Translating Trump

Image by Marc Nozell (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Translator Bérengère Viennot on the trials and tribulations of translating Trump into French

Translator Bérengère Viennot has published an article on about some of the difficulties of translating the language of Donald Trump into French. No doubt many of the issues she raises are also problematic when translating into other languages, and this topic is one that we can expect translators to continue to address in the future, as their exposure to Trump grows.

Viennot’s numerous years of translation experience enable her to draw comparisons with translating Barack Obama’s utterances into French. Trump is very easy to understand. While this may have helped him to sway voters, the lack of variation in his vocabulary and his tendency to repeat words and phrases cause a headache for translators. By contrast, Obama’s clarity of thought, precision of message and impeccable grammar and vocabulary are a big help to the translator. Trump’s ideas are less well formulated and his discourse less coherently structured, making it more difficult to translate.

As examples, Viennot cites Trump’s repeated use of a very limited set of adjectives — great, tremendous, incredible, strong and tough, alongside good and bad, and his use of informal expressions in interviews and when he speaks off the cuff. She bemoans the lack of stylistically elegant turns of phrase and clever use of language in his speech, but warns against transforming Trump’s utterances into something they’re not. After all, it would be possible to make him sound like a skilled orator when translating him into French or other languages, but this would give a very false impression…

To find out more

Viennot, Bérengère (2016) ‘Pour les traducteurs, Trump est un casse-tête inédit et désolant’,, 14 December 2016.

Lost in Trumpslation: Robert Zaretsky interviews Bérengère Viennot‘, Los Angeles Review of Books, 17 January 2017.

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