Abdul Sunokpera


This paper examines the discourse of coronavirus pandemic by appraising the appreciation and sensitisation speeches of the British Prime Minister and the president of Nigeria. The outbreak of coronavirus pandemic triggered the production of different types of texts as discourses from different parts of the world. The majority of these discourses seek to proffer solution to the global pandemic. The appreciation and sensitisation speeches of Alexander Boris Johnson and that of Muhammadu Buhari are no exception. The two speeches were divided into eight texts and analysed using a Functional-Semiotic Discourse Analysis as applied by Daramola (2008) and Appraisal Theory as theoretical underpinning. After the analysis of semiotic and appraisal resources in the two speeches using the two linguistic theories, it was concluded that different linguistic resources drawn from different sources by different speakers could be deployed to perform different communicative functions in order to achieve the same communicative ends.

Keywords: Coronavirus, discourses, semiotics, pandemic, appraisal, registers, digitalisation, contextualising, Nigeria, Britain.

      1.1 Introduction

The discourse of covid-19 pandemic has recently become a world-wide phenomenon. Linguists, discourse analysts, psychologists, scientists, medical practitioners, Economists, media practitioners and religious leaders have become active participants in the discourse of this global pandemic. The involvement of people from different walks of life and diverse disciplines is in part, owing to the consequence of the pandemic not only to humanity but also to the economic, social, political, cultural and the religious spheres of life across the globe. The danger of the pandemic to world economies is enormous. It is against this backdrop that stronger economies of the world saw the need for international cooperation in the fight against the global pandemic. The fight against the pandemic has gone beyond regional or national barriers but has, in large measure, assumed international dimension. The involvement of international health organisations such as World Health Organisation (WHO) supported by other relevant agencies both public and private in the discourse of COVID-19 is geared towards having a permanent solution to the spread of the pandemic. Texts of varying dimensions having COVID-19 as their focus are produced by social commentators, experts from different fields of human endeavour, heads of nations among others.

      1.2 Background to the study

The term discourse has enjoyed lively academic discussions among philosophers, linguists, and discourse analysts among others. Its historical development reveals that it was derived from Latin `discursus’ which means to and fro or a thing done’’. The term has been used recently by different scholars to express different shades of contextual meanings. Its most common use is that which sees it as any stretch of language either spoken or written that is used in a particular context to communicate one thing or another. The general view of discourse as used in a loose sense is conversation, talk or deliberations about a particular matter (Opeibi 2009, p.4). It is this latter sense of the term that has been deployed in this paper to explicate the popular opinion of text producers about COVID-19. The discourse of COVID-19 has taken multifarious dimensions ranging from presentations from professionals on virology to commentaries on the spread and dimensions of its spread, the consequences of the of pandemic on different spheres of life, tweets and chats on the social media on the reactions of both international agencies and leaders of various nations, the communique of Civil Society Organisations on the quickest possible ways of combating the spread of the virus and the speeches of leaders of various countries appreciating their citizens for their resilience on the precarious situation and sensitising them on the need for them to do more in the fight against the invisible enemy.[1]  Since the outbreak of the pandemic in Wuhan Hubei province of China in December 2019, scientists, researchers, doctors and non-professionals alike have given the disease different labels. While some people refer to it as coronavirus, others prefer the abbreviated form and simply call it COVID-19. Yet, there are others who tag it as coronavirus pandemic, global disease, invisible enemy, killer disease, novel coronavirus, class leveller. Others tracing its origin to China, refer to it as China or man-made disease. From all indications, new terminologies and/or registers[2] that have some bearing with COVID-19 have emerged and are frequently deployed by discourse participants in the discourse of coronavirus pandemic to establish certain ideas about the disease. Besides the emergence of new registers that are in some way associated with the disease, other negative vices such as stigmatisation of infected individuals and social distancing also became a norm.  Business activities were paralysed and a lot of revenue was lost as a result. For instance, Aljazeera news report has it that `the nonpartisan budget office predicts US gross domestic product (GDP) will contract at nearly a 40 percent annual rate in the second quarter, with unemployment cresting at 16 percent in the third quarter. (https//www.aljzeera.com). The effects of the coronavirus pandemic is forcing Nigeria to consider a downward review of its 2019/20 budget and contractions in public spending, this according to ceseaafrica.org could be devastating on poverty and unemployment. Weizhen Ten quoting S&P Global asserts that “job losses across Asia-pacific could double due to coronavirus’’.  Digitalised trading became a common practice especially in cases where portable goods are involved.

The impact of the pandemic on education is monumental. This is because educational institutions at all levels have been closed for fear of rapid spread of the disease in schools where social distancing will be difficult if not totally impossible. Teachers at all levels of education have to rely heavily on online teaching in order to keep academic activities alive to some extent. Digitalisation[3] of educational, commercial and religious activities where possible became very active in different parts of the world. Online apps witnessed a huge growth because they became the only available means of interaction among people in different parts of the world. People resulted to working from their homes owing to the long lockdown. Head or tail, the coronavirus pandemic took a very heavy toll on the lives of people and social, commercial, educational and religious activities in different parts of the world. COVID-19 has now been declared as a Public Health Emergency of international concern by the WHO (Adhikari et al 2020). 

