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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Two Languages in One Brain 

"Two languages in one brain? No one can live at that speed!" "Well, the Dutch speak four languages and smoke marijuana!" "Well ... that's because they're cheating!"

—Eddie Izzard

CNN reports:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush likes to drop a few words of Spanish in his speeches and act like he's proficient in the language. But he's really not that good, his spokesman said Thursday.

Well, that's what I thought all along. Nothing wrong with that. Learning a language, even to a modest level of proficiency, requires a lot of work, particularly if you're not in daily contact with speakers of that language. But why this story?

McClellan made his remark in response to a report that Bush had sung the Star-Spangled Banner in Spanish during the 2000 campaign. Just last week Bush said the national anthem should be sung in English, not Spanish. (Full story)

"It's absurd," McClellan said of the report, suggesting that Bush couldn't have sung it in Spanish even if he had wanted to.

No, it's not absurd. Elvis was able to sing a German folksong without spending time at the Goethe Institute. Anyone can learn the national anthem in Spanish in a few minutes. A child can learn an incredibly tedious song made entirely of nonsense syllables in under ten minutes. If the point of Mr McClellan's words was to counter the claim that the president had sung the national anthem in Spanish, then his argument is stupid and untrue, and anybody can see that.

So why do journalists and news agencies accept statements like this as satisfactory stories, suitable for publication? What if McClellan had said: "Darling—the party is wherever you are," would that do? Would editors just initial that or whatever, under the impression that their readers would now have a full, coherent account of something? Because they might as well.


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