Wednesday, March 5, 2008

musings on the politics of language

There have been rumours circulating for a while now suggesting that either Bertie Ahern or Tony Blair could become president of the European Union. I say rumours as my faith in Europe is such that I refuse to countenance the miserable prospect of our bumbling, mendacious and utterly disgraceful Taoiseach lecturing us on the greatness of Europe. Of course, the thought of the utterly discredited, deceitful,belligerant idiocy that marked the later part of Blair's political car
eer- the thought of him standing there before us, primus inter pares of a new unifed Europe, pontificating about values and responsabilities and the need to bring peace to the world, all this from a man who believed the risible contents of the infamous 'dodgy dossier', bombing Iraq into oblivioun. No, it is unconsionable. Therefore, I dismiss such talk as rumour and calm myslef with drop of Hennessy. Ah, there! that's better! Let us take comfort in the thought of consigning Bertie and Tony and their smug falsities to the dusbin of history! Salut!
But what if, and I writhe as I broach it, what if Bertie were to be elected President of the EU? we have already seen Blair deliver an oration in conspicously impeccable French. Could Bertie do the same? Well, he could start by learning English. Although, to be fair, he has managed to get by in pidgin English all his life, and our European collegues are fluent Pidgin speakers. So, he should be ok on that score. But what about the French? Apart from looking like the long lost brother of the former French prime minister, Bertie might give a speech to the French parliament highlighting the endurance of Franco-Irish relations. He might remind them that they were once under the sway of a French president of Irish origins, Monsieur Macmahon, who flouted the aspirations of the French republic by replacing the prime minister and dissolving the French National Assembly in an effort to resore the monarchy. . After all, inspite of his cronic amnesia, the word Mahon shouldn't be too hard to remember for our inimitable Taoiseach!
Did you even notice the way world leaders talk to each other? For example, looking back at old footage of President Reagan and Mikail Gorbachov, one can see them smiling and chuckling to each other. But Reagan seems to talk incessantly and there is the famous American pointing. American presidents always point things out to their counterparts in front of the camera. It is a way of showing both the other leader and the viewers who is boss. But did Reagan not consider it impolite to natter on to a leader who famously did not speak or understand English? Of course not. But how would Reagan have responded if Gorbachov had done the same to him in Russian? The Ancient Greek writer Plutarch tells an anecdote about two important leaders, King Xerxes of Persia and Themistocles of Greece. He writes
' King Xerxes gave Themistocles leave to speak his mind freely on Greek affairs. Themistocles replied that the speech of man was like rich carpets, the patterns of which can only be shown by spreading them out; and therefore he asked for time. The king was pleased with the simile, and told him to tak e this time; and so he asked for a year. Then, having learnt the Persian language sufficiently, he spoke with the king on his own...'
Bertie is lucky that English is the lingua franca of the world. But what simile would be appropriate for our Taoiseach if he were to describe language to one of his international counterparts? He might say, Mister president, the speech of man is like a rubix cube, you have to twist it and turn it to make the colours match what your listeners want to hear. Having said that he would probably point out the cameras to his stately counterpart and exclaim 'ha ha throw it at me as fast as you can, it won't stick for I'm the Teflon man!'

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