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The view on the use of the Spanish language in sports communication in the twenty-first century

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The view on the use of the Spanish language in sports communication in the twenty-first century (*) 


  Jesús Castañón Rodríguez    (Idioma y Deporte)

(*) Presentation given at the 3rd International Congress on Physical Education and School Sport. Instituto Cultural Argentino. Villa Mercedes (San Luis, Argentina), 2016. File available on

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Introduction and current situation of the topic

For the study of the Spanish language in sport, the twenty-first century appears to be a time for hope, in view of the consideration of the influence of sport on the renewal of language in general, since it has become a social need that influences social innovations and it constitutes the largest non-governmental movement in Europe.

However, its traditional analysis began with a great resistance to its expressive forms, especially those related with journalistic language as, since the twentieth century, a strong current has defended a pessimistic view, with the participation of copy editors, comedians, linguists, journalists and sociologists.

The objective of this study is to describe the different currents of thought with regard to this matter and to suggest that changes in perspective are being generated that go beyond the previous stages centred on the incorrect use of the language, to the point of recording a slow and steady interest in sports language in the media to evolve from the analysis of its main errors and findings to its application in teaching (Castañón, 2009; Díaz, 2010; Galindo, 2014; Galindo and Pérez, 2015 and Lan, 2004).



Methodology used

This article investigates the work of 20 linguistic guidance sections in the media, it reviews the existing bibliography on the subject and makes an assessment after having carried out a documentary analysis.

This study material is described and defined on the basis of several sources of information: specific bibliographies (Castañón Rodríguez, 2008 and Giorgianni-Lavric, 2012), web sites such as, catalogues of specialised bookshops such as Librería Deportiva Esteban Sanz, online library sites such as the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF) and the Network of Libraries of the Instituto Cervantes (RBIC), as well as the catalogues of the Sports Library of the Catalan Sports Council (Consell Català de l”Esport), the Library of the Mexican Academy of Language, the Library of Congress of the United States, the Library of Congress of the Argentine Nation, the Library of the National Sports Council (Consejo Superior de Deportes), the Library of the FIFA World Football Museum, the National Library of Spain, the National Library of the Argentine Republic and the Olympic Studies Centre of Lausanne.

As an analysis technique, documentary analysis has been used.  This is understood as a group of operations that represents the contents of a document, in a different way from the original, for control, consultation and recovery of the information.  And it provides a brief description of their contents with references to thematic classifications and by countries of origin of the publication.




So far in the twenty-first century, the analysis of the state of the Spanish language in sport has generated two main foci: general and specialised.

 General focus

The first focus gave rise to three lines of work in which continuity has been maintained with the pessimistic view of the twentieth century on the good use of language, but there has also been a progression towards other points of view related with an emphasis on its successes and a knowledge of the history of its terms.

The first line of action is related to the general reflection and orientation towards a decorous use of the language performed by copy editors, linguists and translators.

From the last third of the twentieth century to date, this reflection has been performed by academics from Argentina (Peltzer, 2007 and Zorrilla, 1997 and 2004), Colombia (Briceño Jáuregui, 1987 and Samper, 2001 and 2002), Spain (Alarcos Llorach,1990; Alvar, 1992a, 1992b, 1992c and 1994; Álvarez de Miranda, 2008; Anson, 2009; Delibes, 1982 and 1989; García Yebra, 1987, 1988, 1992a, 1992b, 1994, 1999 and 2003; Lázaro Carreter, 1977, 1987, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996a, 1996b, 1997, 2002 and 2003; Lorenzo, 1980, 1987, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 2008; Pascual, 2013; Rodríguez Adrados, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1997 and 2008, Salvador, 2006, 2007a and 2007 b), the United States (Garrido Moraga, 1997) and Mexico (Moreno de Alba, 1992, 1996 and 2003).

This process shifted from the observations of linguists to their collaboration for the Olympic experiences of Mexico and Spain in 1968 and 1992, the consideration of sport as a source of neologisms at the 2nd International Congress of the Spanish Language in 2001 and the incorporation of numerous terminologies in 2005 in the Diccionario panhispánico de dudas. Furthermore, linguists, journalists and professionals of physical activity and sports collaborated in joint projects that studied the expressions of football with a historic or current focus, the presence of sports terms in colloquial language and the influence on Spanish of sports terms of foreign origin (Antón García 2006; Castañón Rodríguez, García Molina and Loza Olave 2005; Loza Olave and Castañón Rodríguez 2010 and Torrebadella Flix and Nomdedeu Rull, 2013).

