George Bush Hooked on Phonics at U.N. (that's YOO-en)

Dennis Baron debaron at UIUC.EDU
Thu Sep 27 19:41:31 UTC 2007

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George Bush Hooked on Phonics at U.N. (that's YOO-en)

George W. Bush had no trouble naming names when he berated dictators  
in Burma, Iran and Cuba during his speech on Sept. 25 before the U.N.  
General Assembly, but when it came time to praise countries like  
Kyrgyzstan and Mauritania for making “strides toward liberty,” the  
president needed help with his pronunciation.

In a copy of the president’s speech that the White House released by  
mistake, and which appeared briefly on the United Nations web page,  
Mr. Bush’s speechwriters provided the president with phonetic  
transcriptions of the hard words KEYRgeez-stan and moor-EH-tain-ee-a,  
along with cues to help him denounce Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe (moo- 
GAHbee), and the Harare (hah-RAR-ray) government.

It’s not unusual for public speakers to mark up their text with cues  
to aid their delivery.  But our politicians are so convinced that the  
linguistic transformation of Eliza Doolittle from inarticulate flower  
girl to “rain-in-Spain-falls-mainly-on-the-plain” socialite in “My  
Fair Lady” will help them in their own efforts to morph from prairie  
oysters (TERD blahsumz) into master orators, that they line the  
waiting rooms of the descendants of poor professor Higgins (EN-ree IG- 
inz), seeking dialect transplants that their health insurance still  
considers experimental.

Nor is it surprising that the president got help with his U.N.  
speech.  Bush has a history of mangling his English.  He trips over  
difficult names like Abu Ghraib, says OPEC at an APEC meeting, and  
coins new catch phrases like “I’m the decider.”   ....

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Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321

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