ELF7 soundbites: The only truly global languages


ELF7logoThis is the third in a series of mini-posts featuring “soundbites” from the 7th Annual Conference of English as a Lingua Franca, held from 4-6 September 2014 in Athens, Greece.

The aim of this series of posts is to give a flavour of the breadth of topics covered at the conference and simply to share some of the ideas, words and moments which made this year a memorable one for me.

Soundbite #3: Gunnar Bergh

“English is the lingua franca of modern football!”

Professor Gunnar Bergh gave one of the presentations I enjoyed most at the conference.  It may not seem immediately obvious how a presentation on football would turn up in an academic linguistics conference, but in fact, such conferences often cover an incredibly diverse array of topics, since language is linked to pretty much everything!   So, alongside presentations on business English teaching, discourse analysis, language testing and so on was Gunnar Bergh’s talk – all about how English words are borrowed and/or translated into other languages to become part of their football lexicon.

Gunnar gave examples of direct borrowings, i.e. English words which are used in other languages, like “offside”, “forward” or others, and of indirect borrowings, i.e. English words for which other-language translations are used instead of the English word (e.g. German “Ecke” or Norwegian “hjørne” as opposed to English “corner”).

I hope he will not mind my reproducing a slide from his presentation here (and I apologise for the poor image quality!):

summary of results

Aside from being an interesting presentation in itself, I found myself thinking about my own classrooms and how students could discuss the influence of English vocabulary in their own languages.  (And if they’re not interested in football, we could of course select a different subject!)  Related points for discussion could be:

  • how the students feel about the influence of English on other languages’ vocabulary
  • how certain words would be pronounced when borrowed between languages (e.g. how would they say “corner” – with the /r/ clearly articulated or without? with different syllable stress to L1 English speakers? etc.)
  • any words they use in their professional domains which originally come from a particular language but which are used by all speakers in their company/field because they are widely understood

Gunnar concluded his presentation with this amusing quotation from Sir Bobby Charlton, which I borrowed for the title of this mini blog post:

“Football and English are the only truly global languages.”

gunnarGunnar Bergh is Head of the Department of Languages and Literatures at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.  He has published numerous articles on the use of English in football (soccer) – click on his name to be redirected to a list from his university profile.



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