The Spanish language in the sports press
The Spanish language in the sports press
Jesús Castañón Rodríguez (*)
(*) Lecture pronounced in the assembly room of BBVA Valladolid, in a public engagement, organized by Fundación del Español Urgente. 15 February 2006.
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, sport has been a defining element of contemporary history. It has achieved an increase in the levels of culture and civilisation of the people and has become a leisure industry and a social necessity.
Little by little, but with passion, it has leapt from its courts and pitches to avenues and streets. It has managed to become incorporated reflexively into the spheres of information and specialised scientific research.
And thanks to the anonymous work of many generations, it has broadened the expressive possibilities of the Spanish language, creating a special sphere of observation for linguistic institutions by receiving the newest tendencies in the current state of the language.
The growth of its audience has converted sport into a leisure industry based on the criteria of economic profitability, advertising and marketing. In Spain, it occupies the most watched television programmes of the year, it is among the most listened to programmes on the radio, it is the principal sector for advertising investment on television and, in the written press alone, it increased by 58% in the last decade of the twentieth century.
2. Sports Journalists and Language
Over the last two centuries, the ways of speaking and writing about sports have been based on the lyric of feeling, the epic of effort in the conquest of new exploits and the drama of conflict situations. They have fixed these exploits in the retinas of the fans, frozen them in time and memory and transformed the magic moments of genius into a fluid statue, while time and sportsmen continue in their unstoppable course.
Their expressions have crossed the borders of the sports ground to pervade streets and avenues in an artistic game of social emotion with the participation, without exception, of the joy of the stands, the passion of sportsmen and women, the talent of writers, the reflection of thinkers…
Currently, sport is diffused as a spectacle and a social festival, in conquest of a dream to be lived with clamour and an inexplicable passion capable of leaving permanent signs. It develops a dynamic of the unexpected and a game of talent with the stand that combines elements of the leisure industry and of consumerism. It becomes a zone of spontaneity and expressiveness capable of allying itself with other artistic manifestations.
Sports journalism applies psychological laws that transform information into knowledge via figurative language, it creates products to impact and seduce, simplifies the occurrence, dramatises the personalities, considers a cyclical variation of interest, takes into account the elements of consumerism of other spectacles or socio-cultural movements and gives preference to spoken language and its colloquial register.
In this setting, the sports journalist has become a contemporary hero who transforms the emphasis and passion of the sports field into cultural magic, and moreover searches the diapason of the fans’ emotions to burst into a world of illusion and art able to win the favour of the public in stations, airports, fountains and squares.
In Spain, the adventure of words in movement has been made available daily since 1924: the imitation of natural situations, the cultural journey through remote lands in the origin of terms, the description of curious situations in which words are created and the history of famous or anonymous personalities who have created expressions thanks to their fantasy and effort.
It has made us familiar with terms from Olympic sports, sports for the disabled, rural sports, extreme sports, etc. carrying them from the sports grounds to the streets and into everyday life.
However, this splendid task has been characterised more for its problems than for its achievements. And journalistic sports language has not been favoured by the attitude of a small part of specialised journalism which has a tendency to observe any linguistic improvement with disdain, alleging that the forms of expression used for sport do not need as much precision as do other fields.
Journalistic sports language, still in formation, is in a situation which, for some, poses doubts regarding its special responsibility in the encouragement of correct usage.
It has been accused of: difficult intellectual asepsis, excessive subjectivity, a tendency towards opinion, a usage which diverges from the norm, the inflation of foreign expressions and clichés, the proliferation of warlike terminology and the consideration of a range of grammatical awkwardness and incorrect usage that kicks the dictionaries into touch.
And in spite of some real shadows, it has created an up to date image using a standard rule of communication that has followed only four of the eleven traditional criteria for linguistic correctness: general modern usage, frequency of use, necessity and linguistic sentiment.
The improvement of correct usage
In this new century it is also time to recognise the labour undertaken by specialised journalism itself to improve correct usage, and which has often passed unnoticed.
During the first third of the twentieth century, sport was incorporated into the world of news as one of the manifestations of modern change and international life. At this time the daily newspapers «El Debate» and «La Veu de Catalunya» were pioneers in this field.
