Examining Malaysian Public Letters to Editor on COVID-19 Pandemic: A Corpus-assisted Discourse Analysis

Siti Aeisha Joharry


Around the world, people are now facing an unprecedented situation with the COVID-19 virus pandemic. With numerous countries announcing various modes of self-quarantine and social distancing, the Malaysian government has initially called for a 3-week Movement Control Order (MCO) beginning mid-March 2020. In this paper, we explore how citizens in Malaysia respond to such crises by examining letters that were submitted during the MCO period to The Star Online –the nation’s leading English online news portal. Using corpus linguistics techniques, 227 letters were firstly investigated for recurrent words/phrases used on how people talk about issues during this time. A critical discourse analysis on these recurring patterns of language was then employed to further examine their occurrences in this corpus, following Carvalho’s (2008) analysis of media discourse. This, we contend as being the synergy between corpus methods and classic CDA that contribute to the corpus-assisted discourse analysis (CADS) approach. Results yield Malaysians’ view on the matter that could describe in so far as how the country is coping with the pandemic at the time. More specifically, letters that have mostly referred to COVID-19 pandemic as being a challenge and associating it with negative expressions are in fact emotionally charged, revealing how public letters written by citizen journalists provide a much more comprehensive view of public stance on COVID-19 in Malaysia.


COVID-19; Movement Control Order (MCO); corpus-assisted discourse analysis (CADS); corpus linguistics; critical discourse analysis

Full Text:



Arumugam, T. (2020, April 4). MCO-linked domestic violence arises. New Straits Times. Retrieved from https://www.nst.com.my/news/exclusive/2020/04/581233/mco-linked-domestic-violence-rises

Aziff Azuddin. (2020, April 28). MCO and Mental Well-being: Home Sweet Home? The Centre. Retrieved from https://www.centre.my/post/mco-and-mental-health-living

Baker, P., Gabrielatos, C., KhosraviNik, M., Krzyzanowski, M., McEnery, T., Wodak, R. (2008). A useful methodological synergy? Combining critical discourse analysis and corpus

linguistics to examine discourses of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK press. Discourse & Society (19),pp. 273 – 306.

Bernama. (2020, June 12). Rais Hussin named new MDEC chairman. New Straits Times. Retrieved from https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2020/06/600121/rais-hussin-named-


Bhagavathula, A. S., Aldhaleei, W. A., Rahmani, J., Mahabadi, M. A., & Bandari, D. K. (2020). Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Knowledge and Perceptions: A Survey of Healthcare

Workers. medRxiv preprint https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.03.09.20033381

Burch, B. & Egbert, J. (2019). Zero-inflated beta distribution applied to word frequency and lexical dispersion in corpus linguistics. Journal of Applied Statistics, 47(2), 1–17.

Burgess, S., & Sievertsen, H. H. (2020, April 1). Schools, skills, and learning: The impact of COVID-19 on education. Retrieved from https://voxeu.org/article/impact-covid-19-


Brooks, S. K., Webster, R. K., Smith, L. E., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., & Rubin, G. J. (2020). The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: Rapid review of

the evidence. The Lancet, 395, 10227, 912 – 920.

Carvalho, A. (2008). Media(ted) discourse and society: Rethinking the framework of critical discourse analysis. Journalism Studies, 9(2): 161-177.

Collin, L. C. (2019). Corpus Linguistics for Online Communication: A Guide for Research. New York: Routledge

Fairclough, N. (1995). Critical Discourse Analysis. London: Longman.

Fisher, D. & Wilder-Smith, A. (2020). The global community needs to swiftly ramp up the response to contain COVID-19. Lancet 2020; 395:1109–10.

Gee, J. P. (2011). An introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method. London and New York: Routledge

Halliday, M. A. K., & Hasan, R. (1976). Cohesion in English. London: Longman.

Hasimi Muhamad (2020, April 16). 135 domestic violence complaints received throughout MCO. Astro Awani. Retrieved from http://english.astroawani.com/malaysia-news/135-


Hayek, L., Mayrl, M., & Russmann, U. (2019). The Citizen as Contributor-Letters to the Editor in the Austrian Tabloid Paper Kronen Zeitung (2008-2017). Journalism Studies, 21(8), pp.

-1145. doi:10.1080/1461670x.2019.1702476.

