A Speech Act Analysis of Selected Facebook Covid-19 Memes in Nigeria
Catalogue Vol.26 No. 2 A Speech Act Analysis of Selected Facebook Covid-19 Memes in Nigeria



The paper is a pragmatic study of internet-based entertainment contents by Nigeri- an social media users (netizens) to create awareness on Covid-19 that ravaged Nigeria and her households in 2020.
The study which covers only Covid-19-moti- vated internet memes on facebook adopted John Searle's (1969) Speech Acts Theory as its theoretical framework.

Fourteen (14) purposively selected Facebook memes were collected through internet-enabled personal computers (PC) and screenshots from mobile phones.

The study found that the Covid-19 memes were characterized by the following speech acts: representative (assertion), directive, expressive and commissive while declarative was not accounted for.

The study reveals that Covid-19 memes creators employed a total of 29 speech acts, with the preponderant use of representative speech act type which accounted for (44.8 %), to assert and make statements about the virus.

Representative speech act also indicated that creators of memes were keen on informing Nigerians on the need to keep to Covid-19 rules;

Directives - accounted for (31.0%); Expressive (13.8%) to scold and rebuke politicians toying with the lives of Nigerians while Commissive accounted for (10.3 %). Empirical evidence from the study showed that internet memes were used by Nigerians to express their grievances towards the manner the government of the day was handling the Covid-19 situation. The study concluded that the evolution of social media has no doubt enhanced digital communication in today's technologically advanced world.

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Social media is a term that has been described as interactive digitally-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation or sharing/exchange of information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks (Wikiversity, n.d). It is a conglomeration of new digital media channels through which people get connected and share information on personal, general as well as global issues.

Since the advent of digital communication methods and its attendant increase in social interaction, a good number of social media platforms have evolved. Some of these include WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, Snapchat and Youtube (Owojecho, 2021). Social media is one of the major digital tools responsible for the dissemination of information and other social activities by social media users and in this case (netizens). Social media has been instrumental to the creation of awareness on several diseases (Malaria, HIV, Ebola, Coronavirus and so on) in Nigeria (Msughter, 2020).

The Coronavirus (Covid-19) is an infectious disease that causes respiratory infections ranging from common cold to more severe respiratory difficulties (WHO, 2020). According to Ogungbeand Omolabi (2020), it is believed that the virus originated from the “Hunan seafood market at Wuhan, China, where bats, snakes, dogs, wild animals among others were sold in December 2019” (p.5), and the virus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the 11th of March, 2020 (WHO, 2020).Since its identification, the virus is said to have accounted for over 3,435,134 deaths globally out of a swooping statistics of 165,747,744 positive cases which sadly increased exponentially with 144,839,298 recovered cases (WHO, 2021). According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2020), the Corona viruses:

…are a large family, from viruses, several of which cause respiratory diseases in humans from the common cold to more rare and serious diseases such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), both of which have high mortality rates and were detected for the first time in 2003 and 2012, respectively (pp.1-2).

The Corona Virus disease later became known with the acronym “Covid-19”, 2019 being the year that the disease came into existence. With the spread of the disease across the nations of the world, many governments began to take measures to stop or curtail its spread. Some of the measures which were taken included inter- national travel restrictions. Others were ban on large gatherings including, cinema houses, restaurants, theatres as well as barbing and hair dressing saloons in some countries. There was a total lockdown of activities and restriction of both pedestri- an and vehicular movements for number of weeks and months in a bid to halt the spread of the disease in many countries.

In Nigeria, Facebook has been a major platform for people to express their opinions on various issues and concerns. For instance, during the period of total lockdown when Nigerians could no longer visit their loved ones, they turned to Facebook to express their reactions towards the pandemic precautions. Facebook posts not only included texts but also pictures that reflected their varied reactions towards the government interventions on the situation. The reaction of Nigerians in the virtual world calls for speech act analysis. From this background, the paper examined Facebook texts and the pictures associated with the pandemic. The pres- ent study evaluates the importance of memes as a tool for creating awareness on Covid-19 in Nigeria drawing insight from Searle's (1969) Speech Act Theory. The main objective of the study is to identify types and functions of speech acts in Face- book posts in relation to Covid-19.

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