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Japanese Interpreter: Translating Trump Word For Word Makes Us 'Sound Stupid'

Written by Tom

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Donald Trump says things that can defy description—and that’s proving a challenge for translators around the globe.

Tokyo-based translator Chikako Tsuruta told the Japan Times that translating the president into Japanese is a challenge, what with the lack of logic or concern for facts.

“[Trump] rarely speaks logically, and he only emphasizes one side of things as if it were the absolute truth,” Tsuruta said. “There are lots of moments when I suspected his assertions were factually dubious.”

Tsuruta, who has worked for CNN, ABC and CBS, says Trump’s hyperbolic rhetorical style puts her and translators like her at risk of a kind of guilt by association.

“He is so overconfident and yet so logically unconvincing that my interpreter friends and I often joke that if we translated his words as they are, we would end up making ourselves sound stupid,” Tsuruta said.

Another challenge interpreters face: rendering Trump’s disjointed speech patterns.

Try to make sense of this world salad dished up by the president when he was campaigning last summer:

Here is a transcript: 

Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT. Good genes, very good genes, OK? Very smart: the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart. You know, if you’re a conservative Republican—if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican, they try—oh, do they do a number. That’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune. You know, I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged. But you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me: it would have been so easy—and it’s not as important as these lives are. Nuclear is so powerful. My uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power—and that was 35 years ago—he would explain the power of what’s going to happen, and he was right. Who would have thought? But when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners— now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three. And even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger: “Fellas,”—and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so you know it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so … And they, they just killed, they just killed us.

As EuroNews.com points out, it’s enough to make frustrated interpreters throw up their hands and just write, “the Iranians talked rings around us at the negotiations.”

French interpreter Bérengère Viennot said Trump is not easy to translate because he seems “not to know quite where he’s going.”

“He seems to hang onto a word in the question, or to a word that pops into his mind, repeating it over and over again,” she told the Los Angeles Review of Books. Even if you understand his point, you still have to express it another language.

“You realize, at that moment, that you have written something very unpleasant to read. Trump’s vocabulary is limited, his syntax is broken; he repeats the same phrases over and over, forcing the translator to follow suit,” she said. “The translator has to translate the content and the style. So that is what I do, and reading Trump in French, which is a very structured and logical language, reveals the poor quality of his language and, consequently, of his thought.”

For all the challenges interpreters face in translating Trump into other languages, the fact remains that understanding him in English is no cakewalk either.

Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke recently came up with a cheat sheet to help Americans understand what certain key phrases favored by the president really mean:

Bad: Generally means “good,” particularly when applied to something good that Trump considers bad.

Good: Not good at all. Trumpglish synonyms of this word include “the best,” “the greatest,” “spectacular,” “amazing” and “so amazing.”

Fake news: Real news that makes Trump look bad.

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