      1.3 Review of Literature

Literature, especially academic publications on coronavirus is relatively scanty to the best of the knowledge of the researcher because the pandemic is a recent global occurrence. There are, however, few professional journal articles which centre on the origin of the virus, the nature of its spread, its symptoms and its mode of infection. Nevertheless, we have a number of presidential speeches which address different aspects of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic which in the context of this paper can be regarded either as discourses or texts. We also have a quantum of literature as texts or discourses on the pandemic in the form of tweets especially on the social media.

    1.4 Contextualising the discourse of coronavirus pandemic

Discourses about the coronavirus pandemic have become prevalent in different parts of the world and such discourses are still being produced as new developments on the pandemic continue to evolve on daily basis. Texts, of different forms and magnitudes, such as talks, commentaries, debates, interviews, tweets or speeches were appraised and re-appraised in different contexts; a phenomenon that resulted in the production and reproduction of plethora of texts as discourses.

The discourses about the pandemic are produced in specific contexts in order to render credence to     the meaning potential the discussants wish to establish. Caldas-Coulthard and Malcom Coulthard (1996), citing Kress (1985b) submit that:

Discourses (plurals theirs) are systematically-organised sets of statements giving expression to the meanings and values of an institution . . . . A discourse provides a set of possible statements about a given area, and organises and gives structure to the manner in which a particular topic, object, process is to be talked about (p.7).

Making a distinction between register and discourse, they posit that “discourse is a system of meanings within the culture, pre-existing language’’. Explicating the various ways the term discourse could be used to mean different things, April et al (2002) assert that “discourse highlights the power of language to shape our experience’’. They further in their explanation of the term and elucidate that “when scholars use the term ‘discourse’ they refer to the theories that language shapes our understanding of the world and ourselves in ways we often do not even realise’’(p.1).[4] Relating discourse to politics and conceptualising it from political discourse perspective, Sunokpera (2017) submits that “political discourse is hydra-headed as it embraces several other sub-genres such as political debates, political broadcast interviews, political rallies, parliamentary sessions, presidential inaugurals among others’’ (p.26).

Unravelling the meaning of discourse particularly to the discourse analyst Johnstone (2008) avers that “discourse’’ usually means actual instances of communicative action in the medium of language…” (p.2). Viewing discourse from the vantage point of CDA, Wodak and Meyer (2001) observe that“ CDA sees discourse as language use in speech and writing as a form of `social practice’’ (p.5). Their view of the term is not different from the views of other authors and it is in all respects in consonance with the researcher’s position about the term in this paper.

The notion of context with respect to discourse and meaning is equally crucial. This is because discourse(s) is produced in a particular context in order to establish a particular meaning potential. The term context, in a loose sense may mean the situation, circumstance, the physical and social world, and the socio-psychological factors influencing communication, as well as the knowledge of the time and place in which a particular token of language is spoken or written. Shedding light on the importance of context to meaning, Opeibi (2009) citing van Dijk (2002) observes that“ language users assign meanings in communicative contexts, and in this process of meaning construction the information presented in the text interacts with the previously stored knowledge and mental models’’ (p.27). Reiterating the importance of context to discourse, Opeibi explains further that “context gives a discourse its social attributes and relevance, since a given text does not exist in a vacuum, it is provided within a social context’’ (p.28). Cook (1989) as cited in Opeibi (2009) notes that:

We are also influenced by the situation in which we receive messages, by our cultural and social relationships with the participants, by what we know and what we assume the sender knows . . . the question of what gives discourse its unity may be impossible without considering the world at large: the context (p.28).

Commenting on the interconnectivity of language, culture and context, Sunokpera (2018) posits that “language, culture and context are inextricable linguistic paradigms particularly in the creation of meaning” (p.281). Context is used throughout this paper to connote the environment in which a piece of language occurs. Contextualising the discourse of COVID-19 therefore, means, bringing to focus, the various ways in which different language users put language (both spoken and written) mediums to use to discuss and analyse the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Commenting on the nature of the disease and tracing the origin of COVID-19, Adhikari et al (2020) explain that:

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has been identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness in Wuhan, Hubei province, China beginning in December 2019. As of 31 January 2020, the epidemic had spread to 19 countries with 11791 confirmed cases including 213 deaths . . . (p.1).

  Shedding more light on the initial nature of research on COVID-19, Adhikari et al observe further that:

Research articles initially focused on causes, but over time there was an increase of the articles related to prevention and control. Studies thus far have shown that the virus’ origination is in connection to a sea food market in Wuhan, but specific animal associations have not been confirmed.

The reported symptoms according to these group of researchers include fever, cough, fatigue, pneumonia, headache, diarrhoea, haemoptysis and dyspnoea. The suggested preventive measures by them include the use of masks, hand hygiene practices, avoidance of public contact, case detection, contact tracing and quarantines[5].

1.5 Theoretical Framework

The theories adopted in this study are Functional-semiotic discourse analysis and Appraisal Theory which brings to focus the interdisciplinary approaches to the study of problems and issues in the humanities and social sciences.These theories are deemed appropriate for the analysis of data of this study because both theories have something in common-explicating how people function with language in different contexts and seeing language as a social phenomenon which could be deployed in different social practices to create different meaning potential. Besides, Appraisal Theory is conceived as an offshoot of SFL and it is in many respects related to the interpersonal and textual functions of SFL.

This paper benefited immensely from earlier publication of Ventola (1988) and Daramola (2005, 2008). The researcher`s approach in this paper draws heavily from the approaches of both scholars. According to Ventola (1988) as cited in Daramola (2008), a systematic approach in Systemic Functional Linguistics is a consideration of texts as structures which are generated by system choices on three semiotic planes namely, GENRE, REGISTER and LANGUAGE  (capitals hers). The three semiotic communication planes are illustrated below.             

