On the Challenges Facing Translators in the Era of Trump and Brexit
Perhaps one of the unintended consequences of Trump’s presidency so far is its effect on translators. I know that I’m going out on a limb here, translators being bottom of the heap when it comes to the White House’s incumbent’s chief victims. Nonetheless, it is an issue I feel pressed to raise, being a part-time (and very occasional) translator.
Our work is usually fraught with linguistic booby-traps and idiomatic swamps. One minute, you are on safe ground and you feel confident of what you are producing. The next minute you are sinking in quicksand and even a bilingual dictionary is of no help at all. It is a cruel world out there already for translators. Therefore we do not need Monsieur Trump to add to our calamities.
The problem arises from the president’s (every time I type the words “Donald Trump” and “president of the USA” in the same sentence, I get a mixed reaction. One is uncontrollable laughter followed by endless crying. Maybe I should work on a translation for those feelings and put it on a T-shirt to sell) use of the English language. He very rarely means what he says and he does not say much. Unless you count his constant tautology.
Take the word “bad”. I have enough on my plate with the “yoot” of today using this adjective to describe something or someone as “good”. Yes, you read that right. “Bad” is not “bad”, but “good”.
For Pussy-Grabber-In-Chief, however, “bad” is something he disagrees with, not necessarily something that lacks quality, i.e., not good. Which would automatically qualify the thing or the person as “good” (if you ask me). It serves Trump’s simplistic, binary vision of the world to offer this black and white concept. Agree with the Muslim travel ban? Good. Disagree? Bad.
But as a translator, I work on ideas, not just words. That means that a sentence like “A lot of bad ‘dudes’ out there!” is bound to give me sleepless nights. Note how straightforward it is (muchos tipos malos por ahí), and yet, we know that the majority of people Trump targets are law-abiding Muslims. Therefore, I cannot agree with the word “bad” even if my job is only to translate.
The president is not alone. On this side of the Atlantic, former education secretary Michael Gove lashed out at experts just before the Brexit vote, stating that “people had had enough” of them. The translation of the word “expert” into Spanish is “experto/a”. In both English and Spanish it means “a person who has a special skill or knowledge in some particular field.” Well, not anymore. I am not sure whether to go for the dictionary definition (specialist), or Gove’s one (conman, especially of the EU-financed variety). What if the translation is for a Brexiteer? What if Trump’s entourage hires me covertly to translate important documents? Highly unlikely, I know, but you can never be too sure.
It is not just those who worry about civil liberties and human rights who are troubled by what is going on in both Europe and the States. It is also linguists, translators and academics who wonder if our language will ever be the same. After all, what is the translation for “fake news” again? “Noticias falsas”, you say? But the other side claims they are part of an alternative facts world. Pass me the smelling salts, will you! At least that phrase is an easy one to translate.