Je ne parle pas français

April 21, 2004

Excellent entry on Language log based on an article in the New Yorker. During a recent press conference, Democrat candidate to the US presidency John Kerry pretended he couldn't understand or speak French (in which he is perfectly fluent), presumably to safeguard his political future. This is what Geoffrey K. Pullum says: "I would have thought that to have a US president (for once) who could argue fluently and convincingly in the native language of some other heads of state would be a fantastic asset. But instead it is perceived as a kind of disloyalty, evidence of being an untrustworthy egghead, and you would lose millions of votes over it. It's both depressing and amazing."

It is indeed.

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Posted by céline on April 21, 2004
Culture

Comments

I'm astounded.

I was most impressed when the Queen recently gave a speech in France, in fluent French.

Can I add that only 10% of the US Senate actually have passports?

Posted by Sarah on April 21, 2004 11:12 AM

I was impressed by the Queen's speech too, and particularly by her pronunciation. I was expecting an atrocious ultra-posh mutation of French, but her vowels were exquisite and only her ts and ds let her down (a bit). Well done you Lizzie.

Posted by céline on April 21, 2004 11:24 AM

Bear in mind that the Americans currently have a President who has trouble speaking his own language, so anyone who can master two is sure to be suspicious.

Posted by Jemima on April 21, 2004 1:18 PM

Damn Kerry for being such an ass, and damn to hell the portion of the American public that considers being able to effectively communicate in more than one language a weakness and not a strength.

Posted by Damelon Kimbrough on April 21, 2004 5:24 PM

Would he have admitted it if he spoke Spanish? Isn't that much more common in America?

Posted by Sarah on April 21, 2004 6:10 PM

My impression is that speaking two languages fluently is not an issue to most of the American public. Bush is fluent in Spanish (bear in mind he speaks Spanish with that annoying Texan twang). During the 2000 election, both Bush and Gore put an emphasis on their ability to speak Spanish fluently (Hispanic vote). The issue is that Kerry can understand and fluently speak French, which makes him a French sympathizer to a portion of the American public. France got a bad rap after their opposition to the Iraq War and some Americans became anti-French (freedom fries, one of America's finest moments). Unfortunately, Kery doesn't want to be associated with your bad rap. As much as it pains me to say this, I will: He should keep feigning ignorance if it helps him beat Bush.

Also, concerning the passport issue. That number does sound quite sad, but what is the average percentage of passport holders in the UK, France, etc?

Posted by Caroline on April 21, 2004 6:24 PM

"Would he have admitted it if he spoke Spanish?"

Probably. Although now that the Spanish have offended the American war camps sensibilities, he would perhaps have to clarify that he was speaking to Mexican-Americans and not spanish speakers in general. I wish I was joking.

Posted by Damelon Kimbrough on April 21, 2004 6:28 PM

"concerning the passport issue... what is the average percentage of passport holders in the UK, France, etc?"

I found 2 apparently reliable sources, one of which claims 7% of the US population has a passport. This rises to 12% of the US Senate. The second source claims that the 7% figure is 10 years old, and that it is now 17%. As 18% of Americans were not born in the US, it may be that the majority of passort holders are immigrants enjoying the chance to prove their status?

In the UK in 2001, 5.6 million people (almost 10% of the population) either applied for or renewed their UK passport, suggesting that the vast majority of us are passport holders.

In Australia, over 50% are passport holders, and 19% do travel abroad each year. In Belguim, this rises to 70% passport holders. Apparently the Dutch are the biggest European travellers, with 71% of the population having travelled outside the country in the last year.

Posted by Sarah on April 22, 2004 9:58 AM

Is the Queen's speech in French recorded and available somewhere online by any chance? I'd love to hear it.

Posted by Johanka on April 27, 2004 9:09 PM

Interesting discussion. A while back there was a funny New Yorker piece (Christopher Buckley??) called "John Le Kerry," in which Republicans derided Kerry for his francophilia. Alas, a large portion of my increasingly right-leaning compatriots love "le french bashing."

I was surprised than none of your English followers noted that Tony Blair speaks creditable French as well. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard him on TV 5 news broadcast.

Bush cannot be said to speak Spanish. He simply mangles a few phrases now and then. As Minnesota humorist Garrison Keillor puts it, "The man's mout is a place where the English language goes to die."

Posted by Mary on May 6, 2004 2:24 AM

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