As you may have read in the news, translators around the world are struggling translating and interpreting Donald Trump’s speeches.
The cause? Run on sentences, disjointed syntax, repetitions and well, let’s face it, limited vocabulary.
According to professional translator Bérengère Viennot, “For translators, Trump is an unprecendented and desolating struggle”.
And as the French say, Bérengère “n’y va pas par quatre chemins” (she does not beat around the bush – no pun intended) by adding bluntly: “When it comes to speaking of something other than his victory, he clings desperately to the words contained in the question put to him, without succeeding in completing his own thought.”
For many translators, including Ms Viennot, Mr Trump’s speeches put them in an ethical dilemma: meaning might be difficult to interpret.
On the one hand, his abrupt style and metaphors can be difficult to render in another culture; while on another hand, translating Mr Trump more smoothly might make him come across as an ordinary politician, which, clearly, he is not.
As Ms Viennot points out: “Most of the time, when he speaks, he seems not to know quite where he’s going”… Yes, we noticed…
The first step for a translator is to get into the mind of the person you are translating which is made very difficult when someone does not know themselves the point they are trying to make!
What are translators meant to do with words and expressions such as “bigly”, “braggadocious” or “swatches of land” that even puzzle native speakers?
In fact, a readability analysis of campaign speeches from the 2016 presidential campaign concluded that the 45th American president of the United States had the language skills of a 13-year-old: short sentences, single words and simple narratives as portrayed by Jimmy Fallon:
According to University of Pensylvania linguistics professor Mark Yoffe Liberman, Trump’s favorite word is “I”. His fourth-favorite word is “Trump”. And eight out of his 13 favourite words are made of one syllable. The two-syllable words are simple such as “very”, “China” or “money”.
I will leave you with this beauty, which, as it turns out is just ONE sentence!
Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.
Feel free to suggest a translation in the comments below!!