The paper «Styling through grammar in football broadcasting» by Miguel A. Aijón Oliva was presented at the 19th Sociolinguistics Symposium (Freie Universität Berlin, August 21-24). It discusses syntactic variation and some of its stylistic motivations in the radio broadcast of a Spanish League football game between Unión Deportiva Salamanca (the local team) and Elche Fútbol Club.
The study is centered on the choice of syntactic functions (mainly subject vs. objects), their relative positions in the clause and the differences in cognitive salience and informativeness underlying them all. It is interesting to observe how the constant struggle over the ball is tightly parallelled by the narration of the game – the focus of discourse constantly shifts from one player to another as does the attention of the commentators. Any new player getting the ball constitutes new information and will be usually introduced as an object or subject in the postverbal position. However, if he manages to keep the ball long enough, his increase in salience will be reflected in his rising to the position of preverbal or even omitted subject, the latter representing the highest degree of salience.
A series of quantitative inquiries is conducted in order to elucidate whether the speech of the commentators tends to highlight one of the teams more than the other. It turns out that referents (players, coach) of the local team are mentioned nearly twice as much as the visitors; but this could be a mere reflection of the fact that UDS dominated the game most of the time. When investigating whether any of the teams – presumably UDS again – is granted higher salience through syntactic function and placement, it turns out that there is a somewhat higher frequency of local players encoded as omitted subjects.
The subsequent qualitative examination of particular examples also shows some interesting facts. The broadcasters have some tendency to talk about the local players in contexts where the attention should apparently correspond to their rivals, and to present facts from the viewpoint of the former even if they are not their initiators. For example, sometimes when a local player is fouled, the stretch narrating the action will tend to have him as subject or as preverbal object (e.g. ‘X is fouled’, ‘X gets a kick’ instead of ‘Y fouls/kicks X’), revealing a greater concern for his state. In some cases the name of the attacker is not even mentioned. This is rarer in the opposite situation, which confirms that the primary viewpoint of narrators is centered on the local team.
It is concluded that variation in clause syntax is not only fundamental for the construction of discourse, but also helps guide its interpretation on some perceptual and even emotional direction. The choice of syntactic functions and their relative disposition within the clause can be regarded as a resource of style, that is, as a tool for the creation of meaning in context. The consideration of third-person referents and of the interplay between their functions and cognitive and stylistic dimensions opens a new field of analytical possibilities for our approach to syntactic variation.