"Languages nobody speaks"

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This recent Donald Trump speech has prompted a lot of discussion on both traditional and social media:

The audio clip, and a transcript:

cause everybody I speak to says they're horrible, there's nobody can explain to me how
allowing millions of
people from places unknown, from countries unknown,
who don't speak languages, we have languages coming into our country, we have nobody that even speaks those languages. They’re-
they're truly foreign languages, nobody speaks them

In fairness, "who don't speak languages" is probably a fragment, and by "nobody speaks them" he probably means "no American citizens speak them" or maybe "no American government employees speak them".

…though maybe I'm working too hard to make sense of this. Certainly if Joe Biden ran off a similarly incoherent rant ….

Update — a larger sample:



  1. GeorgeW said,

    March 1, 2024 @ 9:53 am

    I suggest he means, 'no one he knows' and/or 'no one who comes to Mar-a-Lago knows.'
    In the bigger picture, he would be referrring to non-European origin people (of course, many of these would speak a European language, Spanish. But, that's a detail.)

  2. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 1, 2024 @ 10:16 am

    Some possibly relevant context from the Pew Research folks (note the interesting lexical choice of "encounter" to describe interactions between the Border Patrol and people attempting to enter the U.S. without a visa or passport from a country whose citizens don't require a visa to enter the U.S.): "There has also been a shift in migrants’ origin countries. Historically, most encounters at the southwestern border have involved citizens of Mexico or the Northern Triangle nations of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. But in December 2023, 54% of encounters involved citizens of countries other than these four nations."

    There are two different linguistic-diversity things going on here.

    1. Some material subset (although I haven't seen a good quantitative estimate) of the 46% from Mexico-and-Northern-Triangle have limited-at-best fluency in Spanish and have instead indigenous Mesoamerican L1's, which are less frequently spoken (although not not at all) in the U.S. and are definitely languages that the U.S. bureaucracy has less experience working in than Spanish.

    2. While some of the other 54% are from further south in the the predominantly Hispanophone part of the Americas (particularly Venezuela at present), an increasing percentage originate from Asia or Africa (the international human-smuggling industry having gotten increasingly good at moving such folks by air to Latin American countries with loose "tourist" entry policies, and the non-Latin-American migrants then moving north toward the U.S. border by land). So that's a wide range of non-Spanish L1's, some of which may be more common within the existing U.S. population than others.

  3. Seonachan said,

    March 1, 2024 @ 10:28 am

    As other online commenters have pointed out, his remarks could have been applied to his own mother, an immigrant and native speaker of Scottish Gaelic. Speaking of which, the BBC Alba comedy show FUNC had a series of sketches with a Gaelic-speaking Trump. An example:

  4. jin defang said,

    March 1, 2024 @ 11:22 am

    yes, badly phrased but with some truth at its core. In the Miami exurbs there are people who do not speak English, Spanish, or Creole but, as JW Brewer says, a variety of Mesoamerican tongues. By law, we're required to educate the children in their native languages, but "nobody" can do it. This was a particular problem when schools closed during covid and we taxpayers provided computers for each child, only to discover that no one could teach the kids how to use them. Unless the administration deals with the influx, the problem of finding instructors and, by extension, how to integrate them into the polity is going to get worse.

  5. Terry Hunt said,

    March 1, 2024 @ 11:39 am

    @ jin defang – Yes, governing and administrating is hard, but solving such problems humanely is surely a government's obligation.

    In a nation literally formed by relatively recent immigration, spending somewhat more money (which the USA appears not to be short of) on teaching and other support measures is surely more appropriate than adopting inhumane measures that, in some cases, harm and even kill legal as well as illegal immigrants.

    Lack of X-ish-speaking teachers? Instead of hand wringing, go to X-ia and recruit some!

    Apologies for straying from purely linguistic considerations.

  6. Y said,

    March 1, 2024 @ 12:14 pm

    As usual with him, the meaning is obfuscated in translation from English to Trumpese: "everybody" => "I"; "nobody" => "not I".

  7. Haamu said,

    March 1, 2024 @ 12:44 pm

    @myl / @GeorgeW —

    You're both being way too generous. In the context of a xenophobic rant like this, "nobody" means "nobody who matters" or "nobody I consider human."

    It seems we are witnessing language-based discrimination evolve tactically (although I hesitate to give Trump credit for originating this technique and assume he absorbed it from somebody else). This is more sophisticated than a simple English-only or "English First" appeal. Trump knows he needs the votes of Spanish speakers, particularly in border states. So, instead of criticizing all non-English languages, he's positing a dichotomy between languages that matter and languages that don't matter. By extension, if you speak a language that doesn't matter, and that no one who matters would ever bother with, then you don't matter either.

