Backhands and Backslang – English Slang in Tennis and the Business World

Pascale Chauvot

6 Jul 2010

Professional tennis players face different cultures and languages more often than any other athletes in the world. The professional tennis calendar is a traveler’s dream, as players trek every few weeks around the globe competing in different tournaments from Brisbane to Chennai and from Doha to Melbourne… and that only in one month! For them it is important to earn as many points as possible in order to get a direct entry to the Four Big Tournaments – the Grand Slams.

Tennis players usually try to learn English as it is the Lingua Franca of the sport and makes it easier for them to carry out interviews and interact with fans. It also makes them more attractive to sponsors to carry out promotional campaigns. Players like Roger Federer or Maria Sharapova are sponsor’s magnets, their image and association with brands make themselves and companies millions.

With the fluency of foreign players in English plus their native languages, it should be easy for everyone to communicate in the locker room. But recently, young British hopes Laura Robson and Heather Watson admitted they speak in ‘backslang’, a coded language they use to disguise their conversations from other players. As English speakers, they find it frustrating that everyone can understand their conversations but they can’t understand other players when they speak their native tongues.

This idea is, of course, nothing new. Language variations have been around for ages and depend on location, social class, ethnicity, age, etc. Whenever a group of people make use of their own particular slang, subcultures are formed and the idea of us against them and of group identity becomes strong. Robson even admitted to be teaching some American players how to speak in backslang, which demonstrates how the English-speaking players are somehow grouping together to ‘fight back’ their perceived disadvantage of being understood by everyone else.

This is similar to slang used by young people as a way of making their conversations incomprehensible for adults or any other authority figure, giving them a sense of empowerment they may feel is lacking in other aspects of their life. Street gangs or any other delinquent group also use coded language in order to avoid detection from the authorities.

Whatever the reason for slang or language variation usage, everyone should be aware of the challenges that may arise from these and be prepared to deal with them accordingly, be it at work or in everyday life. If you are not a lawyer but are required to deal with lawyers at work, it is vital that you understand legal English as legal terminology can look like a completely different language. If you are a language trainer and need to train business professionals, it is necessary for you to be fluent in business English as this is the terminology your clients need, as opposed to learning about names of animals or fruits.

Communicaid offers specialist language courses that are tailored to meet your needs. Our language trainers are experienced professionals within their field so a Legal English course trainer, for example, will bring first-hand experience and knowledge of the requirements of your industry. No matter what your sector and role, we can provide you with the tools and knowledge necessary to communicate effectively.

We don’t have a ‘Backslang’ English language course yet but we can certainly develop one if Roger Federer ever calls.

 



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