Language investigation


This language investigation examines the effect of texts on social values, and how they may contribute to maintaining or changing values. The texts under study are evolving over time, as seen in a football sport blog, on the European champions’ league.

This language investigation looks at various functional features of language, including semantics, lexis, grammar and discourse structure, of a blog written as the football club of Manchester united progresses from the quarter final of the champions’ league, to the semi final, and eventually reaching the final against Barcelona.

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This investigation attempts to identify patterns in the texts for each context, and how they are likely to be received by the audience, in terms of creating a visual picture of the action, whether from memory or imagination.[1]

Sport blogs have various characteristics that pull people to read them, and it is the duty of the blogger to make it memorable for people who may have missed the action, and at times, make them want to watch the match, even if it is a second time.[2]


The investigation material was obtained directly from internet sources; the BBC sports page. Since the web pages were accessible to the public without the need for a subscription or login details, the investigation could continue unhindered. The material available from the three web pages is sufficient to obtain a good comparison of the events, as the matches progressed to higher levels, and as the pressure mounted on the players.

The process of investigation included examining the following: the number of words on each match on the blog; the commonly used words and phrases in commentary; the number of instances of play-by-play commentary; the number of instances of colour adding in the commentary; the words used to describe the most mentioned players in the games; the number of words related to the game of football; and the number of instances when the team managers were identified to contribute significantly to the outcome of the matches.

Data and Analysis

The first task was to find out the number of words for each match, using Microsoft Word. In the quarter final game between Manchester United and Chelsea, McNulty used 744 words in his game review. He used 786 words in the semi final game between Manchester United and Schalke, and 985 words in the final game between Barcelona and Manchester United.

The results indicated an increasing number of words as the matches progressed towards the finals. This could be attributed to the increasing intensity of the game. In the quarter finals and semi finals, there were more shots towards the goal, and more fouls, which indicated accessibility of the ball to both teams.

The final game can be said to have been more intense, since there were fewer fouls and shots towards the goal, indicating the dominance of a particular team. This is reflected on the uneven distribution of the ball, indicated by the high ball possession by the victor, Barcelona. Barcelona had a ball possession of 68% against Manchester United’s 32%.[3]

McNulty made frequent use of the words”time and space” to signify a perfect chance for an inevitable goal.[4] He used this phrase once in the finals, when referring to the strong defence put up by Manchester United, which tells the reader that the goals by Barcelona were not by fluke, but well earned.[5]

He also used the phrase in the semi final game, when Schalke found an opportunity to score a consolation goal. The use of the phrase “time and space” in the quarter finals indicated the error in the Chelsea defence, that allowed Man Utd to score against them.[6]

In the football blogs, McNulty made use of play-by-play narration of the match, as well as colour adding commentary. The play-by-play method describes the events that happen in sequence, in an actual game, while colour-adding refers to the “pre-event background, post-event evaluation, and within-event interpretation”.[7]

McNulty used play-by-play narration to describe the movement of the ball as it is passed from one player to the next, until the back of the net in two instances in the quarterfinal match. He combined this with colour adding, when he referred to the goal scorer as “predatory Hernandez”, to show the determination of the strikers, and the accurate play.[8]

In the semi-final game, McNulty used mostly colour-adding when interpreting the goals by the strikers, as the ball got past the goal keeper. Such an instance is when Anderson was said to “roll the ball into an empty net” after a pass from Berbatov.[9] It is likely that McNulty used this style to express the occurrences, since the goals appeared to enter with ease, indicating a match that was not much of a challenge to the winners.

The final game is beautifully narrated, to show the exemplary performance by Barcelona, as they took the Champions cup. McNulty uses colour adding when describing every moment that Barcelona took possession of the ball, as in the instance when Xavi facilitated a goal for Barcelona, “Xavi had been immaculate on the ball, dictating terms at every opportunity, and another masterly piece of creation played in Pedro, who had time to wrong-foot Van der Sar with a simple finish”.[10]

McNulty used metaphors in various instances to describe the performance of players. It is evident that the final game was the most interesting one, judging from the numerous flirtatious words used by McNulty to describe the performance of the players.

In the quarter final game, metaphors such as “tie moments before the break” “cut a predictably disconsolate figure” and “made light of his 40 years with a sprightly dash from goal”, among many others were used to make the game more dramatic, and enhance the moment when the events occurred.

Similar enhancements to the narrations of the games were made using metaphors such as: “cut a predictably disconsolate figure”; and “cross that was bundled into the roof”.[11]

The use of metaphors in the semi final game mainly shows the ease with which the players handled themselves, and the serene mood despite the match being a semi final. These indicate an easy match for the winners, as they progress to the final game.

The metaphors found in the finals were used to depict talent, and style; the magnificence of the players who met in the final game. Some of the metaphors used by McNulty include: “Game bore an uncanny resemblance”; “Lifted the gloom during a torrid spell”; “Constant wave of beautifully crafted moves”.[12]

The semantic field of football contains many words. Some of the words found in the sports reviews by McNulty include: net, referee, line-up, back pass, foul, and free-kick, among others.[13] These words are related to football, though some are not exclusively used in football.

However, for this investigation, the words will not be grouped into their various categories. An example of a word that is not usual to football is wall. A wall implies a block of stone, but when applied in a football match, it refers to the group of people of the opposing team, who line up in front of the ball when a free-kick is awarded.

The word free-kick has been used in the quarter final game, between Manchester united and Chelsea. This is an example of a collocation that is worth noting in this investigation. Collocations refer to the combination of two common words to come up with a technical term.[14]

Another collocation that has been used in the quarter final game as well as the final game is penalty-area. The separation of these words results in different meanings, but when put together in the context of football, they result in a lexical item that has a significant meaning in the game of football.[15]


The findings indicate that the blogger can use distinct styles or forms of language to show the excitement in a game. The incorporation of ideas behind the choice of players by the team managers seems to be a strategy used by McNulty to explain the results of each game. In the quarter final game between Man Utd and Chelsea, he explained the latter’s team manager decision on his choice of strikers, and its likely influence on the outcome of the game.

McNulty made good use of formulaic language that is based on particular lexicon, and colour-adding to express the events in a match. The most dominant style identified in the investigation was the use of metaphors, which are not used sparingly. They help to create imagery of the actual events that took place during the game. There was a notable increase in the metaphors used, as the games got more exciting, towards the finals. This can be seen in the increasing number of words in the game analysis towards the final game.[16]


The literature elements that were investigated in the various sports analysis were helpful in drawing good conclusions on the hypothesis. We were able to identify the increased excitement using metaphors to show the action figuratively, when describing both the players when playing, and the team managers when choosing the starting team, and making the substitutions. The phrases used help us to identify the results of the matches based on the decisions made by the team managers and the players, as well as their reactions to the events.


Crystal, D. The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Freeborn, D. Varieties of English. London: Macmillan, 1986.

McNulty, P. Sport Football. 2011. Retrieved November 30, 2011.

Russell, S. Grammar, Structure and Style. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1997.

Weber, J. J. The Stylistics Reader. London: Edwin Arnold, 1996.

Dennis Freeborn. Varieties of English. London: Macmillan, 1986
J. J. Weber. The Stylistics Reader. London: Edwin Arnold, 1996.
Phil McNulty: statistics of the games (final game)
Phil McNulty. Sport Football. 2011.
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Phil McNulty
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Phil McNulty: metaphors from the final game
Phil McNulty: football related words
Dennis Freeborn, 1986
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Shirley Russell. Grammar, Structure and Style. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1997