The first, under the direction of Cardinal Herrera Oria, incorporated specialised journalism into general information newspapers and, in spite of criticising its expressions as «anti-aesthetic gibberish and exotic jargon», employed sport as an exercise for learning to write journalistically in such a way that the news was not only appropriate for those who were experts in the jargon but was capable of attracting interest with a special typographic presentation. The second accepted the work of the promoters of the first candidature of Barcelona for the summer Olympic Games and among its contributions is its participation in the collection of books Biblioteca Los Sports to transmit sport with a terminology in Spanish which substituted many of the foreign words.
After the Civil War the Official School of Journalism emphasised the importance of form and headlines as a complement to the expressiveness of the writing. The directors of the newspapers created lexical repertoires of technical vocabulary and jargon with encyclopaedias and works which benefited from the participation of Acisclo Karag, José Luis Lasplazas, Juan José Castillo and Joaquim Maria Puyal. The elaboration of a common vocabulary was also requested, at the proposal of the Madrid daily, «Ya».
Since 1976, reflections on sporting language have become commonplace with contributions by, among others, Matías Prats Cañete, Julián García Candau, Álex Grijelmo, Chema Forte… or with regular sections such as «Palabras mayores» (Strong Words) in the web Basketconfidencial.com directed by Paco Rengel. The directors of daily papers, such as Alfredo Relaño, are still collecting vocabulary. And style guides appeared which included guidelines from publications intended for general information, although, since 1992, specialised material has been available from the Agencia Efe, the daily «El Mundo Deportivo», the sports section of Televisión Española and the Andalusian authors José Luis Rojas and Antonia Ordoño for news agencies, written press, audiovisual journalism and the high competition of the summer Olympic Games and the Mediterranean Games.
The Departamento de Español Urgente stands out for its continuity in this task. Between 1980 and 2005 linguistic criteria were unified between Spain and Latin America, the invasion of foreign expressions was combated, criteria were adopted for the transcription into Spanish of names originating in languages with non-Latin alphabets and language problems were solved in news writing.
Its sporting history has tackled five lines of action. Its first intervention was in 1982, to establish the transcription of Arabic names in the Latin alphabet according to English phonetics (Middle Eastern countries) or French phonetics (North African countries) for the players of the Kuwaiti and Algerian teams during the World Cup. It continued in 1988, with a report on linguistic quality and the main doubts and errors appearing in the news transmitted during the summer Olympic Games held in Seoul.
Since 1990, it has organised general and specific congresses on language in news agencies, to tackle questions regarding the necessary neologisms and it developed its Olympic experience in the international congress entitled «the Spanish language in sport», with the participation of sports journalists, linguists and sports men and women from America and Spain. The result was the book «The Spanish Language in Sport: A Practical Guide», which registered terms which could offer some difficulty to news writers and was distributed among all the Spanish speaking journalists sent to cover the news from the Games.
After this event, its occupation in the encouragement of the proper use of sports language has been a constant theme in its general publications such as: «Manual de Español Urgente», «Vademécum de Español Urgente», «Diccionario de Español Urgente» and the digital experiences of the Fundéu or debating forum «Apuntes» (Notes).
3. Some current features
Sports journalists work installed in a dynamic of the unexpected in which they must report facts with multiple analysis, opinion and statistics. They depend on information, the creation of atmosphere and the exploitation of emotion. They live with urgency as their working timetable. They verbalise in a single phrase the multiple actions that take place when a free kick is taken, with a ball launched at 120 kilometres per hour, cars overtaking at 360 kilometres per hour in formula 1, the suffering on the leg-breaking stretches in the passes of the Alps or the Pyrenees… They resume in expressions a sporting event and a state of mind for rapid consumption.
It is always important to bear in mind the rapid mental reflexes demanded by the passage of sporting events with declarations of sportsmen, accounts by presenters, chats by commentators. And how a decorous use of language is possible, which is directly proportional to the capacity to verbalise images, as in the situation which caused Matías Prats to correct the report of his radio colleague. The phrase «Tremendous mistake by Grifa who, on his own in front of the goalkeeper, receives the ball and in spite of everything managed a goal» became an amiable «the central defender, making a supine effort, stretched out his right leg with impetus, but the point of his boot could not coincide with the parabola described by the sphere. In spite of the said setback, he managed to raise the score».
Sports journalism has created new languages to commercialise the sporting spectacle efficiently and attract advertising investment via a standard rule of communication that combines techniques characteristic of sports, journalistic, advertising and literary languages.
