April 28, 2010

Football (or is it soccer?) in nine and a half languages

On Monday we created a map illustrating the geography of virtual references to the words "football" and "soccer". In today's post, we've added eight more languages into the mix: German, Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Thai and Chinese. The map below visualizes which of these various ways of referring to "football" are most visible at any particular location in the Google Maps database.
What struck us most was how the map reproduces expected patterns (based on language groups) with very few exceptions: most points in Korea reference the Korean word for football more than the same word in any other language. The same thing is true in Japan, Thailand, Brazil/Portugal and every other country associated with the languages that we conducted this batch of searches in.

Ultimately, Australia wins the prize for having the most homogeneous footballing cyberscape. There is only one place in the country with a reference to football in a language other than English: A reference to Fussball (German) somewhere around the vicinity of Alpine National Park in Victoria. Perhaps there is some sort of odd colony of football playing Germans (is there any other kind?) in this National Park (would any Aussie readers mind checking up on this for us?).

Sweden and Poland are interesting cases: a diverse mix of references to the sport in English (both "football" and "soccer"), German and Spanish, with a small smattering of Dutch and Portuguese. Of course, if we had searched in Swedish or Polish the results would likely have been otherwise.

English appears to be the dominant language for references to the sport in most parts of the world with no direct connection to one of the languages in which we conducted the search (e.g. in Iran, Finland and Russia). We should also point out the the French word for football is "football," so it is difficult to distinguish between references made in English and French using this keyword.

This map is about more than just a sport. We are interested in using this method to study and map cyberscapes in a range of languages. This map was just a first step to test some of the boundaries of the method. We will eventually be mapping a range of other terms in a lot more languages in the near future. Suggestions are welcome.

p.s. This may be a dagger in the heart of many calcio loving Italians, but despite having won the World Cup four times we simply forgot to do a search in your language. Ci scusiamo. We don't know what we were thinking.


  1. Requested Aussie reader checking in. The reference you have highlighted to "Fuss ball" is indeed in the Victorian highlands. It's describing some guest activities at the lodge in question.

    I'm not sure whether the site has it spelled correctly, but the game in question is table soccer and pronounced "fooze-ball" by us locals. The page even has "Table soccer" in brackets just after the reference, in case of any confusion. I'm sure the game is well known, two players control a soccer team with a series of handles that spin and slide on the table.

  2. You might also consider that all that "football" in the US is referring to a different game.

  3. well in malaysia in english we call it football too! but in our native language which is Bahasa Malaysia its called Bola Sepak which directly translated as Ball Kicking! just wanted to share!


  4. most irish people call it soccer. as football usually refers to the native sport of gaelic football

  5. Hello ... need to point out the 'football' term in Australia is used to reference 2 codes of football. NRL and AFL, both played with an oval ball, NRL is like Rugby but better = ) and AFL is like Gaellic Football. The true round ball game is called Soccer in Australia and since AFL and NRL are the 2 biggest leagues it would outrank any word associated scan in the country.

  6. Adding on to what Ken Moneith said, the term "football" in the United States has a completely different meaning from what other countries refer "football" as. As a U.S resident in the United States, I personally find a distaste at this differentiation of term usages, simply because of the confusion it creates when referring to either the football (soccer) or the football (American Football (NFL)). But I think that the main problem lies within the proud spirits of the American people. We tend to take a term "football" and completely match it up with a sport that doesn't quite fit well to the name it has, and name the original sport matched with the name a completely different word.For example simply taking the term "football", the term is composed of "foot" and "ball". But Americans relate it to the football involving a quarterback, wide receiver, etc. which primarly uses the hands and pure brute strenght. So while it makes sense that "football" should relate to something that requires more feet and "foot" with a "ball", Americans give that sport the term soccer. So in general, what should the term "football" relate to? I personally think that the term "football" should pertain to soccer, and the other "football" a completely different word.... like Handball..... or American ball....


  7. your blog is pretty interesting. i will always be a soccer lover though :)
    check out my blog!


  8. interessante seu blog, qqr coisa visite o meu

  9. Another Aussie Reader:
    the Fussball is also from the fact that Germans did settle there and still have a very strong language base in many south australian areas. My cousin-in-laws parents still have very traditional german roots and speak more of a pidgin german as it is what the language has evolved too.

  10. is fussball not the table variety played on a foozball table here in SA we call table football
    foozball "fussball"LOL I could ofcourse be mistaken and it could just be a slang term used by South Africans.

  11. @Ayns, @Gizzmoid: Interesting about south Australia having a strong German heritage. I wonder what we are picking up then. Germans talking about playing soccer, or English speaking Australians who are really into table football, or perhaps just lots of both.

    Thanks for the comments.

  12. A lot of Americans insist on the word "football" for "soccer". The word "soccer" was common in Britain (and invented there) until they got self-conscious (again) about their special relationship with the states.

    I use the terms "gridiron Football" and "global Football" to distinguish them.

    Argentina's Football association still uses the English spelling. Or am I out of date?

  13. you could try to use the word "I" in several languages, in portuguese it is "Eu". I must say, disapointed with my Brazil. :P

  14. Fusz(Fuss) Balls would be testicles to Hungarians. V is an F sound in some dialects in Dutch. oe is like an รถ letter. Football is proper though, just stolen by unimaginative people with a new game to push that use feet less.


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