Thursday, October 27, 2016

Imagine having to translate Donald Trump

One aspect of the Donald Trump presidential bid I had never even considered is the sheer impossibility of translating some of his flights of "rhetoric" into other languages.
God knows, it's hard enough to understand what he is saying in English oftentimes, with his twisted logic, his penchant for malapropisms, and those interminable run-on sentences. An article in Slate magazine tries (and fails miserably) to dissect and make sense of a particularly good example, but we are all familiar by now with sentences of the type: "The American economy, and this is very very important, the American economy is... ooh, look, a squirrel!"
I truly believe that this is a good part of what sets Trump supporters apart: most well-educated people just can't stand such undisciplined and wayward grammar and sloppy vocabulary and internal logic; the less-educated population that makes up the base of Trump's support (and, like it or not, that seems to be a fact) don't really care so much if he makes sense so long as he makes them feel good.
So, I was intrigued to read an article about the difficulty translators are having with Trump's literary flights of fancy. The article points out that the sheer difficulty of rendering accurate translations, and of making sense out of something that doesn't necessarily make sense can have some specific, if unintended, political effects, some of which may actually be helping Trump.
For example, his constant qualifications of statements - I don’t know, probably, maybe, I’m not sure, other people say, the lawyers say, I haven’t looked at it, I’m not familiar, etc - are often glossed over, or omitted completely, in quick translations, which may have the effect of making him sound more authoritative than he actually is. And some of his more colourful idioms (e.g. "I moved on her like a bitch", "grab them by the pussy", etc) may be translated less offensively, either to avoid internal censors or just because no exact translation exists.
On the other hand, some of his thinly-veiled sexist and racist comments may be translated more literally, rendering them even more sexist/racist.
Either way, it's funny (in a sad sort of a way) to read some comments of bilinguals who listened to the debates in Spanish, French or Chinese, and to hear from some the translators who were given the unenviable task of interpreting The Donald's pearls of wisdom.

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