The Pledge of Allegiance Five Ways

Click the controllers to stop and start the various audio pieces below. It's best to stop one before starting the next one, otherwise chaos can sometimes ensue and effect your connection. You can hear them all at once in a mashup if you scroll down to the end.

For a while part of the U.S. population got very upset about citizens who were saying the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish. I assume they're still upset. Admittedly, saying the Pledge in Spanish seemed to be a protest against the anti-immigration sentiment that exists, or anti illegal immigrant sentiment if you prefer to state it that way. I’m a second generation immigrant myself. But my grandparent's country of origin, in the political sense, has come in and out of existence several times depending on who won which European or World War. It currently doesn’t exist at all and I was never taught the “native tongue”.

English: I pledge, Allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

I got to thinking about all this and wondered how different I would feel if the nation my grandparents came from bordered directly on the U.S. and if I knew and was very fluent in that nation’s language, as is the case for many Mexican immigrants. When it came time to say the Pledge of Alliance to the Flag, would it be more heartfelt in my native tongue, the one I learned first, grew up with and the one I was most comfortable with? Or would it be more meaningful in English, my adopted language but the one I was less comfortable with?

Spanish (Americas): Yo prometo, lealtad a la bandera, de los estados Unidos de America, y a la Republica que representa, una Nacion, bajo Dios, entera, con libertad, y justicia para todos.

I was mulling over a possible art piece about this and thought that a good place to start might be to see for myself how I’d feel hearing the pledge in Spanish, in a context free of protest or ranting talking heads on television. So of course I started with Google. Surprisingly, there was very little audio of the pledge in Spanish, with the exception of some YouTube videos with little kids demonstrating their mastery of Espanol for the camcorder, proud parents directing to varying degrees in the background. A little too cute and still emotionally biased, this time in a context directly the opposite of protest.

German: Ich gelobe Treue auf die Fahne der Vereinigten Staaten, von Amerika, auf die Republik, die eine Nation, unter Gott ist, vereinigt durch Freiheit und Gerechtigkeit fur alle.

So instead I decided to have a more neutral presentation and have my favorite computer voice (Cepstral's Diane) say it in Spanish. Then it struck me: even if I type out the pledge in Spanish, Diane is an English computer voice, and she doesn't speak Spanish. Kind of a metaphor for the entire issue it seemed. Anyway, Diane tries in her own English way but it doesn't end up being very understandable Spanish. Hmm? I would need the pledge written out in Spanish and a Spanish computer voice as well. Was there somewhere to find Spanish speaking computer voices just like English Diane?  Do Spanish speaking parts of the world also have the wonderful privilege of receiving customer service via voice robot?

French (Canadian) : J´engage ma fidelité, au drapeau, des États-Unis d´Amérique, et à la République qu'il répresente, une nation, sous Dieu, indivisible, avec liberté et justice pour tous.

Indeed they do! Her name is Marta. Not only that, I also found computer voices in German, Italian, and French. I decide to add those languages to the list of ways to say the Pledge; adding German and Italian had the additional advantage of reflecting earlier waves of immigrants, but from Europe. I'm not aware that there has ever been a wave of French immigrants (hard to even imagine, actually) but I started this piece shortly after the height of France bashing in the U.S. so I thought including French might even better demonstrate the impact of hearing a non-English Pledge of Allegiance.

Italian: Giuro fedelta alla bandiera, degli Stati Uniti d’America, e alla repubblica che essa rappresenta, una nazione sotto Dio, indivisibile, con liberta e giustizia per tutti.

Now I had to find the pledge written out in all the languages. It took a while but I finally found them (with the exception of Italian) in a very unlikely place: the web page of the State of Washington's Secretary of State. I'm not sure why it's there, but it is. There's also plenty of rules there about displaying the flag and etiquette regarding the national anthem, but nothing that says it's against the law or even in bad form to say the Pledge in a language besides English. After all, he's the one who put the Pledge in other languages on the State's web page.

All five languages in a row:
English, Spanish, German, French, Italian.

The original Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy (1855 - 1931), a Baptist minister, in August 1892. Some sources say Bellamy was pressured to leave the ministry because of his socialist leanings and initially considered using the words equality and fraternity in the Pledge but decided they were too controversial since at the time so many people opposed equal rights for women and blacks. Here's a link to a May 1942 Library of Congress photo showing kids saying the pledge in the way recommended by Bellamy. Some say Bellamy chose this way of saluting during the Pledge because of his fondness for Italian Socialism. It was changed for obvious reasons once WWII started.

Mashup: all five languages at the same time. I suspect the "English Only" proponents would say this is a good metaphor for what things will be like if we allow the Pledge to be said in languages other than English.

So with all that, I had a good start on a Pledge piece and ultimately decided to make it primarily a sound work. The initial presentation was in the same gallery show where Romantic Vacuum Cleaners and Chainsaws appeared. The piece didn't seem to make much of an impression on the visitors that I got a chance to observe, even though I submitted the Pledge to the additional indignity of having it on four phones that were in a tangle, in the corner and on the floor. You had to squat to listen to the Pledge in the different languages, quite the opposite of standing with you hand over you heart. (I found a version in Italian and have since added that audio to the original four language version, so now there's five.) Why no reaction? Maybe because of the nature of these particular art gallery visitors: mostly young college students. Bill O'Reilly, Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity might have had a different reaction. You can judge for yourself by checking out the audio on the right. I Report, You Decide; Fair & Balanced, and all that.

English only Diane (the computer voice) tries to read the Pledge written out in Spanish. Probably what my Spanish sounds like to a native speaker. Spanish (Americas): Yo prometo, lealtad a la bandera, de los estados Unidos de America, y a la Republica que representa, una Nacion, bajo Dios, entera, con libertad, y justicia para todos

After working on this piece for a long time my reaction has turned out to be the opposite of the population segment who objects to the Pledge of Allegiance being said in a language other than English. I find it rather moving that the symbol of the flag and the presumed meaning behind the Pledge might transcend their roots in English and the expressive constrains of just one single language. Who knows, maybe new immigrants have always silently thought in their native tongue while they were saying the Pledge in their broken English?

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