Football Language – 2nd Half

[Full match highlights]

Welcome back!  In the 1st half we saw how, in language,  nouns work with the verb like players work with the ball.  Positioning is key.


Let’s talk tactics.   Check out the special, bubbly team I created by super-imposing a football pitch on a ToB pentagram in the picture above: each ebble represents a noun, and the positioning of the ebble on the pentagram describes the role of the noun within the sentence.

It’s the same on the pitch: as you see players taking up their position, it’s obvious whether their contribution to the game will be as left-wing or right-back. In football there are 11 players.  In ToB  there are only 9. Basically, grammar is easier than football.

…Here’s an example: s_SVO

Note: the red arrows just show the flow of the action, they are not part of ToB notation.

…And here’s a simple explanation of the notation:
a) the (proper) noun “Pelé” is the subject;
b) “dribbles” is the verb which describes the action;
c) the noun “defenders” is the object.  

You can see different kinds of bubbles neatly positioned above each word: as  notes on top of lyrics represent music, bubbles in ToB represent grammar (intriguing? read this).

The action goes from below the centre line of the ToB pentagram to just above.  Think about the mid-field line of a football pitch: behind is the defence, beyond the attack.

This high-level spatial organisation is reflected in ToB:
– nouns used to kick-off the action (or provide justification or context for it) are positioned below the mid line [DEFENCE];
– nouns that are on the receiving end of the action (which define its end or limit), are above the mid line [ATTACK!].

There are, of course, nuances within defence and attack: in ToB‘s DEFENCE there are 5 distinct positions; in ATTACK another 4.  But what’s ON the line?   In football, at kick-off, the ball is placed right in the middle.  In ToB, this is the natural position of the verb (represented by a fubble):  all the nouns in a sentence revolve around it.  The nouns’ specific positions in relation to the verb create meaning.

In our “Pelé dribbles defenders” example we came across the “stars” of the two sides of the pitch: the subject and the object.  These belong to a group of four “key players”: the other two are the indirect object and the agent.


Primary Complements

Look at the picture again…  these four key roles (in grammar: complements) are represented by the yellow ebbles that go from bottom left to top right… See them? Agent, Subject, Object, Indirect Object.  Their special status is recognised by placing them in between the lines of the pentagram.  It is now time to explore them further!

The subject (the captain)

In a sentence, the subject is the captain of the team, the one that starts the action.  Every meaningful sentence will have AT LEAST a verb and its subject:  somebody or something (subject) performs an action (verb).  Examples: “Messi scores”, “Rooney scuffs”, “Ronaldo shoots”, “Neymar dives”. 

The object (the striker)

The object represent someone or something that is on the receiving end of the action.  Think of it as the striker: if the subject chooses to pass the ball (i.e.: if the sentence goes beyond subject+verb), the most likely player to receive the ball is the object.  Examples: “Messi scores goals“, “Rooney scuffs shots“, “Ronaldo shoots screamers“.

The indirect object (the right winger)

Let’s move on to the right-winger in the picture at the top, the indirect object.  It represents the receiver of something by someone: you will typically find it with verbs that describe a “giving” action, as in: “Messi passes the ball to Aguero“, “The referee shows a red card to Zidane“.


…and here is the ToB representation  (again, the red arrows just highlight the flow between the verb and the nouns and are not part of the actual notation).

But hang on, what are those  smebbles and  smubbles in the picture?   Those are the symbols for other types of word, the player’s kit described in the 1st half: articles (a), adjectives (beautiful), prepositions (to)*.  Their position is always in line with the noun they refer to.

* The bubble song summarises all the main symbols (note: articles “a” and “the” are a special kind of adjective, and that’s why we use a double smebble for them).

The agent  (the bicycle kicker!)

s_SVA  … compare it to: s_SVO

…mmm… Alarm bells will start ringing now… what’s happening here?  The first example above shows the agent in action: it is represented by the words “by Pelé” (a proper noun preceded by a preposition).  Also note that “Defenders” is marked as the subject.

Comparing the two sentences, you will have worked out that the meaning is absolutely identical.  So are the nouns used (“Pelé” and “defenders”).  Now… although the verb used is also the same (“to dribble”), you can see that, in the first picture, there is something different about it: it is in the passive voice.

[Remember: when you see a verb in the passive voice, look for the agent (the noun preceded by “by”).  Bye bye 🙂  ].

You can imagine this turn from active to passive  as a sort of “verbal somersault” (see the blue curving arrow on top of the fubble?):  the verb “to dribble” may be turned around into its passive “to be dribbled”.   This has a wider impact on the whole sentence structure: as you “turn” the verb from active to passive (right picture to left picture), the object becomes the subject and the subject the agent…!  

Stop.  Look again at the elements in the two pictures. Carefully.  

…See? The result, even if the overall meaning is unchanged, is that “defenders” are now the focus of attention.

Let’s replay this in football.  Imagine the captain beautifully crossing the ball to the striker (as in the image above right): all eyes are on the captain‘s silky feet – I am thinking Andrea Pirlo …

… But what if the striker sometimes wanted to get more of the attention?  What if he did something spectacular …Something like… a bicycle kick?

bicycle kick

– Where’s his head?!?  “Oh my… that’s where his feet should be!”
– Where are his feet?!?  “Oh my… that’s where his head should be!”

Why, the striker could have hit a simpler, “normal” shot by adjusting his positioning as he saw the ball coming in from Pirlo…  But no, Balotelli does not just want to score…  Balotelli wants the crowd to go wild!!!

Basically, the same kind of action could happen, but in one case the captain takes the credit while in the other the striker, for a fleeting moment, can steal the captain’s armband … All he needs is a somersault!  In football, the somersaulting device is a bicycle kick; in grammar, it is the flipping of the verb from the active to the passive voice.  And as the object becomes the subject, the real* subject  turns into the agent.
*for the action, semantically, is still originating from Pelé.


My goodness, time’s up!!!  … And we have only covered the four key positions … this post will have to go into extra time!!!  Hang on to your seats!

Want to try Tower of Bubble (ToB)? Download the Template | Cheat Sheet (Key Symbols)

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