Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Ich bin ein Berliner": Language Rules!

Der Spiegel provides relief for the media-battered American.  It even reports that Berlin could annoy President Kennedy like nothing else.  This information it gleans from the release of secret tapes made by the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., in 1964 with Jacqueline Kennedy. 

The President’s most famous public words on Berlin come alive again on American Rhetoric:  Top 100 Speeches--"Ich bin ein Berliner." This speech even commemorates a time when an American president spoke three different languages in a single address. 

Meanwhile, look at the treatment given the publication of these tapes by ABC:  a blockbuster event.  On May 25, 2011, Alex Weprin hailed what has now arrived on American television:  “ABC News Acquires Jacqueline Kennedy Interviews, Specials Planned for September.” 

Electronic technology now makes it possible to hear Jackie, too.  Her French impressed French President Charles De Gaulle, and now audiences can hear it live and whispery at < watch?v=KJraZgLTH34>. 

In the New York Times, Maureen Dowd succinctly updates readers with her commentary:  “Tantalizing Jackie O Speaks her Mind,” posted on September 14, 2011.  Dowd records the first impression bound to strike listeners as ironic:  The First Lady’s “inimitably breathy little voice.” 

Let the gossip begin.  Up close and personal, Jackie sounds all too much like Marilyn Monroe. 

Readers now have a choice, Dowd explains:  “Caroline Kennedy is now releasing them [the historic interviews] as a book and audio recording, ‘Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy’” Audiences can get an earful and then meditate on the power of language.       

By contrast with this emphasis on a multimedia event, Der Spiegel drives right to the point.  Its top right story on September 18, 2011, announces its current woes to the world:  “A Victim of Its Own Success:  Berlin Drowns in Tourist Hordes and Rising Rents.” 

Much farther down its front page, Der Spiegel delivers its assessment of Jacqueline’s verbiage:  “Needy Germans Irritated JFK, Tapes Reveal:  ‘He Got Awfully Fed Up with Adenauer and All that Berlin.’” 

In light of the contrast between public and private speech in this case, the American President found a singular way to demonstrate his identity with a people under siege during the remains of the Cold War between West and East.  He spoke their language, just as Jacqueline did in France.

It is long past time for Americans to demonstrate not only solidarity and empathy but also—and critically—knowledge and sophistication in world affairs.  The appropriate models come from the past, but they come vividly alive now for all to hear and see. 

Language training begins with a speaker’s native tongue.  When Americans read Dick and Jane or Dick and Dick or Jane and Jane, they take the first step toward understanding the American Constitution, as well as Kennedy’s historic speeches.

If they are ever to speak with their counterparts in the world on an equal standing, they must build on their linguistic foundations.  They must develop language skills which shout what scientists know:  At birth, the human brain, on average, can learn any language. 

Third World speakers often not only speak English, the new lingua franca, but they may speak as many as eight or nine languages.  Imagine Kennedy’s historic declaration in English:  “I am a Berliner.”  Who cares?  He might as well have stayed home. 

Put him on the world’s stage, and he proved his readiness to be a citizen of that world.  Although he exited from that stage, and Jacqueline, too, they left examples which offer inspiration—if Americans can use the digital media to enhance their reading and writing skills. 

No comments:

Post a Comment