Online Covid-19-related Information for Travelers: A Corpus-based Study of Modality in Airport Websites


  • Erik Castello University of Padua



modality, the language of tourism, Covid-19, English lingua franca, varieties of English


Due to the current pandemic situation, international airport hubs need to adopt special procedures and distancing technology solutions to protect the health of travelers and employees (Sigala 2020). This paper explores the language of the sections of international airports’ websites specifically devoted to Covid-19-related issues and procedures, an emerging type of discourse dynamically reflecting the evolving situation. Like other types of specialized discourse, these informative and regulatory texts present “interdiscoursive” features (Bhatia 2010) borrowed from other genres, mainly legal English (Maci 2013). The paper presents the results of an investigation into the use of modality in a specially compiled 126,000-word corpus of texts concerning major British, North American, central European (Dutch and German) and Italian airports. The findings revealed differences among the four varieties, concerning the frequency and use of core modals, semi-modals, and some suasive verbs and their nominalizations identified through the analysis of keywords. The British websites feature the largest amount of core- and semi-modals, followed by the central European ones. The American texts score the third lowest number of core- and semi-modals and the highest number of suasive verbs/nominalizations, while the Italian sub-corpus presents the lowest values for all the categories, with the exception of the suasive verb recommend, which they employ extensively. Must is used the most in the central European texts, probably because of L1 interference, while recommend is at times erroneously used by the Italian writers. The paper discusses these and other findings and their implications for prospective writers of such texts. 

Author Biography

Erik Castello, University of Padua

Erik Castello is associate professor of English language in the Department of Linguistic and Literary Studies at the University of Padua, Italy. His research interests include (learner) corpus linguistics, pragmatics and the language of tourism. He has examined pragmatic and syntactic aspects of native and learner English, including the use of adjectives, discourse markers, it-extraposition and modality. He has recently published several articles and co-edited a journal issue on these topics.


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