It is a strategy of illusion that synthesises the atmosphere of sporting practice and the emotion produced in its spectators. It becomes a tireless game of fantasy that generates an imagery supported by the public’s favour, concentrates the collective thought of the people and is an occasion to produce art.
The table has been turned on the criticisms received by the language usages of sports journalism, since they have served to convert it into a sphere for the observation of the most current trends in the language in order to watch its immediate course. It is usual to concentrate on the linguistic forms used in sport as a show, since an overflow of normative usages is produced to create effects in tone, writing and the combination of meanings.
Regarding phonic aspects, some issues are worthy of attention. In the treatment of players’ names, popular solutions have been adopted for the most difficult cases, rather than following the transcriptions. Thus, the Yugoslavian Betis player, Hadzibegic, became «Pepe», the Russian Seville player, Rinat Dasaev, changed to «Rafaé» and the Japanese Real Valladolid forward, Hosi Jo, became «Josillo». This happened too with the signing of the Rumanian Gica Hagi by Real Madrid, converted into «the Maradona of the Carpathians» or in the recent case of the Croat, Nenad Mirosavljevic, known as «Mortadelo», with the request of the Andalusian club that his sporting name be respected.
Written forms have incorporated graphic design, such as marks and animation that allow artistic games integrating text and images, the use of colours to fix the attention and the creation of headlines with various rhythms of reading and new meanings.
Audiovisual reports have created a particular set of phonostylistics to recreate trembles, roars, vibrations, trajectories… with the use of r, f, s, z, u, i. Vowels and consonants are elongated. The greatest number of words are spoken in the shortest possible time, in a trend introduced by the Argentinian machine gun men. The presenters play with a variety of intonations that rise and fall in curves and modulations to make the heart beat to the rhythm of the emotion. They use different timbres of voice, with contrasts. And at the most critical moments of competitions they make use of a full-throated intensity to greet the dream that has just been fulfilled.
This style of animation has extended to advertising, managing to integrate advertising into the content of radio broadcasts. The presenter of «Carrusel deportivo», Pepe Domingo Castaño, received the Premio Ondas for the best creativity in sponsorship, jingle, mention, promotion, competition or other original format.
A more classical aspect relates to the never-ending task of finding Spanish forms for the necessary neologisms. In recent times activities have arisen from apple pie tins such as the frisbee and from ironing boards, such as extreme ironing which have conquered beaches and all kinds of unlikely places.
And new activities are being introduced that combine various sporting activities and make use of blow-up surfaces, as is the case of the airboard to descend snowy slopes on an airbed as though it were the skeleton and of slamball, which is a cross between American football and basketball.
Recently, in September 2005, an activity arrived in Andalusia which arose between the Rock of Gibraltar and the port of Antwerp: bossaball. It combines football, volleyball, gymnastics and capoeira on a pitch formed by airbeds and trampolines which is divided into two halves by a net. It opposes two teams who compete in various sets of 30 points with a limit of up to eight successive touches before the ball is passed to the opposite half. It has a team of referees, who bring music and entertainment for the public, to extend the union of music and sport to the whole competition and not only, as happened until now, in advertising and the great moments of triumph.
It has extended to sponsored commercial activities, competitions on the beach, music festivals, fairs organised by town halls and out-of-school games organised by Municipal Sports Departments.
This year the World Trampoline Championship will be held, organised by the International Gymnastics Federation, and launch contracts have been signed in China, Australia and Brazil.
The curious aspect of its name is its formation from the Brazilian music style of Bossa Nova and the ball which is used in the game. It aims to synthesise the practice of sport on the beaches of Brazil with the passionate viewpoint of the fans while they listen to music in the background.
The grammatical level presents some particularities: the archaic use of verb tenses, the confusion between the transitivity and intransitivity of verbs, the elimination of articles and enclitic reflexive pronouns giving rise to intransitive verbs (entrenar/train, calentar/warm up, alinear/line up), the change in grammatical meaning of prepositions (of, over), the lexical creativity to form words and the analysis of phrases, for example, in detriment (‘with adverse effects’), without palliatives (‘conclusive’), vis-à-vis (for, with a view to)…
One of the latest examples of creativity has taken place in the Freestyle Motocross competitions which have been held in bullrings singe the beginning of the twenty-first century. The motorcyclists, who are known as «X-Fighters» (extreme fighters), are received to the sound of bugles, and ride in the wake of a horseman with lances, the motorcycle closely following the horse’s tail. They are carried on the shoulders of the fans after their brilliant performance and receive the acclaim of the public, who wave their handkerchiefs from the stands. They take their run-up from the main gates and from the various other gates used in bullfights, to lift up towards the sky via various ramps and perform different figures. This atmosphere has given rise to the use in a report of the term «motorero».