                                         Figure 1: The semiotic planes


 An explanation of the three terms is briefly attempted below.

  • The plane of genre

Genre is related to and realised by register. In the same vein, genre shapes the choices of the form of register (Daramola 2008). Daramola explains further that “the structure of genres may be organised by the application of the concepts of field, tenor and mode- the unfolding of contextual configuration (CC).

The concept of field is particularly related to the kind of activity going on. The field is important in meaning deduction as it allows predictions about likely processes that will occur; tenor deals with the social relationship that exists between participants in the communicative situation (Daramola 2008). Daramola notes further that’ ‘the relationship is seen in the participants’ status, role, and other social variables as they affect the participants’ choices in the text; and the mode is related to the medium through which the communicative situation is taking place. Daramola furthers that “mode is concerned with the channels of linguistic interaction and how the channels affect the form of discourse in terms of exchanges’’.

(ii) The plane of register

To understand the meaning of texts, analysts place considerations to the choices made on the plane of register because the presence of a particular choice in a text and its absence in others is predetermined by the system of register. That is the choice of language by the interlocutors marks the Field, Tenor and Mode of the text and makes the text distinctive on its own.

(iii)The plane of language

The plane of language is organized in three different levels, namely discourse, lexico-grammar and phonology. The levels are shown in Figure 2 below:

LANGUAGE discourse-lexicogrammar-phonology  

Daramola (2008), observes that “the discussion of the levels should begin from phonology in the sense that the sound of language seems closest to us’’. Halliday (1970) as cited in Ventola (1988) notes that “the phonological units of English are phonemes, syllables, foot and tone. These units combine to form meaningful structures in the text’’. The lexicogrammar, which is a combination of lexis and grammar, majorly functions at the level of the clause.

1.5.3 Appraisal Theory

Appraisal Theory (henceforth AT) is an offshoot of Systemic Functional Linguistics. Although the theory could be drawn to service either as a subset of SFL especially in terms of its relationship with the interpersonal function of SFL or as a full-blown linguistic theory about emotions in texts because of the remarkable difference in terms of approach and application with SFL. It is the latter approach that is preferred and used in this paper. AT is a linguistic theory about emotion, ethics, and aesthetics. It is concerned about the systems in a language that determine how speakers of the language should express themselves in relation to their interlocutors or audience and the topic of discourse.

One fundamental linguistic insight which underlies AT is that when people engage in exchanges, they inevitably keep negotiating their relation with others. This is owing to the fact that exchanges between interlocutors are by nature complex. Very often, people are engaged in calculating the knowledge of their interlocutors/audience, processing the appropriate lexical choices that match the calculation of their audience`s knowledge, adjusting to the appropriate gesture and facial expressions. So interlocutors keep considering their relation with other interlocutors during exchanges (Oteiza 2003).

Appraisal frame therefore aims to provide a comprehensive theoretical and descriptive systematisation of linguistic resources that can be used to construe the value of social experience, and thereby to achieve a richer understanding of patterns of interpersonal meaning beyond the manifestation of only emotionality across discourse (Oteiza 2003).

Appraisal is an umbrella term used to refer to the semantic resources including words, phrases and structures which speakers or writers deploy to negotiate emotions, judgements and valuations. White (2015 as cited in Wei et al), commenting on the evaluative power of AT, notes that from semantic perspective, AT can be seen as comprising three interacting domains namely; Attitude, Engagement and graduation. Wei et al (2015) summarise the three interactive domains as follows:

Attitude takes a central position. It is concerned with our feelings including emotional reaction, judgement of behaviour and evaluation of things; Engagement deals with sourcing attitude and the play of voices around opinions in discourse. Graduation attends to grading phenomenon whereby feelings are amplified and categories blurred. These three systems can be further subdivided. Attitude can be divided into three domains of feelings depending on the nature of the appraisal namely Affect, Judgement and Appreciation while Engagement consists of two: Monoglossia and Heteroglossia. Graduation also has two subsystems: Force and Focus (p.216).

The basic semantic systems/domains of the Appraisal framework are illustrated below.

Figure 3.   Appraisal framework: Basic semantic systems (Adapted from Martin & White, 2000).


Discourse semantic systems are organised by metafunction following SFL paradigm which permits us “to interpret from an interpersonal perspective resources that are experientially constituted in lexicogrammar (i.e. mental processes and states of affection . . .) (Martin 2014, p.19). The metafunctional organisation of discourse semantic systems is illustrated in the diagram below.

Figure 4 – The metafunctional organisation of discourse semantic systems (Martin 2014).

 1.6 Methodology

The researcher adopted qualitative and quantitative research approaches in this paper because these approaches enhance both descriptive and tabular analysis to data. The data for this article are the second appreciation and sensitisation speeches of Muhammadu Buhari the president of Nigeria and Boris Johnson the British Prime Minister on the coronavirus pandemic. The Internet was heavily relied upon for the collection of data as it was mainly the available source of data in the period of the pandemic. Both speeches were, therefore, downloaded from the Internet. Salient aspects of the speeches were extracted from both sources as data for this article. The two speeches were analysed using Appraisal Theory and a Functional-semiotic Discourse Analysis thus making the approach to data analysis multidisciplinary in nature.

