Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bush's Espaol: Un Poco Goes Far

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bush's Espaol: Un Poco Goes Far

Article excerpt

Standing before the Berlin Wall at the height of the cold war, President John F. Kennedy said "Ich bin ein Berliner" which he thought meant, "I am a Berliner." In fact, it means, "I am a jelly doughnut." The Germans present applauded politely in spite of the linguistic gaffe.

Similarly, George W. Bush likes to sprinkle his speeches with Spanish when addressing Latino audiences. But so far, no major linguistic gaffes have been reported, and Mr. Bush has got plenty of mileage on his limited Spanish.

Recent polls even have him neck and neck with Al Gore among Latino voters - unprecedented for a Republican presidential candidate.

Although it would be simplistic to say Bush's success with Latinos is due to his use of Spanish, it's certainly a factor. To be sure, the Republican nominee's familiarity with Spanish is limited. Sonia Colin, a Bush campaign spokesperson, said he is "pretty knowledgeable" but not "completely fluent."

Bush did study Spanish in high school and in college and honed it in the oil fields of Texas, but probably couldn't communicate at all in a debate completely in Spanish. The Spanish newswire EFE has reported that Bush speaks Spanish "poorly" but with great confidence. And Texas columnist Molly Ivins, no fan of Bush, has quipped that Bush is not bilingual/bicultural, but rather bi- ignorant.

Still, Bush's strategy of peppering his speeches with Spanish has a strong psychological impact on Latinos. Hispanics are very sensitive to language - and also very vulnerable to it. The more than 20 states that passed English-only laws, and California's Proposition 227, which eliminated bilingual education from the Golden State, are strong reminders of linguistic attacks on Hispanics.

Latinos thus find the Spanish language a sensitive issue, and they largely don't find Bush's use of Spanish at all patronizing. …

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