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Translation and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Without any doubt, each World Cup is an event that fires up passions and moves multitudes across the world. And even though it’s a sport known in almost every country, with common rules understood by all, it presents an endless list of linguistic and cultural considerations that we must not overlook, all the less so given the imminent start of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Thus, the translation of a soccer-related text is not free from certain “traps” and “obstacles” that must be considered when delving into a project in order to achieve the desired quality.

Although English has been the dominant language in soccer (in fact, in Spanish you’ll still hear “orsay,” from offside, and “referí,” from referee), in Spanish, most vocabulary used today comes from Greek and Latin, such as “portarius” (“portero”in Spanish, goalie), “arbitrus”(“árbitro”in Spanish, referee), or “caespes” (“césped,” grass/turf). Of course, the terminology of this sport is coined and adjusted by each country of origin. In fact, with its expansion to South America, soccer has received constant contributions from countries like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, where thousands upon thousands of soccer fans are found. Thus, we may come across expressions such as “gambeteador” (“one who dribbles well”) to refer to a skillful or talented player; “maracanazo” (“the upset at the Maracana,” in which Uruguay defeated hosts Brazil in the Maracana Stadium in 1950) to refer to surprising results; or “pasto” (“grass”) to refer to the playing field.

It’s also not strange to come across foreignisms and calques in the world of soccer. We might mention by way of example, again in Spanish, “guardameta,” which comes from the English “goalkeeper,” or “farolillo rojo,” which comes from the French “lanterne rouge” (“red lantern”) when speaking about a team that is at the bottom of the rankings. Foreignisms in Spanish include the use of “corner” in reference to a corner kick, “escuadra,” (from the Italian “squadra,” meaning “team”), or “linesman” in reference to the referee on the sidelines.

On the other hand, the language of soccer is loaded with metaphors, popular sayings, idioms, etc. In Spanish, we can cite for example the phrases “abrir la cuenta en el marcador,” translated somewhat literally as “to start the count on the scoreboard,” which is used when the first goal is scored in a match; “peinar la pelota,” which literally means “to comb the ball” and is used when the ball is lightly headed; or “tener hambre de gol,” meaning “to hunger for goals,” used in reference to a team that wants to score a lot of goals.

Another phenomenon inherent to this language is the existence of synonyms, i.e. different terms to define the same concept. Again in Spanish, for “referee” there are the words “árbitro,” “juez” and “referí,” while for “goalie” there are “portero,” “arquero” or “guardameta.”

We can therefore see that soccer and its terminology are not free from various linguistic and cultural considerations. As translators, overlooking all these particularities could leave us on the sidelines of an in-demand market that is constantly growing and which transcends the barriers of sports to reach diverse aspects of social life. To that effect, and for those of us who love the art of translation, let’s avoid seeing the “red card” from our clients and let’s hit the field with, as they’d say in Spanish, “olfato de goleador,” meaning the “sense of smell of a goal scorer.” It’ll be a guarantee of success.