The 3 Official Languages of the 2018 Olympics Games

The 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea are just over, after having taken place in Pyeongchang County, South Korea. The 2018 Winter Olympics were officially referred to as the XXIII Olympic Winter Games and came to be known as Pyeongchang 2018. It was an important multi-sports event held from 9th to 25th February 2018 in Pyeongchang. The number of athletes who participated was 2,922.

Preparing a country to take on an international event like the Olympic Games is not only a privilege, but a challenge too. The Olympic Games involves a mass of people, both contestants and spectators from all over the world and they can’t all speak English. The organisers have to somehow jump over the hurdles faced by the language barriers that exist at such an international event. 

The Official Languages of the 2018 Winter Games

Wherever the Olympic Games are taking place, the committees have 3 official languages. These are the English official language and the French official language, while the 3rd is the language of the country where the Olympic Games is taking place. For 2018’s games, Korean is the third language, which is the official language of Korea.

Korean is the language spoken in both North and South Korea and by around 80 million people globally. At the Olympics, interpreters will be present amongst the Olympic staff to ensure the Olympics information is made available to all those who attend the games.

Whenever the main language, Korean, needs to be written, those attending will be able to view the Hangul Script. This is an ancient script and a highlight of the 2018 Winter Games.

Branding the Winter Olympics

The Hangul scripts can be seen in the emblem of the games, which shows a unique presentation of 2 Hangul letters which are:ㅍ (p) and ㅊ (ch). These letters form the base sounds of “Pyeongchang.” The emblem also brings together images of snow and ice with the winter sports stars and people from throughout the world who are coming to Pyeongchang where heaven meets the earth.

Social Media and the Olympic Winter Games

Social media is vital for all Olympic teams and with the variation in the athletes as a diverse group many of the team’s fans only have social media as a means of connecting with one another. Translation, therefore, becomes vital to enable good engagement on social media throughout the period of the games.  To help promote engagement, the Olympic Channel broadcasts any news in relation to the Olympic Games through social media accounts several languages including Spanish, English, Korean and Portuguese.

What is Gendered Language and Which Languages are Gendered?

There is very little gendered language in English, apart from pronouns like “she”, “he” and possessives like “his” and “hers”. Of course, gender has crept into colloquial English to some extent. Funnily enough, some objects are often colloquially referred to as “she” rather than “he” or “it” (gender neutral), such as ships and other vehicles, but that’s about all.

In many other languages what are regarded as gender neutral things in English are classed as female, male or even neuter (neither female nor male). Amongst many, but not all, European languages, inanimate and animate objects are classified as either feminine or masculine. The difference between a female cow and a male bull is pretty obvious, but why is a bridge masculine and a highway or road feminine? It’s no point asking the native speakers why the labelling ever developed, as they are unlikely to know. 

It can make learning gendered languages quite difficult if your own native language is not gendered or, worse still, if your own gendered language uses a different gender for exactly the same thing. Germans, for example, regard bridges as feminine, while just across the border (or just across the bridge!) the French regard it as masculine. It can make translating from one gendered language to another or to or from a non gendered language quite challenging.

Just to make things even more complicated are languages like Russian or Norwegian that have three “genders”: masculine, feminine and neuter. Again, the curious linguist or translator from a non gendered language background might wonder just what prompted the ancestors of today’s Russian population to label the sea as neuter (мoре – pronounced morye), as do the Germans (das meer), but the French regard as feminine (la mer) and the Spanish masculine (el mar)?

There seems to be no simple way that any person can guess what an inanimate object’s gender might be in any other language. Do the French feel that their part of the Mediterranean is any more female in character than the Spanish?

There are some languages, particularly in Africa, where there are even more classes of nouns, although they may not be actual genders. In Kiswahili, for example, a Bantu language spoken originally by a small number of people on the coast of East Africa, now the national language of at least two East African nations, there at least eight  noun classes. Just like many gendered languages, adjectives, pronouns and verbs must be modified to correlate with each particular class of noun. Just to make it even more fun for the Kiswahili learner, singular and plural forms must also be taken into account!

Fortunately, for the native English speaker, learning Indonesian, Japanese or Fijian means that they don’t have to worry about gender. There isn’t any!