Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Nader on Obama "talking white"

Ralph Nader doesn't have many fans left in the circles I travel in, for good reasons. The just-breaking story about him slamming Obama for asking if Obama is trying to "talk white" and avoid appearing "like Jesse Jackson" will stir some fresh rage. (See this story. On the video, the key statement is around 1:55.)

Exactly what sense of 'talk' do we have here? On seeing the headlines (at least most of the ones I've seen), most people probably first figured this was about American English — that Obama isn't speaking with AAE features or something, but the issues Nader lists (basically poverty-related) suggests that it's about issues not dialect, while the Jesse Jackson reference might suggest both. I'm guessing he basically means issues and concerns, but is alluding to the form of English Obama uses in public.

Any clues on what's up here?

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

What's up here? Nader's eager to say anything he can to make himself seem relevant? Yeah, there might be a linguistic sub-current here, but nothing more.

What a waste.

Mr. Verb said...

Plausible enough. Is this kind of like Wonkette's take, filed under 'Losers', with the headline below?

Nader: Barack Obama Is A Cracker

James Crippen said...

It sounds to me like a sly attempt at linguification.

Mr. Verb said...

Brilliant! I think we have a winner.

Rosina Lippi Green said...

The darkest explanation (and I'm afraid it's the right one) is that Nader was challenging Obama's right to identify himself as black. That is, he doesn't have those linguistic features specific to AAVE (at least not in his public speech; I'd love to see what happens when he's sitting around the table with Michelle's family). The relationship between AAVE and identity is so complex, I would have to call this trivialization.

Mr. Verb said...

Yeah, that's an ugly and thoroughly plausible interpretation. I have heard him shift somewhat in pronunciation, I think in one of the southern primaries. The dinner table would be interesting, for sure, but I've wondered what he sounded like doing community organizing way back when on the South Side.

Rosina Lippi Green said...

I would *love* to do a study of his language use, switching strategies, etc. If I could get hold of enough (videotapped) data it might be possible.

Thus far, though, I haven't even been able to track down any public statements about language use, beyond some simplistic (and very questionable) statements about immigrants who "must learn English"

Mr. Verb said...

He should hire you to advise the campaign on language issues. In a budget of hundreds of milllions of dollars, they can afford it and they need it.