December 07, 2006

"Mel Martinez is Spanish for Harriet Miers"

Andrew Leonard at Salon reports that the linguistic nationalists at English First are in an uproar over President Bush's selection of Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) to take over the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. The group disagrees with Martinez's position on immigration reform, but what really gets their goat is his stance on language issues. "Mel Martinez is Spanish for Harriet Miers," they mockingly proclaim on their new website "Stop Martinez." They go on to assert that the Cuban-born senator is "wrong on English" because he didn't vote for the Inhofe amendment last May declaring English the national language of the United States. (He didn't vote against it; he just didn't vote. They neglect to say whether he abstained or had some other reason for missing the vote.)

Worse than that, Martinez had the gall to speak in Spanish on the Senate floor. The relevant bullet point on "Stop Martinez" reads:

I was shocked to discover that the hyperlink ostensibly explaining the "doubts about the translation" takes you to a Language Log post, specifically Mark Liberman's entry of Feb. 6, 2005, "Never pronouncing East Thursday?" In the post, Mark discusses what appears to be a computer-generated Spanish-to-English translation of a story about Martinez's speech that showed up on the website for the Mexican newspaper El Sol de Zacatecas. Yes, Mark expressed doubts about that particular translation (since it had glaring errors like translating este jueves as "east Thursday"). But why in the world would the English Firsters commandeer a post about faulty MT as some sort of implicit critique of Martinez and his speech? ("Doubts about the translation" makes it sound like there was something sinister going on in the Spanish text that was omitted from the Senate's official English rendering.) Did they not actually read the post, or did they figure criticizing a translation of the speech — or rather a translation of an article about the speech — was tantamount to criticizing Martinez himself? Either way, I think I speak on behalf of the entire Language Log family when I say: leave us the heck out of it.

[Update, 12/8/06: Jim Boulet, executive director of English First and maintainer of the "Stop Martinez" site, responds here.]

[Update, 12/10/06: My response to Boulet's post is here.]

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at December 7, 2006 07:49 AM