The World Cup in Languages

2014-brazil-world-cup-flag

Introduction

This is a blog about law and maths. It set out to be about mathematical law, but that got mainly sidetracked by the LAA and all the nonsense coming out of the MoJ (and that’s a whole lot of nonsense). It’s most certainly never been a blog about football. But, as I pointed out on twitter, I earned more on betting on the world cup than I did from legal aid in five straight days last week. Whilst I would like to claim that this was due to my incredible sporting prowess and deep knowledge of the beautiful game, it’s more to do with the dire rates of pay for legal aid work, but hey.

So anyway. Everyone else is writing about football, so why can’t I?

 

Table 

The ten most widely spoken native languages in the world are:

  1. Mandarin
  2. Spanish
  3. English
  4. Hindi
  5. Arabic
  6. Portuguese
  7. Bengali
  8. Russian
  9. Japanese
  10. Punjabi

How well are those represented at the World Cup? I was idly wondering how different languages were doing whilst watching the Belgium v Russia game (it wasn’t a classic) and it wasn’t a topic that popped up on a google search, so I thought I’d have a look at it myself.

Looking at the 32 teams in the Group stages and the 16 In the second round, the official languages of the countries break down as follows :

Language

Number of Teams –

Group Stage

Number in second round

Spanish

9

6

English

6

2

French

5

2

German

3

3

Dutch

2

2

Portugese

2

1

Italian

2

1

Croatian

2

0

Greek

1

1

Arabic

1

1

Romanasch

1

1

Farsi

1

0

Bosnian

1

0

Serbian

1

0

Japanese

1

0

Russian

1

0

Korean

1

0

Note :

  • Cameroon has two official languages, Belgium and Bosnia have three, and Switzerland is just greedy with a whopping four, which skews the figures slightly.
  • England and the USA don’t have an official language, but I’ll put them down in the ‘English’ column.

What does this all mean? Absolutely nothing of course. But as someone who is not qualified to talk about either sports or statistics, here are my thoughts :

 

Thoughts

  • In the second round we have English, but not England. Portuguese, but not Portugal. Italian, but not Italy. And Spanish, but not Spain. Is this the death of the old order? The answer is ‘no’, but never let that stop you from guessing
  • English speaking teams fared particularly badly with two thirds going home. Anyone surprised?
  • Of even less surprise, German speaking countries are particularly good – all three going through to the second round.
  • Even more impressively, of the six countries in the world where German is an official language, a full half of these are in the last 16. Of the three that aren’t at Brazil there is Austria which, although it has only the population of London, is at least a proper footballing country. The other two are Luxembourg (never qualified and never will) and Lichtenstein (it’s not even a proper country is it?). Is there something about speaking German that correlates with being good at football? Insert your own vaguely offensive joke about German efficiency/grammar etc
  • The top ten languages account for just under half of the worlds population (3.1 billion out of about 7.1 billion) and the six languages that were represented at the Group stage languages is about half of that (1.55 billion). In the second stage we have lost two of those (Russian and Japanese)
  • The 32 countries at the World Cup represented 17 different languages. As the first 16 go home, we have lost 7 languages. That still leaves 10 going into the second round.
  • Given that 20% of those left are represented by Switzerland (also about the population of London) who are up against Argentina, this may go down rapidly. Add in the fact that two English speaking countries have tough games (Nigerial will struggle against France and USA are the underdogs in theirs) as does Greece, and Algeria has no chance, we could lose half the languages with half the teams that go out this round.
  • Spanish is (unsurprisingly) both the most common language (9 teams, down to 6), and the most widely spoken (405 million or 6.15% of the world). Romanasch, spoken by 35,000 as a native language (basically 0% of the world’s population) is the smallest language represented

 

Conclusion

I always enjoy the World Cup and I find languages fascinating, so it’s nice to put the two together. This does show how under-represented Asia and Arabic speaking countries are in the World Cup (which is obviously something we already knew).

Received wisdom is that it will be an African team that wins the World Cup before an Asian, and that must be right. But as to who will be the first team to break the Euro-South American monopoly? I have a sneaky suspicion it may be the USA. Controversial, but consider this : they were a joke in 94 and pretty much in 98 (although USA v Iran was a highlight of that tournament, it was for other reasons), but are now a respectable outfit. A good rule for life is ‘follow the money’ – football is the biggest sport, financially world wide, and as it gains respectability in the US, those teenagers who are good at sport are more likely to go into it (although I’m not sure how much of an increase there has been, or is likely to be, with soccer scholarships which may be a relevant factor). Add in a large population of immigrants from soccer playing countries, and the USA’s rise is likely to continue.

Anyone fancy a wager? How about this. The next English speaking team to lift the World Cup won’t be England, it won’t even be Ghana, Cameroon or Nigeria. It will be the USA … remember. You heard it here first.

 

China Daily

China Daily

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