    The great thing about this is you never have to specify which languages occupy the latter category, because even naming them would express more care about them than they deserve. You merely need to assert that the category exists and your low-information followers will assume that it must be populated with lots of worthless stuff.

  8. Seth said,

    March 1, 2024 @ 1:16 pm

    "Nobody Goes There Anymore, It's Too Crowded"

    This is one of those things where it's perfectly clear what he means, though it's not very nice.
    But it's interesting to see the part of the reaction which is basically, an educated professional wouldn't use these linguistic constructions, therefore he is stupid and incoherent. It's like the double-negative – a lower class marker, to be mocked for being illogical in terms of formalism.

    Similar to "I don't have pronouns" and the like.

  9. Tom Dawkes said,

    March 1, 2024 @ 3:09 pm

    @ Seonachan
    I recall reading some years ago of an elderly Scottish Highlands would-be immigrant to Australia being refused entry because of illiteracy: he could read Scots Gaelic (his mother tongue) but not English, and so was considered illiterate.

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 1, 2024 @ 3:41 pm

    My L1 Scottish-Gaelic-speaking great-great-grandmother was not stopped from immigrating to the U.S. (from Canada) despite being equally illiterate in both Gaelic and English (which by that point in her life she was a reasonably fluent L2 speaker of). But that was back in the 1860's so the authorities were perhaps less uptight about that sort of thing — or perhaps Australia has historically had higher levels of uptightness in its immigration policy as compared to the U.S. OTOH, the only reason I know she was illiterate is because it's explicitly mentioned in some family history, presumably by someone who thought that literacy was so widespread in some relevant demographic group or cohort she was part of (Protestant white women born in North America in the 1830's or something like that) that her lack of it was noteworthy.

  11. AntC said,

    March 1, 2024 @ 4:02 pm

    …though maybe I'm working too hard to make sense of this

    Yes. What's coming out of Trump's mouth is language nobody speaks.

  12. Seth said,

    March 1, 2024 @ 5:45 pm

    FYI, the "languages" section is at around 6:14 in extended clip above.

    @AntC – That's a good one. But more seriously, no, it's language nobody speaks "here" (academic types).

  13. Chips Mackinolty said,

    March 1, 2024 @ 7:35 pm

    @Tom Dawkes
    Ability or non-ability to speak particular languages has long been used by powers-that-be to exclude or expel people. Perhaps one of the most famous were the attempts to prevent anti-Nazi activist Egon Kisch from entering Australia in the 1930s underbthen then White Australia Policy. Kisch, an Austrian, was administered a "test" and was excluded entry for not being able translate a passage from Gaelic into English!

    It's a pretty long but hilarious read here:


  14. David Morris said,

    March 2, 2024 @ 4:43 am

    From what I can remember of the Kisch.judgement, the High Court decided that Scottish Gaelic wasn't a 'language' in that it wasn't widely/formally/officially used or codified, so that any spoken or written passage could be objectively judged as 'correct' or 'incorrect'.
    Some (very few) Australian visas have a language requirement, which is a specified score in a specified English language test, the most common of which are IELTS and Pearson.

  15. David Morris said,

    March 2, 2024 @ 4:57 am

    From what I can remember of reading the judgement many years later, not at the time …

  16. Jon W said,

    March 3, 2024 @ 4:02 pm

    @JWBrewer: The US didn't enact laws restricting immigration by people other than the Chinese until some fifty years after your grandmother arrived. A 1917 statute required immigrants over 16 years old to be literate in some language. That didn't do the job in reducing the influx of those thought undesirable (in Italy, schools were established so that would-be immigrants could pass a literacy test), so the 1924 Immigration Act more directly shut down all but a trickle of immigration from Asia and from Southern and Eastern Europe.

  17. Jon W said,

    March 3, 2024 @ 6:51 pm

    Sorry, your great-great-grandmother. None of us is old enough to have had a grandmother who arrived in the 1860s.

  18. Joshua K. said,

    March 4, 2024 @ 12:12 am

    Another person who fell victim to the Australian immigration/language policy was Mabel Freer, a white British woman who, in order to keep her out of the country, was given a dictation test … in Italian.


  19. GH said,

    March 4, 2024 @ 5:02 am


    Don't be so sure. The fact that John Tyler (born 1790, US President 1841–45) has a living grandson got some attention a couple of years back (Harrison Ruffin Tyler, 95 and still kicking). A woman arriving in the US as a young girl in 1860 could have had a son born around 1900, and a grandchild born 1960 or later.

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