For real soccer fans, the upcoming World Cup in Brazil will be the highlight of the past four years. On top of that, many lukewarm supporters will surely soon discover that they are, in fact, true sports fans. But even those who consider it entirely pointless to watch 22 people running after a ball for how-long-was-it-again will find it difficult to entirely escape the frenzy that is sure to come after the kickoff of the opening match, between Brazil and Croatia, on June 13, 5 a.m. Japanese time. So let’s make the best of it and have a look at the Japanese language of soccer.

The first thing to note is that the world of soccer is a world of English loanwords. Best example: the term sakkā (サッカー, soccer) itself. Though there is also shūkyū (蹴球), a combination of the two characters “kick” and “ball,” this one is far less common and, unlike its lexical kin yakyū (野球, baseball), never really took root. The upcoming grand event is called sakkā wārudo kappu, same as the English Soccer World Cup but with Japanese pronunciation rules in effect. Incidentally, there are various ways of writing this term, including the katakana string ワールドカップ and the katakana-kanji compound ワールド杯. As “World” may also be acronymed into “W”, this gives us two additional spellings, Wカップ and W杯. All four versions can be — and frequently are — pronounced sakkā wārudo kappu, so be sure not to talk about the daburyū kappu or something.

A study published a few years ago analyzed the number and frequency of loan words during NHK’s live commentaries of the 2006 Soccer World Cup in Germany. The commentaries of five matches were examined, and found to contain no less than 477 different loanwords, mentioned a total of 3,918 times in the speech of the commentators. The No. 1 item, perhaps not entirely surprisingly, was bōru (ボール, ball). It occurred as an independent word 233 times during the five matches, plus another 77 times in combination with a country name, for example, Aruzenchin bōru (アルゼンチンボール, ball for Argentina).

People who play soccer themselves may also frequently come across the expression mai bōru (マイボール), or just maibō (マイボー), which is used to indicate that one’s own team is to get the following throw-in, goal kick or corner kick. The opposite situation is aite bōru (相手ボール) or sotchi bōru (そっちボール), ball for the other team.

Other loanwords frequently mentioned in the speech of the NHK commentators were: difensu (ディフェンス, defense), fāru (ファール, foul), shūto (シュート, shoot), saido (サイド, side), furī kikku (フリーキック, free kick), gōru kikku (ゴールキック, goal kick) and kōnā kikku (コーナーキック, corner kick), reddo and ierō kādo (レッド・イエローカード, red/yellow card), kīpā (キーパー, keeper), kauntā (カウンター, counter) and, of course, gōru (ゴール, goal). Also of note is the term rosu taimu (ロスタイム, “loss time”), a made-in-Japan loanword for additional or injury time.

With this flood of katakana words, we must not forget that there are also many important soccer terms that are not loanwords. Scoring a goal, for instance, is usually called (toku) ten wo ireru (得点を入れる, literally “put in a point”). It’s not gōru wo sukoa suru (ゴールをスコアする), though as two of my young informants would insist, gōru wo ireru (コールを入れる) is also possible.

A shiai (試合, match) is divided into zenhan (前半, first half) and kōhan (後半, second half), and after that there may be enchō jikan (延長時間, extra time). Also referred to entirely using Japanese vocabulary are the people who make it all happen: the senshu (選手, players), their kantoku (監督, coach), the shinpan (審判, referee) and the two senshin (線審, linesmen). Two other important words, referring to actions that may have a potential bearing on the relationship between the above mentioned individuals, are kōtai (交替, be substituted) and taijō (退場, be sent off).

Particularly intriguing are combinations of katakana and kanji words. Examples from the NHK survey include gōru mae (ゴール前, in front of the goal) and toppu shita (トップ下, player behind the striker), both of which combine a borrowed first part with a native second part.

The reverse combination is at least as frequent, including kesshō tōnamento (決勝トーナメント, the final 16), to which Japan will hopefully advance, and PK sen (PK戦, penalty shootout), in which Japan will hopefully carry the day. And of course there’s Zakku kantoku (ザック監督), which now seems to be the standard way of referring to Japan’s Italian head coach, Alberto Zaccheroni.

We wish him and his team, Zakku Japan (ザックジャパン), the best of luck for the next couple of weeks, starting with the Kōtojibowāru-sen (コートジボワール戦, match against Cote d’Ivoire) on June 15, 10 a.m. Japanese time.

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