      1.7 Data and Data Analysis

The focus in this analysis, having Functional-Semiotic Discourse Analysis in perspective, is on the Schematic Structures (SS) of the two speeches (that of Boris Johnson and Muhammadu Buhari) and organize their participants and events in instantial networks as applied by Daramola (2008). Daramola notes that “ SS concerns the analysis of the texts’ sequential organisation of Field, Tenor and Mode, which provides its generic potential’’. It should be noted that the SS may be universal, that is, realise all texts belonging to that genre; the instantial network on the other hand is a realisation of a particular text. The second approach to the analysis of the two speeches is hinged on Appraisal Theory (AT). This approach will enable the researcher use evaluative linguistic resources that the speakers deployed to express their opinion, feelings or judgement on their citizens.

1.8 Buhari’s speech of Monday, 13th April, 2020

Extract 1:

Fellow Nigerians. In my address on Sunday, 29th March, 2020, I asked the residents of Lagos and Ogun States as well as the Federal Capital Territory to stay at home for an initial period of fourteen days starting from Monday, 30th March, 2020. Many State Governments also introduced similar restrictions. As your democratically elected leaders, we made the very difficult decision knowing fully well it will severely disrupt your livelihoods and bring undue hardship to you, your loved ones and your communities. However, such sacrifices are needed to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our country. They were necessary to save lives. Our objective was, and still remains, to contain the spread of the Coronavirus and to provide space, time and resources for an aggressive and collective action.

Like several other speeches by past Nigerian leaders, the present speech addresses the citizens of Nigeria as explicated in the expression ‘Fellow Nigerians’. In the opening address, the president identifies with the citizens and also directly addresses the speech to them. Three significant aspects of the introductory paragraph of the speech are worthy of note. One is the channel of interaction between the addresser and the addressees which is part of the Tenor and Mode of the speech. The second aspect is the Field of discourse while the third is the entry behaviour by its SS.

The channel concerns the process sharing between the addresser and the addressees. Because the speech is televised, the addressees only shared from it as a finished product. The channel of a speech delivered on television is significantly different from one occurring in a conversation in which both the speaker and the listener as participants are present in the same physical environment (Daramola 2008). He notes further that `It is different from one aired on the radio in the sense that the speaker and listener lack visual contact. The usual channel for any dialogic speech is phonic because it is interactive in nature. Even in a situation of dialogic process in which the addressee appears to be a passive participant, she/he may contribute still by providing some kind of non-verbal feedback such as eye contact, body movement, posture, and so on (Daramola 2008). The interactive mode of this text does not wholly belong to either of the ones described above. Daramola also observes that’ ‘the absence of dialogue between the speaker and the listener suggests an absence of any direct process sharing (i.e. participation), we therefore have a completely passive response from members of the audience to the addresser when the speech is being delivered’’. The speech uses a mediated medium as both the addresser and the addressee do not share physical contact. Also, being a mediated speech, it is graphic because it is written to be read and it is also phonic because its medium is spoken as the President reads it on the television.

Field deals with the kind of social activity that is taking place in a piece of discourse and its goals. The field of this speech is health and its goal is necessitated by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The entry behaviour here is the Greeting (G) as enunciated in ‘Fellow Nigerians’ (see extract 1 above). The ‘G’ points at the addresser’s recognition of the presence of another person or group of persons in the immediate or distant environment as a potential participant in the parlance of discourse.

Another aspect of the SS is the Background Information (BI). Speeches do not exist in a vacuum as they have relevant and preceding explanations. In the above extract, President Buhari made emphasis on his immediate past speech of 29th March, 2020 on COVID-19. He briefly discussed the state of the situation and the Federal Government’s (FG’s) decision to lockdown the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja (FCT), Lagos and Ogun states where there seems to be more serious   upsurge of the pandemic at the time. He equally discusses other measures taken and those to be taken in order to contain the virus by both the Federal and State Governments of the country.

Extract 2:

The level of compliance to the COVID-19 guidelines issued has been generally good across the country. I wish to thank you all most sincerely for the great sacrifice you are making for each other at this critical time. I will take this opportunity to recognise the massive support from our traditional rulers, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) during this pandemic.  I also acknowledge the support and contributions received from public spirited individuals, the business community and our international partners and friends. I must also thank the media houses, celebrities and other public figures for the great work they are doing in sensitizing our citizens on hygienic practices, social distancing and issues associated with social gatherings…At this point, I must recognise the incredible work being done by our health workers and volunteers across the country especially in the frontline areas of Lagos and Ogun States as well as the Federal Capital Territory. You are our heroes and as a nation, we will forever remain grateful for your sacrifices during this very difficult time. More measures to motivate our health care workers are being introduced which we will announce in the coming weeks.

Comments are essential features of the SS of political discourse and political speeches in particular. They occur at different locations of political speeches or addresses. Comments, as part of the SS of a discourse type also occur at random in discourses particularly political speeches as evident in Muhammadu Buhari`s address. In the opening sentence of extract 2 for instance, we have` the level of compliance to the COVID-19 guidelines issued has been generally good across the country. I wish to thank you all most sincerely for the great sacrifice you are making for each other at this crucial time’. In the lines above, the president is commenting on the obeisance paid to the guidelines of COVID-19 by the citizens. He is using the occasion to appreciate them for their resilience and understanding and the sacrifices they are making in the period of the lockdown. He went on to appreciate different institutions, bodies and agencies such as the traditional rulers, religious bodies, media practitioners, health workers and public spirited individuals. As part of the comments, the president promises to announce more measures to motivate the health care workers. In the subsequent extract, we have instance of Assessment (A) which is also an important feature in the SS of political speeches. Politicians, especially heads of governments, occasionally assess their performance in the course of delivering speeches or addresses at different occasions. In the extract that follows, President Buhari assesses the performance of his government in the area of containing the coronavirus pandemic.

