Lost in Trumpslation: An Interview with Bérengère Viennot – Los Angeles Review of Books

A fascinating, inside look at the tribulations of translators, not only in times of Trump, but more broadly at the headspaces they navigate.

For journalistic translator, Bérengère Viennot, who has translated Obama’s speeches and does the same now for Trump, it could, in visual terms, be compared to being snatched from the clean aesthetics of a Mondrian, and being hurled into a linguistic morass, inspired in equal measure by M.C. Escher and Hieronymus Bosch.

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Obama vs. Trump

The task of the translator is not the mere conversion or transliteration of one language into another, in the manner of a human Google Translate. No, nein, non, não, 不是. It is the willing, dedicated, and professional immersion of the self into the mind and culture of another, and doing one’s darnedest to render speech or text naturally and faithfully into the target language.

The debate among translators continues apace in professional networks both online and off. It is a perennial one, but one that is all the more relevant, with the ascendancy to the most powerful office in the world of a psychologically dysfunctional individual whose literacy levels compare with those of a 9 year-old. I alluded to this in a previous post, although there, the subject was of Trump’s inarticulacy. Here, the focus is on the job of having to convey his inarticulacy into another language (and how faithful to the original one should be!), along with the problems and pitfalls that poses.

“Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt”, said Ludwig Wittgenstein. “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”. What a tiny, tiny world translators have now to contend with.


[Y]ou have to be able to get into someone’s mind in order to translate his speech and reformulate it into your own language. Trump is not easy to translate, first of all, because, most of the time, when he speaks 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. He shapes his thought around it and, sometimes, succeeds in giving part of an answer – often the same answer: namely, that he won the election.

~ Bérengère Viennot

Lost in Trumpslation: an Interview with Bérengère Viennot

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