Between 2001 and 2016, such linguists commented on the presence of sport in general language consultation works, they explained the meaning of the word sport and the names of various games, and described their main characteristics and errors at the phonic, grammatical and lexical levels. They highlighted the role of journalism in the deterioration and alteration of the language and demanded that the profession should apply a higher degree of rigor and attention to overcome the lack of culture or the excess of neologisms and foreign words and expressions, especially Anglicisms. They criticised the lack of knowledge of non-Latin alphabets, sexist uses of language, semantic confusions, impossible hybrids, the vacuous nature of sports discourse, numerous uses and abuses with incorrect and appropriate expressions of journalistic language, the formation of neologisms and the register of terms of foreign origin. They gave their view on words of a general nature, words relating to the Olympic Games and specific words for at least 68 sports and other physical activities: aerobics, chess, climbing, aqua gym, athletics, motor racing, aviation, badminton, basketball, handball, baseball, biathlon, bowls, boxing, camping, tempo running, hunting, cycling, cricket, croquet, bodybuilding, adventure sports, extreme sports, sports for the disabled, snow sports, fencing, skiing, hiking, football, futsal, gymnastics, keep-fit, go, golf, weightlifting, riding, hockey, judo, karate, wrestling, mountaineering, motorcycling, swimming, padel, pelota, pentathlon, fishing, petanque, polo, bungee jumping, regattas, rugby, trekking, squash, surfing, snowboarding, taekwondo, tennis, table tennis, shooting, clay-pigeon shooting, trial, triathlon, sailing, volleyball, beach volleyball, water polo and windsurfing (Alemán, 2011; Alvar Ezquerra, 2009; Alzugaray, 2004; Castañón Rodríguez, 1992, 1993, 1998, 2002, 2004, 2011, 2016a, 2016b and 2016c; Fundación del Español Urgente BBVA, 2015a and 2015b; Gallego Barbeyto, 2015 and 2016; García Romero, 2016; García Yebra, 2003; Garrido Nombela, 2016; Gómez Torrego, 2007; González, 2016; Gerding Salas et. al 2012; Guerrero Salazar, 2001, 2002a, 2005, 2006a, 2007; Guerrero Salazar and Núñez Cabezas, 2002; Gutiérrez Cuadrado, 2006; Irazusta, 2014; Lamela, 2008; Lavric et al., 2008; Lázaro Carreter, 1997 and 2004; López-Egea, 2016; Lorenzo, 2008; Marías, 2006 and 2012; Martinell, 2004; Navarrete, 2016; Navarro, 2016; Pascual, 2013; Puntoycoma, 2016b; Rebagliato Nadal, 2016; Rodríguez González 2007, 2012, 2013 and 2016; Sáez Godoy, 2004; Salvador, 2006, 2007a and 2007b; San Vicente, 2001; Sánchez Fajardo, 2016; Solivellas Aznar, 2016; Valeri Cobo, 2016; Various authors, 2013 and Vidal, 2016).

However, they were also able to identify its expressive discoveries, to exalt its creativity, gloss its contribution to raising the general cultural level and examine the possibilities of sport as a resource to offer a livelier image of the language associated with cultural aspects (Castañón Rodríguez, 1992, 1993, 1998, 2002, 2004, 2011, 2016a and 2016b; García Yebra, 2003; Gómez Font, 2006; Guerrero Salazar, 2007; Lázaro Carreter, 1997 and 2004; Lodares, 2004).

