15 de julio de 2012

The expansion of the journalistic language of sport

Por Jesús Castañón Rodríguez

The expansion of the journalistic language of sport

Jesús Castañón Rodríguez

Text of the speech given at the round table «The social and linguistic importance of the journalistic language of sport», included in the VII International Seminar on Language and Journalism: Spanish in sports journalism.

The reporting of sporting triumphs in countries where Spanish is spoken has made journalistic language a social festival that brings together passionate voices of sportsmen and women, joyful expressions from the stands, terms of the communications media and artistic recreations.

Throughout history, sports communication has played on courts, in offices, on the stands and in editorial departments, it has found originality in the crossroads of expressions of varied origin, it has made terms originating in far-off lands comprehensible to the general public and has created names for the hopes and dreams of the different participants of sport.

Currently, between laptop keyboards, theme tunes and a chorus of multiple voices, it attends to the social need for a global enthusiasm that converts players and teams into icons, brands and media personalities and transforms sport into a pretext for the representation of other stories, myths, values, priorities, hopes, dreams and aspirations. It tackles essential information at high speed, without borders or timetables. Beyond the sphere of misprints, well-worn maxims and clichés, the press-boxes, the interview areas and other inhabited spaces generate texts for fast and easy reading and listening and which bring into play spontaneity, oral language, terminological precision, translations, the use of lexical Latin-Americanisms, word play, humour and the description of the event for non-specialised audiences.

This complex reality has already been the object of increasing study by the social sciences along three main axes: the relationship between cultural history and the communications media when influencing behaviour and when its language serves as an editorial resource in other informative areas, the analysis of its political, cultural, emotive and aesthetic dimensions and its social value linked to aspects of internationalism, interculturality, education, health and quality of life.

The view of the media

The work of sports communication in synthesising states of mind, classifying the experience lived and creating opinions has developed an exuberant creativity that affects the three levels of the language.In phonics, it is developed in pronunciation with wordplay that imitates the accent schemes or intonations of other languages, phonic transcriptions, the variety of intonation, the use of rhythmic effects, the treatment given to foreign words and expressions and the use of punctuation marks. In the lexical and grammatical sphere creativity resorts to derivation with suffixes and prefixes, composition, parasynthesis, initials, acronyms, with lexical crossovers and abbreviations and especially the use of neologisms, lexical Latin-Americanisms, figured languages, opaque terminology, modification of repeated discourse based on units of colloquial language or on titles of socially successful cultural forms and other rhetorical devices.

It has achieved many successes and carried through striking situations such as eliminating technical terminology from sports to enable more widespread understanding. This opaque terminology transforms health personnel carrying out dope controls into «vampires»; a type of aerodynamic bicycle into a «goat»; a basketball block becomes a «hat»; a climbing cyclist a «beetle», a reversible sign used in motor racing a «lollipop»; a football striker a «can opener»…

And in the triumph of the Football World Cup in 2010 it not only allowed the optimistic reinterpretation of reality with the presence of sporting metaphors in other spheres, but also the rescue of topics of great cultural tradition: the invoking of good luck to overcome uncertainty, thanks to an octopus that forecasted the results, the reinstatement of justice after death, with the emotional tribute made by Andrés Iniesta and Sergio Ramos to colleagues who had died a sudden death and the triumph of love in the face of opposition from other forces.

Throughout the history of sports journalism in Spanish, the concern of sports communication with the correct use of language has overcome the cliché of its lack of interest in this matter, since in Spain alone it has benefited from the contributions of some one hundred and fifty journalists.

Among the proposed expressions in Spanish to favour its social diffusion and the preparation of style books with a pan-Hispanic focus, three centres of interest have been taken into account: the guidance of professionals, reflection on language and specialised training. The first has evolved from the transcription of names and the compiling of vocabulary to the establishment of criteria for use in style books and other guides. Reflection has described its main findings and errors, paying special attention to the creative work of language and to foreign words and expressions. And specialised training has developed master’s degrees, congresses, proof-reading seminars, summer courses and other activities in, at least, Spain, Guatemala, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

And furthermore, the relationship between culture and sport has been exalted in chronicles and literary anthologies, an analysis has been made of the mechanisms of popular culture that intervene in its staging, studies have been performed on literary creation with a sports theme and teaching aspects have been developed at all educational levels.

