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the power of words


「Yes We Can」2008年、アメリカ大統領選挙でオバマ前大統領のビクトリースピーチの中の言葉。覚えている人も多いと思う。このスピーチについて学んだことによって、私の言葉に対する考え方が180度変わった。言葉の力っていうものは、本当にすごい。言葉の偉大さに気がついたことで、自分の習慣も変わるくらい。今回はそんな言葉の力のお話をしようと思う。

“Yes We Can” -- one of the mottos that former U.S. president Barack Obama chanted in his presidential election victory speech in 2008. I think that many people remember this phrase because the media used it a lot. How I think about words did a complete 180 after studying his speech. I believe that words have immense power. It’s so powerful that it’s even changed my lifestyle habits. Today, I will talk about the power of words.


*アフリカン・アメリカン = アメリカ国民のうち、アフリカ出身の黒人もしくは子孫。彼らのことをアフリカ系と呼ぶか黒人と呼ぶかは論争がある。(Wikipediaより)

In my university in Japan, every friend of mine who took the English literature class recommended it to me and said that I needed to take it. My professor included former President Obama’s speech in the class syllabus, and I was surprised to hear that we were going to learn about a speech in a literature class. I thought we were just going to be learning about English books. My professor explained that words have immense power, and speeches also fall under literature. In this class, other than President Obama’s speech, we read the Bible and African American literature. We were scheduled to study President Obama’s speech near the end of the term, so I couldn’t wait for that time to come.


At the end of the term, the time to learn about former President Obama’s speech finally came. Listening to the speech after learning what it really meant blew me away. His speech was filled with gratitude for those who supported his campaign, and admiration for people who changed history like former President Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. Personally, what struck me was his message on unity and standing together. I deeply felt his message on how everyone needs to think about the future of the U.S. no matter their gender or the color of their skin, and how he wants to create a new U.S. together.

このスピーチの内容は、アフリカン・アメリカンカルチャーを盛り込んだ部分であったり、リンカーン前大統領のゲティスバーグの演説や、キング牧師のI Have a DreamのスピーチI've Been to The Mountaintopのスピーチを思い出させる部分もあって鳥肌が立ちっぱなしだった。スピーチを文法や韻の踏み方を掘り下げて、本来の意味を読み解いていった。それを知ってから見たオバマ前大統領の演説は「感動」だけでは表せられないくらい心に響いた。オバマ氏のスピーチから人種差別と闘った人たちの言葉の力も伝わって、彼のスピーチの力をより増していたように思う。実際、授業中に泣いてしまった。


Obama’s speech contained fragments of African American culture and also parts that reminded me of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech and I've Been to the Mountaintop speech, I had goosebumps the entire time I was listening. During the class, we deconstructed his syntax and rhyme, and dug for its true meaning. Seeing the speech after analyzing it, his words resonated with me so heavily -- in a way that can’t just be explained as merely being impressed or moved. I think his speech was made even more powerful by how he used other people's words too. I actually ended up crying in class.

I felt that Obama gave a speech in front of Americans that contained the voices of people who worked hard to change the world as they resisted oppression against African Americans. I felt that his motto “Yes We Can” united people with the same hopes for society as one family. It made me realize the power of words, and I didn’t think words could be so thought-provoking...

Victory Speech 2018 / 和訳


ちなみに私は音楽がとても大好きなんだけど、言葉の力を知ってもっと好きになった。アフリカン・アメリカンカルチャーの音楽は、特に歌詞やリズムにも深い意味があって、それ一曲で歴史の教科書になるくらい。ビリー・ホリデイの『Strange Fruit』という曲は、黒人差別における集団リンチについて歌っている。公民権運動が活発になる1960年代までアメリカでは、ジム・クロウ法*など黒人差別が法律として認められる地域が存在していた。それくらい人種差別が蔓延していた。アフリカ系アメリカ人にとって声をあげることなど、簡単なことではなかった。だからこそ、この歌には力があって当時の人々の考えに影響を与えていった。当時の彼らにとって、言葉とは何かを訴えるツールだった。彼らの言葉には力があると知り、それが言葉のもつ力に魅せられるきっかけになった。言葉の重みを知ってから、人に気持ちを伝えるようにもなった。私はあまり人に「好き」って言えなかったけど、伝えていこうと思うようにもなれた。


I often hear sayings about how words can be hurtful, but I never realized the power of words until studying this speech. On a side note, I really love music and started to love it more after realizing the power of words. African American music, in particular, makes great use of the power of words. Their lyrics and rhythms each have deep meaning, and it tells us about their history just like a history textbook! One example is Billie Holiday’s song Strange Fruit, where she sings in protest of the lynching of African Americans. In the U.S. at the time, anti-black racism was a norm, and it wasn’t easy for African Americans to raise their voices. For this reason, Holiday’s song was powerful and influenced people’s ideas at the time. For African Americans at the time, words were a tool to protest injustice. Their words had power, and realizing this gave me the chance to understand the power of words. After realizing the power of words, I started to become willing to tell people how I feel. I used to not to be able to say “I love you” to the people I love, but now I feel like I should express my affection.


And now, with the development of social media, it has become easy for anybody to broadcast their words. Words inherently have words, and sometimes they affect people behind the screen. Sadly, there are people who use that as a weapon to make people believe lies and abuse that power. I’ve also experienced unintentionally hurting people, and I’ve also been hurt by people’s casual remarks. In these ways, the power of words can be used for bad as well as for good.



For me, words make me realize what I didn’t realize before. When my mom says to me “You've got this”, I feel like I can do anything. It’s probably because to me, my mom’s words hold immense power. Every time I feel timid or fearful, I ask my mom to tell me that I’ve got this. Because I know that words can have a huge influence on people, I am more careful about my words now. I never really thought twice about my language, but this experience as well as having a senior who is very polite and refined in her speech made me take more care in using language that is more refined and respectful. It sounds hard to change yourself, but changing the way you speak is surprisingly easy. I think it’s even made my mental state more at peace.


Again, words are really powerful and can have a huge impact on us. I really like chatting with people, so I feel that I should always be able to take responsibility for my words. I’m also always trying to incorporate more peaceful and positive words in my daily vocabulary. I think doing this will make interactions more positive and fulfilling, and I think it’s something amazing, so I want to continue doing this!

Images by Rio

Edited by Eli, Kiara, and Hikari

English Edited by Kiara

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