This general climate also saw the participation of linguistic services in Latin America such as Español Inmediato, Fundéu BBVA in Argentina or Fundéu México and general news journalists such as Álex Gijelmo and Julio Somoano. The former, director of the Agencia Efe news agency between 2004 and 2012, emphasised the creativity of sports language, its capacity to form neologisms, the expressiveness of its metaphors and he glossed different sports terms (Grijelmo, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2004a, 2004b and 2014). In La punta de la lengua he compiled the articles of the section published by the newspaper El Día de Valladolid together with other reflections. He presented 36 words related with terms of a general nature and specifically with athletics, basketball, boxing, cycling, extreme sports, football, golf, riding, motorcycling, swimming and padel. He commented on other phenomena such as the treatment given to names originating in other, non-Latin, alphabets, the use of prepositions, Anglicisms and Gallicisms, inappropriate lexical uses, words in dis-use and some disagreements with the Diccionario de la Lengua Española (Grijelmo, 2001). In Palabras moribundas, a section broadcast during the programme No es un día cualquiera on Radio Nacional de España, he compiled 9 sports terms, 4 of a general nature and 5 specifically relating to football (García Mouton and Grijelmo, 2011).

And the latter, director of the News Services of Televisión Española between 2012 and 2014, centred his attention regarding the world of sport on clichés, expressions of general use that contain errors or imprecisions and on the treatment received by foreign words and expressions, as well as on terms of a general nature and those related to nineteen sports: motor racing, basketball, handball, baseball, billiards, cycling, cricket, curling, skiing, football, golf, hockey, swimming, padel, skating, surfing, tennis, volleyball and water polo (Somoano, 2011, Somoano and Álvarez 2003).

The second line of action presented a sociological focus which, since the last third of the twentieth century, has analysed the incorrect public use of the language. Las perversiones de la lengua presented sports language as a sphere for special effects thanks to a dramatic form that transports us to the most primitive states of the human being, considering that journalistic language has recourse to emotions in headlines, hyperboles and metaphors… and commented on special uses of twelve non-sports terms in this sphere (Pastor 2001). El idioma españolSe habla español and Hablando pronto y mal concentrated on imprecision, the obscure nature of messages and contamination by the English language. The main criticisms aimed at sport included the transformations undergone by reflexive verbs such as “entrenarse” to train (oneself) and “entrenar” to train (others), foreign words and expressions, formation of plurals, turns of phrase, lexical inaccuracies, words relating to cycling, football and rugby and sports terms in colloquial language (Marcos-Marín and Miguel, 2009; Miguel 2002 and 2014).

This line of action was also present in three sections composed by general news journalists, sociologists and linguists. Thus, Unidad de Vigilancia, included in the programme La Ventana broadcast by Cadena Ser, considered whether journalistic sports language was destroying the language, after emphasising a case of gender formation, the use of clichés, Americanisms, a grammatical Anglicism, the presence of 12 football language expressions in political language and an analysis of the journalistic language of football with 125 expressions which can be broken down into 4 Anglicisms, 15 synonyms, 38 rhetoric wordplays and 68 words originating in spheres of agricultural, artistic, war, cinema, economic, geometric, musical and bullfighting language (Lafuente, 2014).  La Lengua Viva recorded in the newspaper Libertad Digital one word of a general nature and nine footballing terms including 2 incorrect words, 2 anonymous football words and another five expressions (Miguel, 2009). And Palabras al aire, broadcast on the radio stations Cadena COPE and EsRadio and the channel Libertad Digital TV, examined the cases of 1 use of sports terms in discussions and debates, 1 invented word, 1 unnecessary Anglicism in political language and 1 in the printed press, 3 errors in sports news in the celebrity gossip press and 1 on news programmes, 2 cases of lack of agreement and 1 case of problems with gender use, formation of the plural and 3 special uses of the present subjunctive, infinitive and badly conjugated verbs. And, above all, it centred its attention on 71 cases of turns of phrase, expressions originating in Latin, lexical imprecisions, errors in word formation with examples from the news relating to motor racing, handball, football, the Olympic Games, motorcycling and tennis (Fernández-Prieto, 2013).

Finally, the third line of action combined curiosities of the language, comments on errors and doubts and the etymological explanation of terms and sayings. This new centre of interest, in which sport was incorporated into works of a general historic nature, commented on terms common to various sports, the Olympic Games and words related to 18 specific sports: chess, athletics, basketball, boxing, greyhound racing, cycling, fencing, skiing, football, gymnastics, weightlifting, riding, karate, pentathlon, canoeing, tennis, triathlon and sailing (Alvar Ezquerra, 2014; Celdrán, 2006 and 2009; Ortega, 2014 and 2016; Soca, 2004, 2006 and 2009).

