Innovation

A Japanese Interpreter Shares The Many Problems One Faces When Translating Donald Trump's Words

by Penn Collins

February 24, 2017

So far President Trump’s interaction with the Japanese has been encapsulated by an awkward, seemingly endless handshake with Prime Minster Shinzo Abe. But that puzzling encounter is indicative of an emerging and profound cultural rift between the new leader and Japan. 

Namely, Japanese translators are having a very difficult time interpreting Trump’s comments in a logical way. That’s not to say they’re having trouble finding logic and reason in the things he says – which, yeah – but rather, they don’t know how to frame his comments in the Japanese language, one embedded in structure, formality, and simplicity. Speaking to The Japan Times, professional translator Chikako Tsuruta didn’t pull any punches in describing how she and her peers view the task of presenting Trump’s speech in a Japanese context. 

“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.” 

Chikako Tsuruta - Satoko

It’s not the words he uses, since Carnegie Mellon’s Language Technologies Institute put Trump’s vocabulary at a sixth-grade level, but rather the construction and syntax he uses. That said The Japan Times cite his casually racist and sexist terminology as another obstacle towards conveying his words. His familiar use of names, a hallmark of his Twitter use as well as his speech, further confuses live translators who may not pick up his off-the-cuff references. Says Miwako Ibi, a 20-year-veteran of broadcast interpretation: 

“When he suddenly said ‘Reince is a superstar,’ I was literally thrown off. Only after the camera zoomed in on the face of a ‘Reince’ did I realize who Trump was talking about, and I hastily added, for the sake of the audience, that it’s actually ‘Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman.’ “

Clearly, the issue is a frustrating one for translators from the traditionally polite nation, since just one month into Trump’s presidency, they’re dropping the pretense that he just has a different way of doing things. Says Kumiko Torikai, another translator:

“As an interpreter, your job is to translate the words of a speaker exactly as they are, no matter how heinous and what an outrageous liar you find the speaker to be. If Trump is not making sense, you don’t get to make sense, either.”

Sakoto

The American media is probably falling over itself to agree. 

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A Japanese Interpreter Shares The Many Problems One Faces When Translating Donald Trump's Words