The linguists’ view

This work has been commented on by linguists, understood as fans of language, who have seen the game played by editorial departments in the reporting of competitions, have been excited by their values and successes, have applauded their creativity or have protested when the correct use of language has been kicked off course.

Their specialised view includes various foci of attention. First, the observation of the uses of current Spanish with the encouragement of decorum and the criticism of its excesses and improprieties.

Second, the increasing institutional reflection has included the guidelines of the Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas, the reflections of the different occasions on which the International Congress of the Spanish Language has been held and the participation of academics from Argentina, Colombia, Spain, the United States, Mexico…

Third, access to sports documentation and information has also generated specialised terminology and thesauri.

Forth, university research has included more than thirty studies, carried out in Colombia, Cuba, Spain, Guatemala, Italy, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland and Venezuela, which have used journalistic language as a documentary source.

Fifth, the reflections made in congresses, seminars and courses have spread through seven countries and, recently, have concentrated on questions of specialised language and its relationship with the need to train specialised professionals with specific linguistic knowledge.

Sixth, the gradual presence of journalistic sports language in the educational sphere is recorded in formal teaching – with cultural activities and university courses, the teaching of Spanish as a foreign language and secondary education – and informal, with the learning of languages in an efficient, fast and fun environment.

Seventh, the constant internationalisation of sport has given rise to the presence of Spanish in multilingual publications for high-level competition. In order to improve the communication of journalists, translators and volunteers, since 1960, works of this type have been produced in the different stagings of the Olympic Games, the Mediterranean Games and the Football World Cup. This work has been led by Rafael Solana, Press Officer of the 1968 summer Olympic Games Organising Committee who in 1967 requested the Spanish Royal Academy to adapt Olympic terminology to Spanish, the National Institute of Physical Education and Sport, the Agencia Efe news agency, the Office of Diplomatic Information and the Terminology Centre of Catalonia, Termcat, with experiences that have been used by the organising committees of the Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Montreal, Atlanta, Sidney and Beijing, and by the Football World Cup in Korea and Japan.

A separate comment is deserved by the incorporation of journalistic sports language as a source for textual corpora and databases and the constant collaboration of sports journalists in the creation of dictionaries, encyclopaedias and other repertoires. The presence of sporting terms in more than two hundred lexicographic works and university studies extends across twenty countries, of which only ten are Spanish speaking, and it has generated historical, ideological and thematic foci, dictionaries of usage and of current Spanish and multilingual dictionaries.

It is an immense task in which the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language and the Spanish Royal Academy, in the twenty-first century alone, have compiled, in the Diccionario de la Lengua Española, the Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas, the Diccionario Esencial de la Lengua Española and the Diccionario de Americanismos sports expressions of a general nature, specific words for elements, clothing and moves of 81 sporting disciplines, popular denominations of fans and teams, expressions of common language originating in sports language, acronyms of institutions, bodies and federations, spelling, grammar and lexical guidelines with comments on the most common vulgarisms, clichés, doubts and errors.


The twenty-first century constitutes an exciting challenge for the journalistic language of sport in Spanish, owing to its role in the renewal of general language, to its having become an editorial resource in other informative areas and to its social influence over an extensive territory since it has been studied and reflected on in at least 26 countries, of which only 12 are Spanish-speaking. Specifically, 14 in America: (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, the United States, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Venezuela), 11 in Europe (Germany, Austria, Spain, France, Hungary, Italy, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland) and 1 in Asia (Japan).

Without doubt, since times of Cervantes when he made Periandro participate in five trials in Los Trabajos de Persiles y Segismunda to the Olympic and Paralympic Games of today, sports language has gone higher and further and grown stronger. Its journalistic form of expression has been a constant game of ingenuity, a social festival in a limitless pitch and a means of access to sport for a large proportion of the population.