Doughnut test holds no fears for Bill

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Bill Clinton provided strong evidence yesterday that he is not a doughnut but possibly the best-coached US President ever in foreign languages, writes Tony Barber. Linguists praised his pronunciation when he spoke briefly in German at the Brandenburg Gate in the presence of Chancellor Helmut Kohl and thousands of other Germans.

'Ich bin ein Berliner,' announced John F Kennedy in 1963, little realising that, by including the indefinite article ein, he had called himself a doughnut rather than a citizen of Berlin. 'Amerika steht auf Ihrer Seite, jetzt und fur immer,' said Mr Clinton. 'Nichts wird uns aufhalten, alles ist moglich, Berlin ist frei.' (America is on your side, now and forever. Nothing will stop us, everything is possible, Berlin is free.) It was almost like a Berliner would have said it.

Mr Clinton drew applause for his effortless negotiation of the vowel sounds, normally difficult for an English-speaker, in the umlauted words fur and moglich. His skills may have something to do with his daughter, Chelsea, learning German in high school.

In any event, the President performed better than some of his predecessors. At the Moscow summit in 1988, Ronald Reagan bemused his Russian audience by pronouncing the name of the late French writer Albert Camus to rhyme with 'famous'. A year later in Warsaw, George Bush greeted a prominent Polish politician, Andrzej Stelmachowski, and pronounced the third syllable of his surname to rhyme with 'cow' instead of 'cough'.

Poland is a linguistic graveyard for US presidents. Jimmy Carter went there, told the Poles he liked them, and heard his interpreter translate his words as 'I lust after Poles'. However, Mr Carter made up for it by visiting Tyneside and proclaiming: 'Hawa' the Lads]'

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