Specialised focus

Following the example of the section "Firma en Marca" in the 1996-1997 season, in which Fernando Lázaro Carreter and Gregorio Salvador favoured general reflection and guidance towards a proper use of the language, copy editors, linguists and translators continued their descriptive work on use in the twenty-first century.

Sports communication created its specialised sections on linguistic guidance after the implementation of specific training at universities from the year 2000 by means of conferences, summer courses, optional subjects, expert and master”s degrees. It has been a constant process of growth which has been reflected in the exaltation of sports journalism, the reflection of its expressive forms, its economic dimension, the preparation of terminology for the Olympic Games and analysis by special editions of linguistic publications such as Donde dice…, and Puntoycoma, by the virtual weekly newspapers of the  Centro de Estudios Olímpicos José Benjamín Zubiaur, the summer course El deporte en la radio: lenguaje y formatos at the Complutense University of Madrid and the Seminario Internacional Lengua y Periodismo. These courses have benefitted from the participation of authors from Argentina, Brazil, Spain, the United States, Mexico and Puerto Rico (Alcoba, 2005; Asociación Nacional de Investigadores de la Comunicación, 2004; Associated Press, 2015; Barbeiro and Rangel, 2006; Bocos, 2009; Canal 13, 2005; Castañón Rodríguez, 2016a and 2016b; Centro de Estudios Olímpicos José Benjamín Zubiaur, 2001a, 2001b, 2002 and 2003; Comunicación y Estudios Universitarios, 2004; Cutropía et al., 2015; Fundación del Español Urgente BBVA, 2007 and 2012; Fundación San Millán de la Cogolla and Fundación del Español Urgente BBVA, 29012; Gil, 2004; Marín Montín, 2005, 2009 and 2012; Marrero, 2010; Paniagua Santamaría, 2009; Puntoycoma, 2016; Rengel, 2004; Revista Digital Universitaria, 2005; Rivera, 2001 and 2010; Rojas, 2005 and 2011; Villas, 2005).

This process also included at least 85 university research studies that centred their attention on the general characteristics of journalistic language, the preparation of style manuals, the treatment of women and monographic studies on the Olympic Games, basketball, baseball, cycling and football prepared in 18 countries: Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Spain, the United States, France, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and Venezuela.

This is an era that gave rise to specific sections by copy editors, comedians and journalists. A brief description in chronological order is formed by at least thirteen.

El español en el deporte, from Brazil and Uruguay, centred its interest on eleven aspects: the description of the current state of the language in the field of sport and culture generated in Spanish, the provision of lexical resources with basic terms, guidance on technical words and expressions, equivalences in Spanish of foreign words and expressions and correspondences between various languages, an explanation of the keys of the historical evolution of the Spanish language of sport at the level of dissemination, literary samples, a newsstand of sports publications arranged by country, reviews of reference books for translation, graphic and literary humour with a sports theme, reviews of best-sellers and comments on sports works by members of the Royal Spanish Academy.

Palabras mayores presented the view of linguists, teachers and journalists on 174 sports expressions between 2001 and 2013 on the portal (Rengel, 2001-2013).

Literatura y Lingüística del deporte provided links to contents on the current state of sports language and to bibliographic resources for the study of language and literature on the platform Comunidad Virtual Ciencias del Deporte (Castañón Rodríguez, 2002-2016).

La cárcel de papel y de las ondas del lenguaje futbolístico analysed 41 football expressions originating in journalistic language (Pgarcia, 2004-2009).

Libro de estilo del periodismo deportivo was a section of the programme Periodistas Fútbol Club, broadcast by the television channel La Sexta, which reviewed errors and mistakes of current journalistic language (Mateo, 2010).

Palabras en juego developed four main thematic lines: sports practice, culture, the journalistic language of the media and comments on social aspects associated with sport. It broadcast 1,673 terms on 66 sports specialities. It disseminated the work of dictionaries, institutional views and literary production. It described 16 features of journalistic language. It glossed the linguistic contributions of ten American and European communications media. And it drew attention to various social aspects: university sport, sports documentation and news, language learning and education, medical language, political language, tourism, associated violence and gaming and betting (Castañón Rodríguez, 2005-2008).

