[Speaking Foreign Language]

During the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris today, Jennifer Lopez performed “This Land Is Your Land”. I usually watch everything with closed captions turned on so I don’t miss anything, but if I didn’t speak Spanish the subtitles wouldn’t have helped. During her performance the subtitles included something truly ironic. After a song all about how “this land was made for you and me” she sang a couple lines from “America the Beautiful” which she then followed by declaring in Spanish:

¡Una nación, bajo Dios, indivisible, con libertad y justicia para todos!

But the subtitles just read:


Foreign language? Jennifer Lopez is an American woman born in New York. Oops. I’m sure this was an honest mistake, where perhaps the subtitles were transcribed using some stenotype keyboard that had a shortcut for any language the transcriber didn’t know. Nevertheless, this seems like a good opportunity to remember that “the United States has never had an official language at the federal level.”

If you’re curious, Jennifer Lopez was simply quoting from the Pledge of Allegiance translated into into Spanish:

One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all!

In any case, I don’t mean to distract from what is being celebrated today. Congratulations to President Biden and Vice President Harris!

One reply on “[Speaking Foreign Language]”

I think it’s just what transcribers are trained to do. But if you think foreign language is ironic when applied to Spanish, what about when it’s used for Navajo (as I have seen)? In that case, the filmmaker had open-captioned the Navajo, so I saw both an open-captioned English translation and the closed-caption “[Speaking foreign language]”.

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