'Lost in Trumpslation': The trouble of translating 'Trump speak' into French

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'Lost in Trumpslation': The trouble of translating 'Trump speak' into French
Photo: Evan Guest/ Flickr

As Trump’s inauguration speech goes out across the world on Friday, many people aren’t happy. Among them are French translators struggling to keep up with the new presidents “unique” vocabulary and style.


“Trump’s vocabulary is limited, his syntax is broken; he repeats the same phrases over and over, forcing the translator to follow suit” French translator Bérengère Viennot told the LA review of books recently.

Trump famously confused journalists worldwide with his use of “bigly” in the first presidential debate, he’s now said it was actually “big league” – even so, how do you use that as an adjective in French, grand division or grand ligue?

As a translator, you need to not only translate the individual words, but the meaning behind that, to do that well you have to really get inside the head of the speaker.

With Donald Trump, that can be tricky and it's nothing to do with his hair.

“It’s as if he had thematic clouds in his head that he would pick from with no need of a logical thread to link them” said Viennot.

This poses a particular problem for French translators, as the language is known to be very structured and logical.

Do you smooth out the style, or leave it as it is for French readers to work out for themselves?

And what happens when Donald Trump actually mispronounces or mistakes a word, such as “swatches of land”, where he's assumed to have meant to say “swathes of land”?

Translation may even edit out these mistakes, potentially giving the French world a better impression of Trump’s language than is warranted.  

So whatever your opinion on the new president, spare a thought for French translators. 


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