Extract 3

As a result of the overwhelming support and cooperation received, we were able to achieve a lot during these 14 days of initial lockdown. We implemented comprehensive public health measures that intensified our case identification, testing, isolation and contact tracing capacities. To date, we have identified 92% of all identified contacts while doubling the number of testing laboratories in the country and raising our capacity to 1,500 tests per day. We also trained over 7,000 Healthcare workers on infection prevention and control while deploying NCDC teams to 19 states of the federation. Lagos and Abuja today have the capacity to admit some 1,000 patients each across several treatment centres. curtail

In the extract above, the president enumerated the giant steps his government has taken in order to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic across the country with emphasis to particular states where the spread of the virus is more pronounced. In the opening sentence of the extract, the president acknowledges the support and cooperation received by his government to enable them accomplish the achievement identified above. He then went on to enumerate the achievement recorded in curtailing the spread of the virus as explicated in the following lines of the extract ‘we implemented comprehensive public health measures that intensified our case identification, testing, isolation and contact tracing capabilities. Other areas of achievement identified by the president include the identification of 92% of all identified contacts and the doubling of the number of testing laboratories in the country and raising the testing capacity to 1,500 per day. Healthcare workers were also trained on infection prevention control. The provision of isolation centres by state governments was also listed as one of the achievements of the Buhari led administration. As exemplified above, assessment is an important aspect of political speeches.

The next feature of President Muhammadu Buhari`s address is `Medial Greetings’ (MG). As mentioned earlier, this may be optional in other kinds of speeches but it is a common feature in the discourse structure of political speeches. Sometimes, it may occur multiple times in longer speeches. This is explicated in the extract that follows.

Extract 4

Fellows Nigerians, follow the instructions on social distancing. This irresponsibility of the few can lead to the death of the many. Your freedom ends where other people`s rights begin.

The mode of greeting in the opening line of the speech is also repeated in the middle of the speech to indicate the president`s love and compassion for his people and making him part of the larger Nigerian society suffering the same problem. The next extract may be regarded as Future Indicator. It is the part of the speech where political communicators especially presidents indicate or make reference to future plans for individuals, groups or the entire country as indicated in the extract below.

Extract 5

Many state Governments have also made provisions for isolation wards and treatment centres, we will also build similar centres near our airports and land borders. Using our resources and those provided through donations, we will adequately equip and man these centres in the coming weeks.

In the extract above the president unfolds the future plans of the government for the citizenry as a way of support to what the state governments have done for the people in their respective states. He promises the building of isolation wards like most state governments have in the airports and land borders. These isolation wards, according to the president, after being built, will be equipped and maned.

The extract that follows may be regarded as finis (F) because it signifies the end of the speech. This feature is obligatory in the structure of political speeches unlike the structure of the language of buying and selling where it is optional.

Extract 6

Fellow Nigerians, I have no doubt that by working together and carefully following the rules we shall get over this pandemic and emerge stronger in the end. I thank you all for listening and may God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The SS of President Muhammadu Buhari`s speech is illustrated below.

                                       G ˆ (BI) ˆ (C) ˆ A ˆ (MG) ˆ (FI) ˆ F

In the SS the caret sign (ˆ) indicates sequence. The brackets enclosing some elements indicate optionality while the elements without brackets are obligatory.

Participants (Actors)
Media Practitioners
International Partners
Quasi-government Corporations (Parastatals) (e.g. NCDC
Health Care Workers & Volunteers
Presidential Task Force on
Public Figures
Business Personnel
Security Agents
Nigerian Police
Nigerian Army
Nigerian Customs service
Nigerian Civil Defence Corps
Nigerian Immigration Service
Traditional Rulers
State Governors
NSCIA (Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs)
CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria)
NCDC (Nigerian Centre for Disease Control)

Figure 5 – President Buhari’s COVID-19 Speech – Instantial Network of Participants

-Achievement (Uneasiness)  
Events (Process)
Spread of the virus
Death of infected persons
Disruption of livelihood
Prohibition of social & religious gatherings
Social distancing
Curtailment of immigration activities
Successful Public Sensitization
Training of health workers
Provision of Isolation centres
Intensification of case identification processes
General compliance to directives
Increase in the sales of PPE and other health equipment
Economic activities (decline)
Job loss (imminent)
Schools (closed)
Commercial activities (suspended)
PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)

Figure 6 – President Buhari’s COVID-19 Speech – Instantial Network of Events

1.9 Analysis of Boris Johnson`s speech

The extracts that follow are used to explain the SS in Boris Johnson`s speech. It is pertinent to note that this text, like the previous one, belongs to the same social climate. They are both products of the same circumstance and they have almost the same sequence. Boris Johnson`s speech has the same field as the previous one-health related issues while the goal is the fight against coronavirus pandemic.   At the introductory level, Boris Johnson`s speech has the same features as that of Muhammadu Buhari. It has such aspects as the channel of interaction between the addresser and the addressees which constitutes the tenor and mode of the speech. Other aspects include the field of discourse which was mentioned earlier and the entry behaviour. Its entry behaviour like the former speech, is greeting (G) as explicated in the expression `good afternoon’. The next aspect of the SS is the assessment as indicated in the extract1 below.

