The research team here at Cambridge have been following the language used during the World Cup closely and can reveal the top words and themes to come from this year’s tournament, including underdogs and the ‘Curse of the Holder‘. For the first time this year, our research into the language of sport also included an open call to fans to give us their own views on the national teams taking part. This resulted in ‘young’ England, Argentina’s ‘Messi’ and ‘diving’ Brazil all featuring heavily in the People’s Corpus.
On Sunday, the ‘formidable‘ France claimed victory over the ‘dark-horse’ Croatian team to become the winners of the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ in Russia. But which teams came out on top in the media? Building on similar research conducted during the 2014 World Cup, our researchers mined over 12 million words of media coverage, to analyse the language used when discussing the various teams over the course of this year’s tournament. Comparison with the language collected in 2014 shows that, whilst traditionally successful teams such as Brazil have gone from ‘stylish’ to ‘nervous’ and Argentina from having ‘flair’ to ‘struggling’, World Cup 2018 underdogs such as England have gone from being ‘inexperienced’ to ‘confident’.
Key themes from this year’s World Cup
There has been no shortage of surprises during this year’s competition, and this shines through in the language data. Expressions such as ‘premature exit’ reflect that several of the predicted favourites haven’t fared as well as expected, with the odd ‘unforgivable blunder’ making an appearance, too.
The data reflects that several teams have defied expectations – the word ‘underdogs’ features frequently in media reports, along with related language like ‘plucky’, ‘determined’, and ‘punch above their weight’ also making an appearance.
As fans ‘root‘ for their home teams, the verb ‘overcome‘ is commonly found alongside words such as ‘obstacles’, ‘hurdles‘ and ‘adversity‘. Even England’s long-standing ‘penalty curse‘ has been ‘overcome‘, whereas previous champions Germany fell victim to the ‘curse of the holders‘.
Despite the introduction Video Assisted Referee (VAR) technology for the first time, bad behaviour still abounds; the word ‘histrionics’ is prominent in the data across the media and the with the fans – often found alongside adjectives such as ‘ridiculous‘, ‘headline-grabbing‘, and ‘amateurish‘. Thanks to the particularly dramatic moves from a forward on the Brazil nation team, a new term has even been coined: ‘neymaresque’.
Top 3 words per team
As well as analysing the language used by journalists and media commentators, we’ve been asking fans to submit the words they would use to describe their national teams.
It’s been great to see the correlation between the language used by the media and the descriptive words submitted by football fans. We’ve combined these two datasets to select the three words most strongly associated with each team!
Find out how you can bring sport psychology into the language learning classroom by checking out this article by Christine Muir.