At the lexical level, the journalistic language of sport has been accused of: including linguistic errors and abuses as a consequence of laxity «-alante» (adelante/forward), «histórico» (memorable), «señalizar» (señalar/indicate)-; promoting lexical creations that generate absurd expressions (cocolista, ‘penultimate in a classification’) or produce invented synonyms («zapatazo/blow with a shoe» to compete with «chutazo/fierce shot at goal» or «cañonazo/gunshot»); creating fashionable languages such as calling a central shot at goal from the Barcelona forward Goicoechea as TALGO (tiro alto y largo de Goico/high and long throw from Goico) or «chafún» (flattening) the simulation of a fall in the area.
More criticism has been received by the use of semantic calques that simplify concepts and eliminate shades of meaning – finalise (finish, end, conclude), veracity (for credibility, credit), pardon (miss) or vendetta (retaliation) – or the creation of fantasy Anglicisms (footing, recordwoman or puenting (bungee jumping), which the Panhispanic Dictionary of Doubts recommends substituting with «puentismo»).
And recently, sports language has been characterised in the media as a sphere of clichés or rhetorical formulas which are frequently used and lack novelty since they are so common and well known. Although clichés are to be criticised when their abuse is due to the inertia of expressing oneself with little interest via a reduced number of words, this is not the case when a form becomes well known thanks to its capacity to express special situations in a few terms, as was the case with those balls that passed by «beside the stock of the post» in the decade of the nineteen-forties or more recently with the «matrix goal», which greeted goals scored with a volley rectified in the air as practised by Fernando Torres.
On the positive side is its creative capacity to form new expressions from zero – as is the case of the intelligent racket, which discharges upon hitting the ball – to apply the fantasy of the countries of America with the free exchange of forms – bicicletas or the colas de vaca (cows’ tails) – or the constant use of rhetorical figures to achieve the passionate social experience with great expressiveness: evasions to avoid repetitions, antonomasias, pleonasms, hyperboles, emphasis, daring metaphors…
In the use of figurative languages sports writing tends to eliminate the technical terminology of sports in favour of a seduction that favours the social celebration of sport while creating myths and emotions in a linguistic populism. Sporting events are described with literary freedom and sense of humour including current cultural references in the reports: sayings, the cinema, successful television programmes, motor racing…
To the eyes of those who are not fans, an opaque terminology appears which is basically a slightly quixotic transformation for the sake of greater understanding. Thus where health personnel are carrying out dope controls, the journalist sees a «vampire»; an aerodynamic bicycle for a race against the clock becomes a «goat»; a basketball block becomes a «hat»; a zone becomes a «bulb», a Colombian climber is a «beetle», a reversible plaque used in car racing becomes a «dummy»; a forward becomes a «dagger» and if he plays alone at the front a «can opener», if he scores in Bilbao he will be sung about on the radio as «bacalao» or thanks to the prestige of commercial organisations there are no longer great players or team players since, in recent seasons, they have been reconverted into «franchise players».
To synthesise states of mind, classify lived experience and create opinions we frequently find headlines and chronicles that apply the modification techniques of repeated discourse based on units of colloquial language or the titles of socially successful cultural forms.
If Induráin goes at top speed in a training session for a race against the clock he becomes Mi primo el de Zumosol (My cousin from Zumosol), taken from a fruit juice advertisement, if Guti puts in a good performance he appears to readers as Daguti! And Argentina’s victory against England in the 1986 World Cup is summed up in an expressive Don’t cry for me, England.
And what happens with the foreign expressions used for the denomination of all kinds of sport and their moves? The continued successes, the way it calls to new players and the extension of these activities will make heads turn, as happened to the spectators of tennis matches during the twentieth century. English and Spanish played a fine «match»/»partido». An «ace»/»saque directo» flew from the end of the pitch, followed by a «drive»/»golpe de derecha», a «passing-shot»/»golpe paralelo or golpe cruzado», or a «lob»/»globo»… and so on until the end of the «game»/»juego», «set»/»manga» or «tie break»/»muerte súbita o juego decisivo». It was not easy, but forty years of finals in the Copa Davis/Deivis gave rise to an intense match in which some balls where also called «out»/»fuera» such as «machete» as a solution to substitute «smash».
