Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Democrats in translation

There was yet another debate among the U.S. Democratic presidential candidates last night. And for the benefit of the 28.1 million U.S. residents who speak Spanish as their first language, it was simultaneously translated into Spanish.

You might be thinking something like: "That makes sense. I mean, 28.1 million people--that's only a little less than the entire population of Canada." Or maybe, less charitably: "Yeah, so? Every word spoken in our House of Commons is simultaneously translated every day!" And you'd be right, about either of those things. The U.S. press, though, is treating this as a special American invention of this great new thing called the wheel.

From the Washington Post (and keep in mind that this is the lede):

The first presidential forum to be conducted in Spanish placed a couple of the Democratic participants in an uncomfortable position Sunday night: answering tough questions while simultaneously fiddling to make sure their earpieces didn't fall out and they could the hear the translation of the next question.
Imagine that! Having to answer tough questions while making sure their earpieces didn't fall out! What horrors those Americans put their presidential candidates through!

One niggling issue is undermining these fledgling acknowledgements that Americans don't live in a unilingual country, though. Because even though two of the candidates speak Spanish, they weren't allowed to speak it while on stage:
Univision required candidates to answer in English, because only New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) speak Spanish fluently. That prompted Richardson to criticize the network from the stage Sunday night.

"I'm disappointed today that 43 million Latinos in this country -- for them not to hear one of their own speak Spanish, is unfortunate," Richardson said. "In other words, Univision is promoting English-only in this debate."

He then switched to Spanish but was cut off by moderators Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas.
Sorry, Governor Richardson. We couldn't let you speak the language that the debate is being broadcast in--that's crazy talk. After all, it could mean that people might decide which candidate they're voting for based on whether or not that candidate has bothered to learn their language, instead of on whether or not they served in the military or how much money they spend on their hair.

2 comments:

West End Bound said...

Very good post, IP.

Good to see you back, and hope you stay around for awhile!

Arrogant Polyglot said...

Woah, Nelly. Don't you be kickin' up no dust thar and giving them Latinos any ideas about their rights n'all. Next think y'know, them dark fellers'll wanna be treat like equals with the whites and get to sing the Amarican anthem in Spanish--in public to boot.

So keep 'er down. Would't want nothin' t'change 'r anything.