American Bigshots Doing the Country Proud Overseas
1) Hillary Clinton, genuinely funny and admiration-generating in a stint this week with two of Australia's broadcast comics, Hamish and Andy. Really, this is worth watching for a side of Ms. Clinton she must not feel comfortable displaying that often in public back home:
2) Barack Obama, at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, making a speech about democracy in Indonesia, and a reprise on last year's appeal to Islam -- but also daring to talk a little bit in the Bahasa Indonesia ("language of Indonesia") he heard around him as a child. This is "daring" on general principles -- the potential embarrasment of exposing limited command of a foreign language in public settings -- but also in Obama's specific circumstances, where some critics will seize on any successful command and proving his alien status.
You can hear several brief passages of Obama in Bahasa in the first minute of the clip below, and the Ich bin... sentence that brought the house down begins at around 2:00. For expert analysis of how Obama handles the language, see Ben Zimmer at Language Log, here. To my ear, after the two years my family spent living in Malaysia with its very similar language, it sounds as if he can handle the distinctive Indonesian "R" sound way better than most foreigners, for example me. (You can hear this with some names in the first 20 seconds, and when he gives his step father's name at about 2:30.) Also, even in his pronunciation of the name "Indonesia" in the first few seconds, you hear local-version vowels rather than normal American pronunciation.
Starting around 4:10 he gives an impromptu aside -- enak, ya?, "delicious, right?", after talking about the food he loved as a child -- that sound entirely natural and also seems to illustrates a phenomenon very familiar among children who spent part of their upbringing outside their home country. They have a native-sounding accent, but a limited, child-level command of vocabulary and grammar. More on that at Language Log. And more on Policy Implications of the trip some other time too. For the moment, two American performance-moments that were seen as pluses overseas.