘seclusion’ developed by the participants in relation to their social and psychological involvement with the topic – which eventually developed further to encompass the positive and negative consequences of pandemic, including the obligation to stay at home and communicate exclusively online, with the related issues of gender and ethnic discrimination, or rather empowerment. What stands out in this case study is that the more the participants were emotionally involved in such a topic, the more markedly their specific ELF variations emerged in the discussion. This is assumed to be due to the fact that the participants unconsciously perceived such ELF variations as more spontaneous and familiar for the immediate expression of their emotions and opinions, insofar as these variations have developed from the natural transfer of their native-language structures into the non-native English language they used. Indeed, precisely these ELF variations allowed the conveyance of the new metaphors for the expression of the participants’ unprecedented experience of forced lockdown and online communication through the so-called ‘metaverse’ replacing reality. In such a virtual context, the participants in the online debate who were migrants from the high-context cultures of Nigeria, Morocco, and Yemen unexpectedly developed novel low-context epistemic metaphors of ‘inclusion’ triggered by their sense of a possible freedom from their native social constraints granted by remote communication mode without the use of video, which would conceal their ethnic and socio-cultural features. On the contrary, participants from the middle/high-context cultures of the Southern European countries of Italy and Greece showed a strengthening of the stereotypical high-context deontic metaphors imposing ‘exclusion’ and ‘seclusion’.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v53p225

Keywords: modal metaphors; high/low-context schemata; English as a Lingua Franca (ELF); online cross-cultural communication; Covid-19 fake news


Bakhtin M. 1981, The Dialogic Imagination, University of Texas Press, Austin.

Cazden C.B. 1992, Vygotzky, Hymes and Bakhtin: From Word to Utterance and Voice, in Cazden C.B. (ed.), Whole Language Plus: Essays on Literacy in the United States and New Zealand, Teachers College Press, New York, pp. 190-208.

Collier G., Kuiken D. and Enzle M. 1982, The Role of Grammatical Qualification in the Expression and Perception of Emotion, in “Journal of Psycholinguistic Research” 11, pp. 631-650.

Ericcson A.K. and Simon H.A. 1984, Protocol Analysis: Verbal Reports as Data, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Faerch C. and Kasper G. 1987, Perspectives on Language Transfer, in “Applied Linguistics” 8, pp. 111-136.

Fairclough N. 1995, Critical Discourse Analysis, Addison Wesley, Boston.

Folman S. and Sarig G. 1990, Intercultural Rhetorical Differences in Meaning Construction, in “Communication and Cognition” 23 [1], pp. 45-92.

Greenberg J.H. 1973, Some Universals of Grammar with Particular Reference to the Order of Meaningful Elements, in Greenberg J.H. (ed.), Universals of Language, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., pp. 73-113.

Guido M.G. 2004, Mediating Cultures: A Cognitive Approach to English Discourse for the Social Sciences, LED, Milan.

Guido M.G. 2008, English as a Lingua Franca in Cross-cultural Immigration Domains, Peter Lang, Bern.

Guido M.G. 2018, English as a Lingua Franca in Migrants’ Trauma Narratives, Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Guido M.G. 2020, The Influence of Covid-19 Pandemic Emergency on the Economy Principle Applied to Nigerian Migrants’ ELF-mediated Online Interactions, in “Lingue e Linguaggi” 39, pp. 179-200.

Guido M.G. 2021, Relexicalisation and Decategorialisation Processes in Migrants’ ELF-Mediated Online Narratives in the Disembodied Time of the Covid-19 Pandemic, in “Textus” 35, pp. 87-102.

Gumperz J.J. 1971, Language in Social Groups, Stanford University Press, Stanford.

Hall E.T. 1976, How Cultures Collide, in “Psychology Today” 10 [2], pp. 66-97.

Hall E.T. 1977, Beyond Culture, Anchor Press, Garden City, NY.

Hall E.T. 1985, Hidden Differences: Studies in International Communication, Gruner & Jahr, Hamburg.

Hall E.T. 1990, Understanding Cultural Differences, Intercultural Press, Yarmouth, ME.

Halliday M.A.K. 1994, An Introduction to Functional Grammar, Edward Arnold, London.

Hinkel E. 1995, The Use of Modal Verbs as a Reflection of Cultural Values, in “TESOL Quarterly” 29 [2], pp. 325-341.

Hofstede G. 1983, National Cultures in Four Dimensions: A Research-Based Theory of Cultural Differences Among Nations, in “International Studies of Management and Organization” 1 [2], pp. 46-74.

Jones S. and Tetroe J. 1987, Composing in a Second Language, in Matsuhashi A. (ed.), Writing in Real Time, Longman, New York, pp. 34-57.

Kasper G. 1979, Communication Strategies: Modality Reduction, in “Interlanguage Studies Bulletin” 4, pp. 266-283.

Lakoff G. and Johnson M. 1980, Metaphors We Live By, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Lakoff G. and Johnson M. 1999, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought, Basic Books, New York.

Langacker R.W. 1987, Foundations of Cognitive Grammar, Volume I: Theoretical Prerequisites, University of Stanford Press, Stanford.

Langacker R.W. 1991, Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. Volume II: Descriptive Application, Stanford University Press, Stanford.

Narula H. 2022, Virtual Society: The Metaverse and the New Frontiers of Human Experience, Random House, New York.

Nisbett R.E. and Wilson T.D. 1977, Telling More than We Can Know: Verbal Reports on Mental Processes, in “Psychological Review” 84, pp. 231-259.

O’Halloran K. 2003, Critical Discourse Analysis and Language Cognition, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.

Rumelhart D.E. 1980, Schemata: The Building Blocks of Cognition, in Spiro R.J., Bruce B. and Brewer W. (eds.), Theoretical Issues in Reading Comprehension: Perspectives from Cognitive Psychology, Linguistics, Artificial Intelligence and Education, Erlbaum, Hillsdale, N.J., pp. 33-58.

Schachter J. 1983, A New Account of Language Transfer, in Gass S. and Selinker L. (eds.), Language Transfer in Language Learning, Newbury House, Rowley, Mass., pp.98-111.

Seidlhofer B. 2011, Understanding English as a Lingua Franca, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Sombre P. and Wermuth C. (eds.) 2010, Framing. From grammar to application, John Benjamins, Amsterdam/Philadelphia.

Stanovich K.E. 1980, Toward an interactive-compensatory model of individual differences in the development of reading fluency, in “Reading Research Quarterly” 16, pp. 32-71.

Sweetser E.E. 1990, From Etymology to Pragmatics: Metaphorical and Cultural Aspects of Semantic Structure, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Talmy L. 1988, Force Dynamics in Language and Cognition, in “Cognitive Science” 2, pp. 49-100.

Thesen L. 1997, Voices, Discourse and Transition: In Search of New Categories in EAP, in “TESOL Quarterly” 31 [3], pp. 487-511.

Traugott E.C. 1989, On the Rise of Epistemic Meanings in English: An Example of Subjectification and Semantic Change, in “Language” 65, pp. 31-55.

Widdowson H.G. 1994, The Ownership of English, in “TESOL Quarterly” 28, pp. 377-389.

Widdowson H.G. 1995, Discourse Analysis: A Critical View, in “Language and Literature” 4 [3], pp. 157-172.

Zuengler J. 1989, Identity and Interlanguage Development and Use, in “Applied Linguistics” 10, pp. 80-96.

Full Text: PDF


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 3.0 Italia License.