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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Embodied Metaphor in Communication about Experiences of COVID-19 Pandemic


This study investigated how a group of twenty seven Wuhan citizens (coronavirus patients and their family member, medical staff, college students, social workers, teacher, journalist) employed metaphors to communicate about their experiences of COVID-19 pandemic through in-depth individual interviews. The analysis of metaphors captured the different kinds of emotional states and psychological conditions of the research participants, focusing on their mental imagery of COVID-19, extreme emotional experiences, and symbolic behaviors under the pandemic. The results show that multiple metaphors were used to construe emotionally-complex, isolating experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most metaphorical narratives are grounded in embodied sensorimotor experiences such as body parts, batting, fighting, hit, weight, temperature, spatialization, motion, violence, light, and journey. Embodied metaphors were manifested in both verbal expressions and nonlinguistic behaviors (e.g., patients’ symptom of obsessive-compulsive behaviors). These results suggest that the bodily experiences of the pandemic, the environment, and the psychological factors combine to shape people’s metaphorical thinking processes.

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