Football, boxing, tennis… and now motor racing are showing that the greater reach of interest in a sport helps the development of terms in Spanish.
4. The new times
The alliance between sport, culture and communication, favoured by sporting institutions since 1994 has given way to a new process.
A convergence is taking place of linguists, journalists and sportsmen and women which combines cultural activities, research and a new educational dimension of Spanish sporting language in which professionals offer their point of view from all fields.
The linguistic institutions have described the state of the language, with its good and bad points, in various academic and scientific meetings to improve the general use of the language. They have guided a decorous use with style books for the communications media, they have collaborated with the sports press both in the daily paper «Marca» and in the prologue to books by José Ramón de la Morena and have commented on the excesses of showcase language.
Moreover, they have carried sports language from the pitches to the institutions, with useful material in the Summer Olympic Games of 1992, with constant reflection in higher education courses and with a greater presence of sports terminology in all their publications and databanks.
In the latest edition of the Dictionary of the Spanish Language terms are registered for 29 summer and winter Olympic Games disciplines and 51 non-Olympic sports, with special predilection for the martial arts and sports of wide social dissemination. And the II International Congress of the Spanish Language, held in Valladolid in 2001, emphasised the importance of linguistic renovation generated by sport based on the neologisms of common speech which it generates. The language of sport has become a privileged observatory of the new trends in the most current Spanish.
Thus, in the last decade of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first, almost seven hundred expressions spread by journalistic sports language are extending into other fields. One of these is active tourism. The latest staging of the FITUR tourism fair has recognised how sport constitutes a new style of travelling for consumers who wish to live unforgettable experiences, discover new areas and reach the places they have dreamed of. And it has concentrated its possibilities in the mountains with mountaineers and skiers, in the water with surfing and subaquatic activities, in hunting and fishing to look for the most exclusive trophies, in golf to find relaxation, in popular races to participate anonymously in a mass performance and in motor racing and motorcycling to live with an idol the unforgettable experiences of circuit competitions.
A second space is the economy, with the use of sports expressions and ways of speaking as an element of persuasion in entrepreneurial life when dealing with teamwork and leadership.
And in the communications media, the presence of terms and expressions of journalistic sports language has become a resource when writing about other areas of news since they are easily understood by the readers and useful to the journalist for classifying other experiences when life is presented as a show or a form of competition. It is a way of speaking and writing which is extending through the sections of radio and television with terms from football and cycling, in international news with boxing, in economy, advertisements, job offers, management training… with chess and in politics with athletics, with long distance running and sprinting.
Outstanding in the world of sport is the date 1998, the year in which the International Olympic Committee published the work Lexique olympique multilingue with information in French, English, German and Spanish for the work of journalists, translators and conference interpreters in their work with sportsmen and women.
And in the field of communication, the specialised linguistic training of the journalist is gradually finding its place in modules in the subjects of Sports Journalism and also in Master and post graduate courses which are usually organised by the media, alone or in combination with sports foundations, with the aim of finding greater efficiency.
This is a task in which an outstanding place belongs to the Fundación del Español Urgente in its desire to emphasise the value, importance and international prestige of the Spanish language. The attention it gives to all kinds of sports, to those which do not always reach the commercial media, and the continuous reflection on language in the news media will help to ensure the employment of uniform criteria of use and rapid answers for the varied and multiracial group that speaks Spanish and which enjoys a special success not only in Argentina, Cuba, Spain and Mexico – which are the countries whose cities have hosted the Olympic Games or have reached the final selection process with their candidatures – but also in the United States for audiovisual consumption on specialised channels.
To summarise, journalistic sports language is a fiesta of intelligence, a showcase of emotion and elegance, a crossroads of creative energy that recreates imaginary worlds and allows people to transform the hostile reality into an opportunity to enjoy themselves, allowing them they rediscover their enthusiasm. It is the triumph of liberation owing to the effort of people who believe that the best is always there to be conquered.
Journalists are guides to emotion, and they use language to connect the sports grounds with society. When they do this with precision, clarity and ingenuity, using the appropriate terms for each situation or inventing them according to the laws of the language, they achieve a great social influence capable of integrating everybody from the youngest fan to Nobel Prize winners.