There’s an interesting video on the BBC’s site from BBC Persian’s correspondent, Siavash Ardalan, about translating US President Donald Trump. In his job Ardalan often has to do live translations of world leaders, and while most are fairly straightforward to interpret from English to Farsi, Trump is more of a challenge!
The most difficult aspect of translating Trump is that so much of what he says is unscripted. Therefore he veers off on different tangents, often making statements that appear to be out of context, all with the aim of delivering a punch line. This makes the live translator’s job very difficult; on the one hand wanting to reflect truthfully what is said, on the other needing to also convey what the real meaning is; so that those listening or watching understand what Trump’s message actually is.
Some might even say that President Trump has created a new dialect, which means that translators need to translate Trump into their target language, not American English! Already words like ‘Trumpism’ have been added to the lexicon, so perhaps we need to also add these Trumpisms to our translation glossaries?
Ardalan’s solution is to become Trump! He finds the best way is to embody the President and use his gestures and tone of voice: rather doing a straightforward word-by-word translation.
But what about translating Trump’s words into text? We asked some of our translators for their advice:
“I think it’s easier for an interpreter to convey what Trump is saying through imitating his style and behaviour. It’s much more difficult for a translator to put it in writing. However, despite how much he digresses whilst giving a speech, he always attempts to deliver a final punch word or phrase to make his point and this is important to convey in the translation.” Anja, German Translator
In many cases it is easier to provide a summary of a Trump speech, having deciphered what his key message is. Key phrases can be included as quotes helping to convey his personality and message, without confusing the reader:
“I would translate Trump’s words truthfully as people have a right to know what he is saying. But it’s difficult depending on the target audience as it can be very confusing, you want to avoid a diplomatic scandal!” Mateo, Latin American Spanish Translator
“Generally Trump’s agenda is straightforward and not subtle. If there is any hidden meaning at all in Trump’s speeches, it arises when there is tension between what he wants to say and what his advisors recommend he says. I would translate Trump literally as that is the best way to convey his message.” Qingyuan, Mandarin Translator
However, Trump is famous for using words that when translated literally don’t always convey his meaning. In this situation a different approach may be needed:
“Trump often ends sentences when speaking and on Twitter, with single words like ‘sad’. I don’t think this was even a common way of speaking in the US before Trump, let alone in non-English speaking countries. While we’re beginning to understand what ‘sad’ means in this context, I wouldn’t always translate this literally as it doesn’t have the same meaning in German. Instead I would find an alternative word that conveys what he’s really trying to say. ‘Disappointing’ might be a better translation in some instances.” Anja, German Translator
Trump’s less than diplomatic language also causes some problems. His comments about certain African countries earlier this year not only caused outrage because of the sentiment, but also had translators scratching their heads for the most appropriate word to use. In Tanzania the Mwananchi newspaper translated Trump’s remark as “mataifa chafu” meaning “dirty countries”; in Japan Kydo News used “kusottare” which means “dripping with excrement”; and in Peru, Radio Programmas opted for “agujeros de porqueria” translated into English as “holes of fifth”.
In other countries news outlets varied from very literal to more creative, whilst others found their own equally as offensive versions of the expression.
It is clear that translating speech often requires some creative translation to ensure that readers in different countries understand the main point of a conversation or presentation. Trump, however, has really made us reassess how to effectively translate speech, preserve the meaning and also reflect the personality of the speaker!
What approach would you take? I would love to hear your views on this subject. Leave a comment below if you would like to join the debate!