Extract 1

Because although we mourn every day those who are taken from us in such numbers and though the struggle is by no means over, we are making progress in this incredible national battle against coronavirus, a fight we never picked against an enemy we still don’t entirely understand. We are making progress in this national battle because the British public formed a human shield around this country`s greatest national asset- our National Health Service (NHS).

In the extract above, Boris Johnson takes stock of the efforts made by his government supported by the NHS in combatting the pandemic. He began by acknowledging the fact that although they have lost loved ones to the pandemic in very large numbers, but the fight against the pandemic is not over as steady progress is being made in the national battle as explicated in lines 1 to 3 of the extract; “ . . . although we mourn every day those who are taken from us . . . we are making progress in the incredible national battle against coronavirus. . .’’

Next to assessment in the SS of Boris Johnson`s speech is comment as the speech is devoid of Medial Greeting (MG) as we have in the previous speech. In the next extract below, Boris Johnson commented on the outstanding performance of the NHS and the impact of their efforts in fighting against the pandemic.

Extract 2

In the last seven days, I have of course seen the pressure that the NHS is under. I have seen the personal courage, not just of the doctors and nurses but of every one; the cleaners, the cooks, the healthcare workers of every description-physics, radiographers, pharmacists who have kept coming to work, kept putting themselves in harm`s way, kept risking this deadly virus. It is thanks to that courage.

In the extract above, the Prime Minister acknowledges and appreciates the efforts of the NHS and other citizens who played one role or another in the fight against the pandemic. He described the healthcare workers as courageous fighters against the disease because of the way and manner they risked their lives in the fight against the coronavirus. The subsequent aspect of Boris Johnson`s speech is the `Background Information’ otherwise known as the BI. This is explicated in the next extract below.

Extract 3.

So that is how I also know that across this country, 24 hours a day, for every second of every hour, there are hundreds of thousands of NHS staff who are acting with the same care and thought and precision as Jeremy and Luis.

The extract above, though relatively short in length, provides the reader with the background information about the activities of many other NHS workers across the country especially in the bid to fight the pandemic on the one hand and to save the lives of several other citizens that are affected by the coronavirus on the other. This is succinctly expressed in the following expressions from the speech `so that is how I also know that across this country . . . there are hundreds and thousands of NHS staff who are acting with the same care. . .’ It is obvious from the above expressions that the speaker has a prior knowledge of the activities of the vast majority of the NHS staff in the form of service to humanity which he shares to his listeners and which is regarded as the BI of the SS of the speech. The next aspect of the SS of Boris Johnson’s speech is the `Assessment’ (A). The Prime Minister explicates how his government, with the rugged and indefatigable efforts of the NHS staff fared in the fight against the coronavirus in the extract that follows.

Extract 4

That is why we will defeat this coronavirus and defeat it together. We will win because our NHS staff is the beating heart of the country. It is the best of this country. It is unconquerable. It is powered by love.

In the extract above, the Prime Minister sheds light on the determination of his government with the support of the NHS staff and that of the citizens to win the fight against the coronavirus. He explicates the strength, love and passion of the NHS staff in the fight against the pandemic in the following expressions from the speech. `We will win because our NHS staff is the beating heart of the country, it is the best of this country, it is unconquerable, and it is powered by love’. Here, the Prime Minister uses very strong adjectives and assertive terms to explicate the ability and/or capacity of his government and that of the NHS staff complemented by the support of the citizens in winning the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. The concluding part of Boris Johnson`s speech is what is known as the finis (F) in the SS. This is indicated in the last extract below.

Extract 5

So thank you from me and from all of us, to the NHS. And let’s remember to follow the rules of social distancing. Stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives. Thank you, and Happy Easter.

The SS of Boris Johnson’s speech is illustrated below.

                        Gˆ (C) ˆ (BI) ˆ Aˆ F

+ Prime Minister
Participants (Actors)
– Prime Minister
+ National Health Service
– National Health Service
Primary Health Workers
Other Staff

Figure 7 – Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s COVID-19 Speech – Instantial Network of Participants

Figure 8 – Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s COVID-19 Speech – Instantial Network of Events

-Achievement (Uneasiness)  
Events (Process)
Continuous spread of the virus
Increase in death toll
Disruption of livelihood
Ability of the health workers to summon courage to fight the virus
Progress in the battle against the Corona Virus
General compliance to directives
The Prime Minister’s recuperation

Appraisal Theory in Muhammadu Buhari and Boris Johnson’s Speeches

The two leaders of governments as well deployed various elements of Appraisal Theory either to appeal to the emotions of their citizens or pass value judgements on the attitude of the citizenry in the fight against the pandemic. They also deployed evaluative words, groups and sometimes clauses to evaluate the resilience and determination of their people in not only fighting war against the coronavirus pandemic but to also win it. The three linguistic resources which AT proposes to express emotions-attitude, engagement and graduation were duly exploited by both PMB and BJ to appeal to the emotions of their people in their speeches. But only attitude of the three linguistic resources will be explored to explicate the expression of emotions by the two speakers in their addresses in this paper because of the constraints of space. In extract 1from the speech of Muhammadu Buhari for example, we have obvious instances of the expression of emotions in the way he exploited attitude as one of the linguistic resources of Appraisal Theory. (refer to extract 1of PMB`s speech above for details).

