One in one out! Social distance regulations communicated by Greek and British businesses.

31 May 2024
Room C1

One in one out! Social distance regulations communicated by Greek and British businesses.

The containment measures introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic have impacted on many aspects of people’s lives. Restrictions on face-to-face contacts have also led to new forms of communication, with many interactions moving online and a steep increase in publicly displayed written messages (Ogiermann & Bella 2021, Bella & Ogiermann 2022, Wei 2023).

The present paper focuses on public signs implementing social distancing that have emerged globally during the pandemic. It offers a societal perspective on a global phenomenon through a cross-cultural analysis of 700 signs displayed in Greek and English businesses and photographed between March and October 2020.

Given the tension between the need to attract customers and the legal requirement to implement the measures, the main focus of our analysis is on the different ways in which businesses display or avoid displaying agency (Van Leeuwen 1996). While both sets of data rely heavily on imperatives and deontic modals, there is a tendency to supress agency through elliptical (e.g., “One in one out”) and passive (“Only 2 people are allowed”) constructions, as well as to delegate authority through references to legislation.

At the same time, the Greek data shows interesting links between agency and formality. Unlike in the English data, there is a heavy reliance on nominalisation, whereby the businesses supress their agency. Yet, it also contains a high frequency of performative verbs, such as παρακαλώ (to ask), foregrounding the businesses’ agency. Our research, therefore, makes an original contribution to the study of the interplay between the cultural and the global in formulating regulatory discourse during a global health crisis.



Bella, S. & Ogiermann, E. (2022). Accounts as acts of identity. Justifying business closures on Covid-19 public signs in Athens and London. Pragmatics, 32(4), 620-647.

Ogiermann, E. & Bella, S. (2021). On the dual role of expressive speech acts: Relational work on signs announcing closures during the Covid-19 pandemic. Journal of Pragmatics, 184, 1-17.

Van Leeuwen, T. (1996). The representation of social actors. In: Caldas-Coulthard, C.R., Coulthard, M. (eds), Texts and Practices: Readings in Critical Discourse Analysis. Routledge: London.

Wei, J. (2023). Please wear a face mask. The role of British business in regulating mask-wearing through signage. Journal of Pragmatics, 216, 6-20.