Talking FIFA World Cup 2010
The Biggest Single Sporting Event of the Year
You don’t have to be a “footie” fan to feel the excitement building around the upcoming World Cup. The scale of this event dwarfs that of any other sport in the world — yes, even the Super Bowl, the NBA playoffs or the entire yearly audience for professional golf tournaments. The proof is in the numbers: according to FIFA, the sport’s governing body, the last tournament in 2006 in Germany had a total cumulative television audience of more than 26 billion people in 214 countries and territories.
The upcoming tournament between 32 national teams kicks off with a match between host-country South Africa and Mexico on June 11. For billions of fans all around the world, day-to-day life will grind to a halt for 30 days as they cram bars, pubs, theatres, friends’ houses — anywhere there is a television — to watch and shout and groan and cry as they root for their country’s 11 players on the world stage.
So Many Teams, So Many Languages...
And while the World Cup is indeed very nationalistic, at the same time, it’s an event that spans borders, bringing people, cultures, and languages together. A good case in point is South Africa, the host country, where there are 11 official languages. While English is the most widely understood, it is the mother tongue of just eight percent of the population. The actual dominant mother tongue of the Rainbow Nation is isiZulu and the official match ball of the 2010 World Cup is named “Jubulani,” which means “happy” or “to celebrate” in that language.
Now imagine adding 15 additional languages into this broad spectrum of linguistic diversity, as 31 nations send their player to South Africa to compete.
Communication On The Field
Linguistic differences on the field could potentially pose major challenges. How does a referee who does not speak a player’s language understand that the player really, really did not foul his opponent? The player could be saying: “But ref! Those cleat marks down his back don’t match the pattern on my shoes!”, but alas, the referee wouldn’t be able to understand this plea. To prevent major miscommunication, FIFA will try to match up team languages and referees. FIFA also publishes a dictionary of football-related terms in six languages — handy for both referees and players.
'Universal' Body Language?
As a last resort, players and referees can always turn to body language and gestures. Official football sign language is universal. For example, referees use a system of arm gestures and whistle sounds to control the match, such as a short whistle to indicate a foul or pointing at the goal with his arm pointed straight parallel to the ground to indicate a goal kick.
Players have their own universal body language: defenders use both arms raised in the air bent at the elbow to indicate they absolutely did not trip the striker as he raced into the box, while strikers use the multiple rollovers-with-hand-clutching face/ankle/thigh to indicate that the defender most certainly did indeed trip him. Other gestures are not so universal. Look out for those in the upcoming matches! Some may not be understood implicitly by everyone, but you'll get the gist.
Get Ready for Kickoff
Football and the World Cup are global phenomena. Anywhere you go, a few words (football, olé-olé-olé-olé!, Pelé, goal, etc.), can bring a smile to someone's face. The international language of football brings together both nations and peoples, and for a brief 30 days, we'll be able see it all happen in one spot.
In the upcoming months, Acclaro will be posting frequent blogs about World Cup 2010. Subscribe to our blog to get notifications about these stories and others related to language, culture and translation.