It is obvious from extract one above that the president, while making reference to similar steps taken by the governors of Lagos and Ogun states, deployed the appropriate linguistic resources to express his emotions and also appeal to the emotions of his people. As a way of expressing his emotions and also appealing to the emotions of the citizens, the president deployed such clauses as “we made this very difficult decision knowing fully well it will severely disrupt your livelihood’’ and the elliptic clause “and bring undue hardship to you, your loved ones and communities’’. He went further in his expression of emotions in the subsequent clause by making the citizens understand what the society stands to gain by making these sacrifices as explicated in the expression “however, such sacrifices are needed to limit the spread of the coronavirus and to provide space, time and resources for an aggressive and collective action.’’

President Buhari explored ‘attitude’ as one of the three interactive domains of AT in expressing his feelings, emotional reactions, judgement of behaviour and general evaluation of the attitude of the citizens in the fight against the pandemic further in extract 2 of his address (see extract 2 above for details).

In extract 2 of PMB`s address above, the president expressed attitude as a means of showing his feelings, emotional reactions and judgement of the behaviour of the citizenry toward the fight against the pandemic and his evaluation of the general attitude of the people of Nigerian to COVID-19 guidelines issued in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic as expressed in the following lines of the speech; “The level of compliance of the COVID-19 guidelines has been generally good across the country’’. In the expression above, the president evaluates the behaviour of the citizens as good judging from the level of compliance to the COVID-19 guidelines. His choice of the lexical item `good’ as an evaluative term to express his satisfaction of the behaviour of the citizens is in consonance with AT’s recommendation of adjectives as lexical items in expressing positive or negative attitude. This explicit expression of feelings can be described as inscribed attitude in the parlance of Appraisal Theory frame work.  We also have instances of the expression of explicit feelings which can also be described as inscribed attitude in the use of such adjectives as `great’ in lines 2 & 5 and` massive’ in line 3 of the same extract. There is also metaphorical use of language in the same extract in the following expression “you are heroes and as a nation we will forever remain grateful for your sacrifices during this very difficult times’’. Lines 12 to 13 of the same extract. In the expression above, the speaker deployed inscribed attitude again in expressing his judgement on the sacrifices made by the health care workers to save lives in a situation that could best be described as hazardous.

In extract 3, the president deployed appreciation as a linguistic resource to express his feelings and emotions as a result of the overwhelming support the government received from the citizens in the course of fighting the coronavirus pandemic (refer to extract 3 for details). In this extract, PMB deployed judgement as a means of exemplifying the achievement of his government in containing the pandemic.

Like his counterpart, Prime Minister Boris Johnson also deployed attitude as a linguistic resource to express his emotions in his address to his citizens when he was discharged from hospital. This is explicated in extract 1 of his address. (refer to extract 1of BJ`s speech in figure 1.9 above for details). In extract 1 of his speech, the Prime Minister deployed attitude to express his feelings and evaluation of the cooperation and perseverance of the citizens in the difficult times. He used the inclusive `we’ to explicate what could be termed as a collective responsibility in the fight against coronavirus. His repetition of the expression `we are making progress in this national battle further reinforces the sense of collective responsibility in the fight against the pandemic.

In the subsequent extract (extract 2 to be precise) of his address, Boris Johnson further explored attitude as a linguistic resource of AT to evaluate the performance of the NHS. He expressed his feelings, emotionality, judgement and evaluation of the NHS, using what is popularly regarded as invoked attitude in AT as expressed in these lines from the extract above “. . .I have of course seen the pressure that the NHS is under, I have seen the personal courage, not just of the doctors and nurses but of everyone. . .’’. In the expression above, the Prime Minister is evaluating the contribution of not just the NHS but of every citizen especially those who risked their lives in an attempt to save the lives of others. The employment of invoked attitude is evident in such lexical items as `pressure’ and the phrase `personal courage’. The deployment of such words and phrases depict implicit statement of positive attitude by the speaker towards the NHS, other categories of workers and the general public in the British society.

In the extracts that follow (extracts 3&4), BJ continued his outpour of emotions and evaluation, particularly on the NHS by hyperbolically evaluating their sense of commitment and dedication to duty. In extract 4, we have a shift of focus and emphasis from the NHS to the general public by deploying the inclusive `we’ to imply a collective responsibility and in the same breath, he shifts the focus back to the NHS as indicated in the following lines of the extract: `

That is why we will defeat this coronavirus and defeat it together. We will win because our NHS staff is the beating heart of the country. It is the best of this country. It is unconquerable. It is powered by love.

The metaphorical use of the expression ` . . . our NHS is the beating heart of this country’. `It is the best of this country. . .’ all point to the fact that the Prime Minister expressed inscribed attitude in his evaluation of the NHS.

In a bid to fight the Coronavirus pandemic, the two Heads of Governments (President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria and Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of Britain) took certain steps in order to have their citizens join them in their fight against the pandemic. Apart from spelling out the rules that will prevent social interactions among the citizenry and by extension help to curtail the spread of the disease, they also showed commitment, dedication, determination and their ability to fight the pandemic in the various speeches they delivered on different occasions. In such speeches, they drew modal verbs to service in order to explicate their commitment and capacity to fight the pandemic and win the battle. Such modal verbs are indicated in the table below.

