January 26, 2017

Translators are having a hell of a time dealing with Trump’s “English”


Qu’est-ce qu’il dit?

This isn’t supposed to be funny, but it kind of is.

In an interview for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Robert Zaretsky spoke to Bérengère Viennot, a professional translator from the French, about the difference between translating Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

Viennot is thoughtful and delicate, but it’s difficult to interpret from her words anything other than “It was a joy to translate Obama, because he’s so smart and interesting; it’s difficult to translate Trump because, well, because Trump is a moron.”

“Trump is not easy to translate,” she says, “because, most of the time, when he speaks he seems not to know quite where he’s going.” And further: “Trump’s vocabulary is limited, his syntax is broken; he repeats the same phrases over and over, forcing the translator to follow suit.”

Right, goodness, pity the translator whose job it is to be faithful to the content and spirit of Trump’s speech while also, you know, making sense. It reminded me of watching the debates, when I honest to god couldn’t understand what Trump was trying to say, couldn’t follow his train of thought.

Translating Trump is, it’s no surprise, a kind of oxymoron.



Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.