Hinchas del idioma explained briefly the curiosity or error contained in expressions of sports language, providing an alternative expression to favour better use of the language, and it reminded sports journalists to promote correct use of the language with a brief glossary of its special contributions. It recorded more than a hundred expressions on general and specific matters regarding 29 sports: aerobics, chess, martial arts, motor racing, basketball, baseball, boxing, cycling, extreme sports, artificial climbing, fencing, American football, football, gymnastics, golf, riding, hockey, motor cycling, mushing, swimming, rugby, squash, snowboarding, tennis, archery, shooting, volleyball, water polo and windsurfing (Castañón Rodríguez, 2009-2012).

Idioma del deporte commented on the errors of journalistic sports language in Honduras (Castillo, 2009-2010).

La liga BBVA del español urgente, of the Fundación del Español Urgente BBVA, compiled 250 footballing turns of phrase and expressions presented in a format of chronicles, knowledge pills and linguistic games in order to unite the cultural heritage of football and language (González Barbeyto, 2015).

Deporte con estilo offered a dissertation on eponyms, multi-sports expressions, foreign words and expressions, false synonyms, names for the inhabitants of different places, inappropriate lexical uses, false friends and other errors, medical language, linguistic juggling, names of countries, linguistic sexism, toponyms and terminology relating to high-level Olympic competition, basketball, football and sailing as well as an analysis of the concept of minority sport (Rojas, 2014-2016).

El deporte del lenguaje described on Avance Deportivo Radio and Radio 4G Málaga the play of sports terms in the stadiums of Olympic and Paralympic competition, the field of communication, American uses, the leap taken by sports expressions to become installed in avenues and streets with colloquial language and the terminology of general words related with Paralympic sports, emerging sports and instructed activities, as well as specific terms from 37 sports: climbing, athletics, badminton, basketball, handball, baseball, biathlon, billiards, bobsleigh, boccia, boxing, cycling, fencing, skiing, 7-a-side football, footgolf, goalball, weightlifting, ice hockey, judo, luge, motorcycling, para-triathlon, skating, modern pentathlon, canoeing, rugby, skeleton, snowboard, squash, tennis, table tennis, archery, shooting, sailing, water polo (Castañón Rodríguez, 2014-2015 and 2015-2016).

Erratas de campo reviewed general elements of copy editing applied to the world of sport, relating to adverbs, terms of a general nature and Olympic words (Rodríguez Peleteiro, 2016).

Con la lengua fuera glossed general errors which also appear in the language of football, aspects of morphology and three words of a general nature centred on football (Grijelmo, 2016).




Various conclusions can be drawn from the analysis of all the above information.

First, sport configures a sphere of language that is full of constant challenges and opportunities since it is in a permanent state of flux and change.

Second, it constitutes a matter of interest characterised by a wide geographical extension, since the reflection on sports language in the twenty-first century has covered, with a general and specific focus, at least 25 different countries of which thirteen are American (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, the United States, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Venezuela) and twelve belong to Europe (Germany, Austria, Belgium, Spain, France, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland).

Third, its most prominent theme is the evolution from a general focus inherited from the twentieth century towards the view of specific sections in the twenty-first century. Thus, the general focus offers several marked trends: guidance on correct use, the repetition of arguments, a concentration of topics on elite sports with the Olympic Games, high-level federated sports competitions and motor sports with economic profitability and an absence of contexts that take into account all the agents that intervene in sport: players, journalists, the media, fans… And from the second decade of the twenty-first century, the specialised focus paved the way for comments on the Winter Olympic Games, Paralympic sport, instructed activities and the list of new sports that combine physical activity with music, videos, technology and robotics.

Fourth, on few occasions has an analysis been made of the influence of more than thirty languages on Spanish and the uses of Spanish on both sides of the Atlantic, to concentrate on the description of the linguistic use given in the country of origin of each author.

And fifth, there is a tendency to confuse the quality of journalism with cultured linguistic uses, when the great capacity of sports language to reach its target resides in its being a sphere for participation with no exclusions which must include the presence of the different registers and variants of Spanish.

In short, the growth of sport in the sphere of the Spanish language has been accompanied by an increase in the study of its expressive forms and the twenty-first century has opened new paths for its reflection.

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