Translators Lament Trump's Rhetoric as Impossible to Translate

A French translator expressed particular frustration about what she said was the new president's broken syntax, rambling sentences and limited vocabulary.

File photo: U.S. President Donald Trump celebrates after his speech during the presidential inauguration in Washington, January 20, 2016.
Saul Loeb/Reuters

For some, U.S. President Donald Trump may have a way with words, but for the world's translators, conveying them in another language poses a major challenge,  Australia's public broadcaster SBS noted this week.

For her part, Soraya Caicedo, the producer of SBS Radio's Spanish-language language program, underscored what was apparent on the hustings: "He aims to speak not as a president would speak. He speaks as someone in the community would speak,” she said.

“When he says ‘Make America Great Again’, we are thinking of the kind of America that used to intervene in governments in Latin America,” she said, citing past American intervention in Chile, Nicaragua and El Salvador. 

SBS also cited its English translation of comments made in a widely circulated article on the French version of the Slate website by Bérengère Viennot, a professional translator, who complained about Trump's broken syntax, rambling sentences and limited vocabulary. "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,” she wrote. “The poverty of the vocabulary is striking.”

The new president's rhetorical style even posed an ethical dilemma, Viennot said. She was left with either translating Trump verbatim into French, which would make it difficult to understand, or she can, as she put it, make his speech more intelligible, making him sound like "an ordinary politician who speaks properly.”

Translations, SBS noted, can also have diplomatic consequences, citing a 2006 controversy over comments by the Iran president at the time, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, according a translation, threatened to “wipe Israel off the map.” But SBS cited another translation that had the Iranian president simply forecasting that the Israeli government would “vanish from the pages of history."

One way or another, at the end of his presidency, Ahmadinejad reportedly called his campaign denying the Holocaust one of his greatest achievements.