Namibia, Nambia, whatever

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It's hard to keep all those African countries straight, as President Trump demonstrated in a speech to African leaders at the U.N.:

Mr. Trump continues to create jobs in broadcast comedy, even for workers normally employed in other industries:

Of course this speech error provided opportunities for the professionals as well:

And plenty of opportunities for piece-workers on twitter:

Here's the original:

I like political humor as much as anyone, but still, I hope that Trumpistic speech errors don't turn into this decade's version of "Bushisms".


  1. Craig said,

    September 21, 2017 @ 12:10 pm

    Trump obviously meant NAMBLA, which may not be part of Africa but it is a real thing that he has some experience with.

  2. Peter said,

    September 21, 2017 @ 12:36 pm

    I like this kind of foible, because millions of Americans of all political stripes learned there's a country called "Namibia" as a result.

  3. David L said,

    September 21, 2017 @ 2:14 pm

    He confused it with Gamibia, I guess.

  4. Steven said,

    September 21, 2017 @ 2:21 pm

    @Craig Even for Trump NAMBLA supporter is a bit low. I wasn't aware of it until now, but at least according to Snopes whatever nasty rumor that circulated is without merit.

    As for "Nambia", my first instinct would be he is conflating it with The Gambia, though it is at least equally likely that Trump simply misread it out of lack of familiarity with the country.

  5. Chandra said,

    September 21, 2017 @ 2:24 pm

    When Stephen Colbert does his Trump impression, it sounds more to me like Colbert imitating Baldwin imitating Trump.

  6. JPL said,

    September 21, 2017 @ 5:56 pm

    Trump has difficulty reading; you could put together a good length tape of his misreadings and mispronunciations of words that are not part of his limited vocabulary. (I've noticed quite a few, even though I haven't seen it mentioned in the media.) But to be so clueless as to get up there before the world and persist in being unaware that there is no such country as "Nambia" and to let it come out of his mouth, or to not be able to recognize "Namibia" by the mere shape of the word, indicates some serious cognitive deficits. (A reporter should ask him: Why did you say "Nambia" twice?) BTW, his very limited repertoire of lexical items, even compared to a normal adult without a college degree, would make an interesting object of study for a linguist or psycholinguist. Judging from videos of his earlier self, I don't see much difference in this regard between then and now. His speech and its incapacities remind me of a child bothered by ADHD.

    I've only heard a clip, but there was another error, this one in the teleprompter and so probably due to the ignorance of S. Miller et al., where he mentioned African states that had struggled with the Ebola outbreak and named Guinea and Nigeria. The states concerned were Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia; Nigeria had a few isolated cases (in the same way that the US did), which they dealt with without further incident.

  7. Alex said,

    September 21, 2017 @ 10:28 pm

    Id imagine for a blog called language log the Obama gaffe of making up Austrian as a language should be worse.

  8. James said,

    September 22, 2017 @ 5:10 am

    It's not a language. Austrian is a dialect.
    Did Obama say it was a language?

  9. flow said,

    September 22, 2017 @ 5:15 am

    @Alex Actually, no. He doesn't say implicitly or explicitly that 'Austrian is a language', he says "I don't what the term is in Austrian… Wheeling and dealing". I can certify as coming from a neighboring country that it would be altogether linguistically unremarkable had Mr. Obama said, "Ich weiß nicht, wie man auf Österreichisch sagt… Kungelei". Others before have used the term 'American', 'American language' in an equivalent manner to mean 'English as spoken in (the United States of) America'. As to why Mr. Obama used the term 'Austrian' at all, only context can tell, and I guess that knowing the context will make that alleged gaffe just evaporate.

  10. Lazar said,

    September 22, 2017 @ 5:24 am

    Austrian is a dialect.

    "Austrian" isn't a dialect per se; most of the country belongs to the Bavarian dialect group, and a small part to the Alemannic one.

    Did Obama say it was a language?

    He referred to it as if it were one, yes. I'd say it's a minor gaffe, akin to someone unfamiliar with the Lusophone world asking how something is said in "Brazilian".

