The Babbel Blog

language learning in the digital age

A few words about Obama's language

Posted on January 24, 2009 by


Obama is a language master, not many would disagree. Even at the inauguration, when renowned grammatical stickler Chief Justice John Roberts spontaneously corrected a split-infinitive in a fixed constitutional text when swearing him in, Obama righted the snafu in the act not just for legal accuracy, but for flow.
The speech that followed was rather spare, at least in comparison to the soaring rhetoric to which his campaign followers had become accustomed. Some interpreted it as taking inordinate amounts of slings at the departing administration, while others saw the simple prose, calling for responsibility, duty, service and sacrifice as a nod to, or a “reclaiming” of (an even Reagan-esque) right-wing type of talk.
Either way, all sides are acknowledging the effectiveness of “Obama-esque” language. Newsweek contended that Republicans have begun to ape the new president’s language by invoking the “grass roots,” even though what they signify with it might be something else completely.
But really, does any “side” have a monopoly on the tenets of faith, responsibility, duty, etc.? In a thoughtful comment, New York magazine saw Obama’s rather flourish-less talk this time not so much as a copy or re-framing of rightist language, but rather as a mysterious strategy towards cohesion.
In the meanwhile, this unified language has been making its way around the world, prompting a full translation for the deaf, a bestselling English-teaching text in Japan, and a freak last-minute censoring on Chinese national television.