Table 1: Modal Verbs in the extracts from the speeches of Muhammadu Buhari and Boris Johnson.

 Muhammadu BuhariBoris Johnson
Modal VerbsFrequency%Frequency%

Figure 9

Figure 10

Finally, in the course of delivering their speeches, the two heads of governments deployed some processes that are commonly associated with the ideational function in Systemic Functional Linguistics. These processes, in many respects, add to the different shades of meaning that the text producers established. The processes are analysed in the table and chart that follow.

Table 2: Processes in the two speeches

 Muhammadu BuhariBoris Johnson

                                          Table 3. Frequency and percentages of Sub-division of attitude in the two speeches

   Muhammadu BuhariBoris Johnson

1.10 Discussion

The outcome of the analysis of the data for this study using our chosen theoretical models (Functional-Semiotic Discourse Analysis; FDA and AT) respectively is manifold.  The Schematic Structure (SS) of the two speeches is a noticeable area of difference. The term schematic structure simply refers to the stage, step-by-step organisation of the genre (Eggins 2004, p.59). Muhammadu Buhari’s SS for instance, contains such elements as greetings (G), back ground information (BI), comment (C), assessment (A), medial Greeting, (MG), future indicator (FI) and finis (F). In terms of sequence therefore, it could be said that the SS has both the obligatory and optional elements. This may not be unconnected with its length. The SS of Boris Johnson on the other hand is slightly different from that of Muhammadu Buhari as medial greetings (MG) is not included in the SS of Boris Johnson (BJ). Similarly, there is no future indicator (FI) in the speech of Boris Johnson as we have in that of Muhammadu Buhari.

Equally noticeable is the difference in the use of modal verbs which political communicators often draw to service to ideologically explicate their ability to do something and commitment to a particular course of action.  For instance, it is obvious from the analysis of the two speeches that PMB used more of the modal verbs as transitivity process to assure the citizens of Nigeria that his government is determined to fight the coronavirus with their support. On the whole, PMB deployed the modal verb `will’ 6 times with a total of 75%, `can’ and `shall’ 1 time each both having a total of 12.5% each in his address.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the other hand has less use of the modal verbs in his address. Throughout his speech, he only deployed `will’ as a modal verb to demonstrate the collective ability and determination of the country to fight and win the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.  Boris Johnson only used the modal verb `will’ 2 times in his speech with a total of 100%.

The two heads of governments also variedly deployed different processes in their speeches to perform one function or another. Among the processes deployed are; material, relational, mental, verbal and behavioural processes. Going by the results of the researcher’s findings in table 2 and as equally represented in the subsequent bar chart, it is evident that the two leaders have different percentages in their use of these processes as indicated in the tables and chart in the appropriate sections of the paper. It is also revealed that the two speakers exploited attitude as appraisal resource to express their feelings, emotionality, appreciate and evaluate the commitment and dedication of their citizens in different ways. This is evident in the way they deployed the subdivisions of attitude as an appraisal resource in their speeches in the tables and charts drawn in the appropriate sections above. What has become evident from the findings and discussion of findings above is that the speeches of the two leaders differ both in length, structure and content. Irrespective of the differences found in some aspects of the speeches, the goal of the two leaders remains the same; to show appreciation to their citizens for their understanding, cooperation and resilience in their fight against the pandemic and to urge and sensitise them on the need to do more in order to win the battle against the pandemic in totality.

1.11 Conclusion

An appraisal analysis of the second addresses of President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria and Boris Johnson the Prime Minister of Britain was embarked upon in this paper. Two theoretical models: Functional-Semiotic Discourse Analysis and Appraisal Theory were adopted as theoretical underpinnings. Relevant concepts and/or paradigms of the theories were applied to the analysis of extracts from the speeches of the two leaders. It ultimately became evident that the two speakers deployed different semiotic and appraisal resources to perform different communicative and interpersonal functions in order to achieve the same goal in their speeches. It is, therefore, concluded that different ranges of linguistic resources could be deployed to service by different political actors in the quest to address the same circumstance and achieve the same goal.


I am immensely grateful to Adebayo Qudus and Oluwashina Ashiru for their invaluable advice and also for helping out with the graphics that appear in the relevant sections of this paper. Their contributions have improved this paper in quality and quality.


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[1]  I have used the term discourse in this paper in a rather broad and loose sense to refer to the various ways in which people have themselves in talks and conversations in the form of media chats, commentaries in different dimensions, debates on the likely causes of the outbreak and possible means of curbing its spread and the myriads of speeches and/or texts from different quarters relating to the pandemic at a global level.

[2] Registers in this context means the range of technical terms or vocabularies which have emerged following the outbreak of COVID-19 and are considered appropriate in the discourse of the pandemic.

[3] Digitalisation as used in this paper connotes all electronic devices that have been introduced to supplant human efforts, in particular, social practices and some essential services, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

[4] It is pertinent to note here that whenever the term discourse is referred to, what is often meant is language use in different ways and contexts to explicate meaning. In essence, discourse, context and meaning are intricately intertwined in the use of language.

[5] The term quarantine, used in its broadest sense, connotes the practice of thoroughly examining and determining the health status of both humans and animals alike before they are allowed entry to a country. It is, however, used in the context of the coronavirus pandemic to describe the screening of persons from other countries by professionals in order to ensure that they are free of the virus before they are allowed entry to another country.