October 19, 2004

Kerry's French (or Haitian)

Slate Magazine reports that Kerry addressed a few words of French to a Haitian in the crowd at one of his campaign stops; only what he said in French has not yet been deciphered. They provide a sound clip that can be studied by someone better at spoken French interpretation than I am (Language Log does not provide translation services). What I hear is "Vous êtes d'Haïti? D'accord..." But the rest of it is lost in the noise of the crowd. Perhaps the bit no one has yet been able to understand reveals that Kerry's French is atrocious. That would be great news for Democrats who believe (as some people do) that to be identified as a fluent speaker of an alien tongue, especially French, could only be a vote-loser in a Presidential race as brutal as this one.

[Thanks to Mike Gillis for the reference.]

And this just in, via Grant Barrett: a Canadian news source reports that what Kerry said was: Vous êtes d'Haïti? D'accord, je vais aider les Haïtiens ("You're from Haiti? O.K., I'm going to help the Haitians"). Bill Poser downloaded the clip, reduced the noise level, and studied the track, and a first guess that the last phrase might be Je vais vous aider dedans, changed his mind and said that he agreed with the Canadian source (as he reports here. with some further acoustic details). So the charges that Kerry can speak French may be well founded. In fact the Canadian source says that he speaks several languages ("parle plusieurs langues"). Personally I think that's good. Given the job for which he is an applicant, I'm hoping the several languages include Iraqi Arabic, Farsi (Tehrani dialect), and Korean (northern dialect).

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at October 19, 2004 03:26 PM