Hellewell, J., Abbott, S., Gimma, A., Bosse, N. I., Jarvis, C. I., Russell, T. W., Munday, J. D., Kucharski, A. J., & Edmunds, W. J. (2020). Feasibility of controlling COVID-19 outbreaks by

isolation of cases and contacts. The Lancet Global Health, 8, 4, e488 – e496.

Hunston, S. (2002). Methods in corpus linguistics: Beyond the concordance line. In S. Hunston (Ed.), Corpora in applied linguistics (pp. 67–95). Cambridge: Cambridge University


Loheswar, R. (2020, April 30). More than half of Malaysians experience mental health issues during MCO, study reveals. Malay Mail. Retrieved from


McNair, B. (2009). Journalism and Democracy. The Handbook of Journalism Studies. New York: Routledge.

Nicola, M., Alsafi, Z., Sohrabi, C., Kerwan, A., Al-Jabir, A., Iosifidis, C., Agha, M., & Agha, R. (2020). The Socio-Economic Implications of the Coronavirus and COVID-19 Pandemic: A

Review. International journal of surgery (London, England), S1743-9191(20)30316-2. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijsu.2020.04.018

Nguyen, A. (2009). Globalization, Citizen Journalism, and the Nation State: A Vietnamese Perspective. In S. Allan & E. Thorsen (eds.). Citizen Journalism Global Perspectives, pp. 153 –

New York: Peter Lang.

Partington, A. (2004). Corpora and Discourse: A Most Congruous Beast. In A. Partington, J. Morley and L. Haarman (eds.). Corpora and Discourse, pp. 11 – 20. Bern: Peter Lang.

Partington, A. (2006). Metaphors, Motifs and Similes Across Discourse Types: Corpus assisted Discourse Studies (CADS) at Work. In A. Stefanowitsch and S. Gries (eds.). Corpus-

based Approaches to Metaphor and Metonymy, pp. 267 – 304. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Raeymaeckers, K. (2005). Letter to the Editor: A Feedback Opportunity Turned into a Marketing Tool. European Journal of Communication 20(2), pp.199–221. doi: 10.1177/0267323105052298

Ramanathan, R. & Tan, B.H. (2015). Application of Discourse Analysis in Media Discourse Studies. 3L: The Southeast Asian Journal of English Language Studies, 21(2), pp. 57 – 68.

Scott, M. (2012). WordSmith Tools version 6, Stroud: Lexical Analysis Software.

Sinclair, J. (1991). Corpus, Concordance, Collocation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Singh, L., Bansal, S., Bode, L., Budak, C., Chi, G., Kawintiranon, K., Padden, C., Vanarsdall, R., Vraga, E., & Wang, Y. (2020). A first look at COVID-19 information and misinformation

sharing on Twitter. arXiv e-prints https://arxiv.org/abs/2003.13907

United Nations (March 2020). Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19. Retrieved from


Stubbs, M. (2002). Two Quantitative Methods of Studying Phraseology in English. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics, 7(2), pp. 215 – 244.

United Nations (2020). Everyone Included: Social Impact of COVID-19. Available at https://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/everyone-included-covid-19.html

van Djik, T. A. (2004). Critical context studies. Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. CDA Congress Valencia, May 2004. Retrieved from http://www.discursos.org/unpublished%20articles/Critical%20context%20studies.htm

van Djik, T. A. (2008). Discourse and Power. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wilder-Smith, A. & Freedman, D. O. (2020). Isolation, quarantine, social distancing and community containment: pivotal role for old-style public health measures in the novel

coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak, Journal of Travel Medicine 27, 2, 1 – 4.

Wilson, J. (2020, April 17). The rightwing groups behind wave of protests against Covid-19 restrictions. The Guardian. Retrieved from


Wodak, R. & Meyer, M. (2009). Critical discourse studies: A sociocognitive approach. In R. Wodak & M. Meyer (2nd ed). Methods of critical discourse analysis, pp. 62-86. Thousand

Oaks: Sage.

World Health Organisation. (2020). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Situation Report - 112. Retrieved from



Zaharom Nain. (2019). Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019. Available at http://www.digitalnewsreport.org/survey/2018/malaysia-2018/

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17576/gema-2020-2003-14


  • There are currently no refbacks.




eISSN : 2550-2131

ISSN : 1675-8021