Critics chide Obama for everything from supporting foreign languages to having a foreign-sounding name

Dennis Baron debaron at
Thu Jul 24 08:00:23 UTC 2008

There's a new post on the Web of Language:

Critics chide Obama for everything from supporting foreign languages  
to having a foreign-sounding name

Conservative bloggers have been attacking Democratic presidential  
candidate Barack Obama foradvocating French and Spanish and for  
translating his campaign slogan, “Yes we can,” into Latin. Now Obama’s  
being attacked for a poster advertising a speech he’ll deliver in  
Berlin on Friday, because part of the poster is in German.. . .

Speaking in Powder Springs, Georgia, earlier this month, Sen. Obama  
reiterated his position that immigrants should learn English, adding,

But instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English –  
they’ll learn English – you need to make sure your child can speak  
Spanish. You should be thinking about how can your child become  
bilingual. We should have every child speaking more than one language.

Obama praised Europeans for their knowledge of multiple languages, and  
he lamented the fact that most Americans can only “go over to Europe,  
and all we can say is ‘merci beaucoup.’ “

You’d think that critics who object to Spanish or French might at  
least revere the classics. But Obama detractors howled with derision  
when the senator appeared in June, at a meeting of Democratic  
governors in Chicago, with a nameplate bearing the image of an  
American eagle and the Latin tag,vero possemus, a loose translation of  
the campaign slogan, “Yes we can.”


The fact that Sen. Obama doesn’t actually speak Spanish, French, Latin  
or German is no consolation to the conservatives who find the fact  
that he merely evokes these languages proof of his elitism. Real  
Americans, in their view, want semiautomatic weapons, not Latin  
slogans, German posters, or “Press ‘1’ for English,” thank you very  

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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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