Thursday, July 24, 2008

More on Obama's "language skillz"

Am I the only language blogger who regularly reads Wonkette? If so, this field has gotten way to hoity toity. Anyway, Wonkette did a piece on Obama was 'embarrassed' about his lack of foreign language skills in the context of his then-upcoming speech in Germany. He told reporters:
“My German is not real good …I can speak Bahasi Indonesian but I don’t think…there would be a lot of appeal to that.”
Wonkette continues, intending to be in full-snark mode, but not knowing that the Log had covered this ground recently:
Of course, when he says he can “speak” this language he probably means he can say things like “please” and “where’s the toilet” and “I would like two tickets to the madrassa,” but whatever. When will Barack Obama admit that he would prefer to deliver his Berlin address in Indonesian?
His time in Indonesia has given the wingnuts openings to declare him a Muslim, so I'm glad he's still talking about knowing the language at all.

12 comments:

Ben Zimmer said...

You're not the only one! I just added a comment on that Log post, pointing out that the quote from ABC's Jake Tapper should read Bahasa Indonesia, not Bahasi Indonesian. I'm sure the error is Tapper's, not Obama's.

Mr. Verb said...

I should have known! Actually, Obama has used Bahasi several times. I was thinking about contacting somebody who knows the language to see if that's some relevant kind of variation, or reflects a particular dialect or something, but haven't gotten around to it.

Thanks!

Ben Zimmer said...

Cites, please! I've never come across Obama using Bahasi. He could very well have used standalone Bahasa (as, for instance, the New York Times and Time Magazine have done in articles about him), but I'd be a bit disappointed if he did. That's one of my pet peeves -- bahasa simply means "language" in Indonesian, so bahasa Indonesia is distinct from bahasa Jawa (Javanese), bahasa
Sunda
(Sundanese), etc. But journalists and tourists always seem to refer to the national language as Bahasa.

Mr. Verb said...

I haven't found an audio clip but if you google that string, you get a bunch of references to Obama and not all seem to come from this particular story. That's obviously kind of off the cuff, and I could be wrong.

Ben Zimmer said...

I Googled on "bahasi obama" and didn't see any quotes directly attributed to him other than the one given by Tapper. Also checked the big news databases and came up empty.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Well, it's possible that "language" is what they call it, like so many people call themselves "people" ... The Slavs are people of words (slov) and the Germans are mutes (nemtsi), for instance. (Cf how all the Goidelic Celts call their own language Gaelic and everybody else's something else...) But of course that's just a guess and I could easily be wrong.

Ben Zimmer said...

When I lived in Indonesia for a few years doing linguistic research, I heard the national language called "Bahasa" primarily by, as I said, journalists and tourists. It wasn't something you heard from Westerners who were really immersed in the culture -- like, say, Obama's mother.

Pat & Bill said...

If Obama were a real idealist, he would speak up foe Esperanto. See www.esperanto.net

Brian Barker said...

Bill is right about Obama and Esperanto!

Interestingly nine British MP's have nominated Esperanto for the Nobel Peace Prize 2008.

Detail can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

Anonymous said...

s-k-i-l-l-z, are you serious? inappropriate.

Mr. Verb said...

That's a quote from Wonkette of course. You have to read it a while to get exactly what kind of snark they use and how they're aiming it.

Oleg said...

Actually, there's one quite serious idea about teaching Esperanto in American schools, presented to the President-Elect Barack Obama: http://www.change.org/ideas/view/introduce_esperanto_as_a_foreign_language_subject_in_schools