  11. Lazar said,

    September 22, 2017 @ 5:28 am

    Others before have used the term 'American', 'American language' in an equivalent manner to mean 'English as spoken in (the United States of) America'.

    Eh, that's a rare and not totalyl standard usage. In the US, a common comedy trope used to demonstrate a character's ignorance (e.g. in impressions of George W. Bush, although I'm not aware that he ever said it) is to have them refer to Mexicans speaking "Mexican".

  12. flow said,

    September 22, 2017 @ 6:21 am

    @Lazar rare maybe, but hardly unheard of, cf Mencken's rather famous 1919 work, "The American Language" ( And although the term 'Austrian' may be linguistically imprecise or even wrong, people in Austria still say 'Austrian' ('Österreichisch') to mean 'German as spoken in Austria', so Obama can do so, too. Likewise, I see nothing wrong with talking about 'Berlinerisch' (Berlin German) or 'Brazilian' (Portuguese as spoken in Brazil). To be sure, in all of these cases a number of languages are just swept under the carpet, for example the many indigenous languages of Brazil.

  13. Lazar said,

    September 22, 2017 @ 6:40 am

    Outside of perhaps a very specific discussion of interdialectal differences ("In British they say this, in American they say this"), referring to the predominant language spoken in the US as "American" would generally signal that one holds extremely provincial or nationalistic views. It's not at all a normal usage. And when someone refers to the predominant language of Brazil as "Brazilian" – unless it's in a discussion of Portuguese dialects in which it's clear that they're using it as a shorthand – they'll be instantly mocked by informed people (rightly or wrongly) for not knowing what language is spoken there. As I said, it's even established as a comedy trope.

    It's true that German has a more "familiar" way of referring to its dialects, but regardless there's really no tradition in English of referring to national varieties of languages in this way. I think the most likely explanation is that Obama just slipped up.

  14. Matthew McIrvin said,

    September 22, 2017 @ 7:06 am

    There's "Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language". That title always struck me as a bit unusual, though I kind of like that dictionary for its etymologies.

  15. Francis Boyle said,

    September 22, 2017 @ 12:33 pm

    How is "I don't know what the term is in Austrian" essentially different from "I don't know what you call this is in American but in England we call it a biscuit"? I suspect that Obama was merely being polite given Austrian people's sensitivity to being lumped in with the Germans.

  16. flow said,

    September 22, 2017 @ 1:20 pm

    @Francis Boyle—aye, I second and third this.

  17. Terry Hunt said,

    September 22, 2017 @ 2:18 pm

    Re "American" as a language or dialect name distinct from "English": as a book collector, I possess a number of French paperback translations of popular works originally written by British or American writers. Usually, a verso note states "Traduit de l'anglais" or "Traduit de l'américain". (An example in front of me as I type is a Le Livre de Poche Calman-Levy edition of Patricia Highsmith's Le cri du hibou.) I have read elsewhere that the equivalent is routine in some other European languages.

    Re Austrian as distinct from German: my (British) father worked in North Rhine-Westphalia for a few years and acquired enough German for socializing and a bilingual work setting (a British Army establishment with numerous German civilian employees and working contacts), but lacked the confidence to use German in a formal or official setting. On a motoring holiday he crossed into Austria, and said in English to the Austrian border guard "I'm sorry, I don't speak German." The guard replied in English "That's all right, neither do I."

  18. Jim said,

    September 22, 2017 @ 3:52 pm

    Given that he is speaking of other equatorial west African nations (Ghana, Cote d'Ivore, Nigeria), that was obviously supposed to be (The) Gambia, not a country 1000 miles south.

    The real question, then, is was this a verbal gaffe on Trump's part, or did whomever prepared the speech notes mess up?

  19. Robert Coren said,

    September 23, 2017 @ 10:29 am

    I had forgotten about (The) Gambia, and figured he meant either Namibia or Zambia.

    I'm surprised by the relative dearth of "Freedonia" references.

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