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The international game needs a shared vocabulary

What is Japanese for “ruck”? Averil Coxhead explains how to turn the technical terms of rugby into an international language.

The winter rugby season is well underway, with pitches and sidelines resonating with the unique language of the game. Learning this vocabulary is done by playing and talking about the game, regardless of whether the players are at Taranaki, Twickenham , Tonga or Tokyo.

If you know the terms – back, penalty, interception, front line, scrum, cleanup, advantage line, ruck, offload, tie, loosies and so on – chances are you’re a rugby fan, one player or both.

Spare a thought now for these players, coaches and administrators practicing their profession in a foreign language country. They must be able to communicate on a technical level with other coaches, captains, referees, teammates and possibly even the media.

The language of rugby is mostly spoken. It is mainly used in training sessions, during warm-ups and matches, in locker rooms, in TV or radio commentary, in homes, workplaces and even in a pub after the game.

But learning a language by speaking it, especially in pressure cooker situations such as training or a game, can be very stressful. Knowing the difference between a ‘loosie’ (forward loose) and a reference to the ball being ‘loose’ may seem like Rugby 101 to aficionados, but games are played at high speed and spoken language is also changing rapidly.

One way to reduce this stress is to have a shared vocabulary of key words and phrases that everyone can learn and know in advance – and that was the goal of our research.

We have set out to establish the words and phrases commonly used in rugby in English. The aim is to create lists of technical words to help native and non-native English speakers prepare to play, coach and talk about rugby in foreign environments.

The game of rugby originated in England, so it stands to reason that the first language of rugby is English. But since the game turned professional in 1995, there has been a huge increase in the number of players and coaches moving between English-speaking countries and places like Japan and France, with their lucrative top-level competitions. .

With a World Cup every four years and millions of people playing at different levels, rugby is a truly international sport – and it’s growing. A common rugby language should facilitate mobility within the international game.

To create our rugby wordlist, we used recordings of real rugby team interactions and TV commentary. From these we identified words that appeared more often in rugby than in general English.

Three experts with over 50 years of combined rugby experience then checked the meaning of the words and confirmed those that are technical in rugby, such as ‘loosie’, ‘ruck’, ‘maul’ and ‘prop’.

The same procedure was followed for phrases with a technical meaning, such as “swing it away”, “clean out” and “advantage line”.

The resulting “rugby word list” contains 252 technical words and 267 technical phrases. This vocabulary makes up around 12% of all the words in our original rugby recordings, which means around one in 10 words is technical.

We found six unique rugby words: scrum, lineout, ruck, loosehead, loosies and tighties (the five main attackers in a scrum).

84 other words are used in rugby but also have a general meaning in English – for example, ‘advantage’, ‘conversion’, ‘drill’ and ‘try’. Because people may assume they already know the word, these can pose a learning challenge. The rugby context requires an understanding of aspects of the game and the use of technical English vocabulary.

The list also contains a large number of words used in rugby and general English with the same meaning, such as ‘referee’, ‘kick’, ‘ground’ and ‘substitute’.

Sentences were first identified by finding the central or root structure – i.e. the strings of words that appeared most often, such as ‘bench line’, ‘hit’ and ‘the ball’ .

The next step was to identify the words that appeared regularly before or after the basic structures. For example, words that may appear before “the ball” include “over”, “off”, “on to”, and “with”. For “ad line”, the preceding word is often “plus”, and “hit” often appears as “hit by”.

The resulting list can be used by rugby players and coaches, but also by people new to the game.

Those planning to play or coach rugby in English or non-English speaking countries can use the list as a way to structure their learning of these technical terms in the new language – be it French, Japanese or Spanish. or English itself.

Specialist language courses for rugby players and coaches can be developed using the list to ensure they learn the vocabulary they are most likely to encounter in the context of rugby.

The list is used as a basis for the development of an application and is being translated into Japanese. This is a big undertaking requiring bilingual speakers with in-depth knowledge of the game, but we hope other languages ​​will follow.

The resource will be useful for the ever-growing number of players wishing to play overseas and should help establish a common language in an already international game. —theconversation.com

Averil Coxhead is Professor of Applied Linguistics and TESOL at Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington. Stuart Benson is a co-author and avid rugby player whose research formed the basis of the Rugby Word List.