The language of soccer games is ripe with phrases, metaphors and clichés that reflect modern life: a coach who parks the bus, a midfielder who shoots rockets, a striker who scores with a bicycle kick. But at 11,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes, the vocabulary changes. That is where Luis Soto, who hosts a daily sports program on Radio Inti Raymi, is narrating Peru’s first appearance at the World Cup since 1982 in his native language, Quechua.
Soto captures the action on the field with references closer to his home in Cusco, Peru. When a midfielder controls the ball and neutralizes attacks, he is hoeing the land. When a player kicks the ball with power, he has eaten a lot of quinoa. And when Edison Flores, one of Peru’s stars, scored an important goal against Ecuador to help the team qualify for the World Cup in Russia, he built roads where there were only narrow walking paths.
Before that, Soto had to clear a basic hurdle: finding a term for “soccer ball.” Quechua was developed by the ancient Incas, and the only word for ball that he knew was used in Cusco referred to a sphere made from pieces of llama neck leather and used in religious ceremonies.
“The term didn’t exist,” he said, “so we had to adapt.”
After canvassing local players, Soto settled on “qara q’ompo,” which means leather ball, or sphere. It is one of about 500 terms and phrases he has compiled over the last decade into what is probably the world’s only Quechua soccer dictionary. He shares it freely with anyone who is interested.
Quechua is an oral tradition that is written in Spanish transliteration and varies in different parts of the country and the continent. Soto, like most Quechua speakers, learned the language at home, not in a formal school setting. His soccer dictionary reflects only his experience and regional interpretation. Language experts from other parts of Peru, for example, say the words “ruyruku” and “haytana” have also been used to refer to a soccer ball.
To prepare for the World Cup, Soto, 44, spent months practicing with videos of games to hone his speed and tone, knowing that his listeners — hundreds of thousands of them — would be experiencing an important moment for Peru on the world stage in their native language for the first time.
Read more: The NY Times