Trumpisms: Why Translating the President’s Language is Bigly Difficult

The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States on the 20th January marked, for better or worse, a seismic shift in US politics. There are many groups whose lives will be affected by Trump’s ascendancy to the Presidency. What is not so well known however, is the impact it will have on the language professionals working in the field of US politics.

The fact that Trump uses language that is different to what is expected of a politician creates challenges for interpreters. Indeed, a secret recording in which Trump made crude comments about women, stating he could “grab them by the p****y” posed a dilemma for translators. For them it was unclear whether they should render this statement in equally shocking language. Similar issues have been posed by other slang terms used by the President, such as “Locker-room talk”, as well as his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again”. For Latin American audiences, the latter may evoke memories of CIA interventions. Furthermore, in languages such as Portuguese and Spanish, the Word “America” is generally used to refer to the Americas as a whole.

It is not only the content of Trump’s language, but also its structure that has created issues. Bérengère Viennot, a French translator, has complained of Trump’s long running sentences and tendency towards repetition. In languages whose structures are different to English, the decision must be made whether or not to attempt to render the President’s language more intelligible, thus losing aspects of his idiosyncratic rhetorical style. Trump’s speech poses particular challenges for simultaneous interpreters, who rely on being able to anticipate what the speaker is going to say in advance, due to the President’s tendency to jump suddenly between topics.

However, from a translator’s point of view, the prospect of four more years of Donald Trump is not purely negative. This is the case regarding the relative simplicity of his language and tendency towards “plain talking”. In any case, native English speakers may not always be able to grasp what the President is saying. Perhaps they need a translator too.


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