Three Camera-ready Interpreters Helped the Daily Show Shed Light on the Dilemma of Translating Trump

  • Client The Daily Show
  • Project Interpreting for The Daily Show
  • Service Interpreting

Eriksen helped The Daily Show find charismatic Arabic, Russian, and Spanish interpreters to appear in a challenging segment analyzing the difficulties of translating for Trump.

The Daily Show, featuring Trevor Noah, is well known for its sharp insights on current events and politics, and we knew from the start that this was a project we wanted to be a part of. But we also knew it wouldn’t be easy.

the challenges

The challenges of interpreting Trump’s manner of speaking have been widely discussed over the course of his rise in the political spotlight. The list of grievances is long: his super-short sentences, repetition of phrases, broken syntax, limited vocabulary, throwaway words, sentence fragments, and sarcasm. There’s also the confusing logic—jumping from topic to topic and starting sentences with no clear indication of where they’re going.

Another challenge is Trump’s special vocabulary—terms that don’t always exist in other languages. This includes the nonsense words and malapropisms “bigly,” “braggadocious,” and “unpresidented.” Compounding this difficulty is his use of “Americanisms,” words or expressions that are unique to the U.S., such as describing former FBI Director James Comey by saying, “He’s a showboat,” “He’s a grandstander.”

And, of course, there’s the locker room talk and name-calling, such as the infamous “bad hombres,” “nasty woman,” or “rocket man.” Many interpreters have expressed their discomfort with Trump’s lewd, sexist language and struggle with the task of communicating demeaning remarks about women.

the ethical dilemma

Interpreters have a professional obligation to render a subject’s message into the target language with no additions or omissions while maintaining the register, style, purpose, and the speaker’s intent. They are also expected to maintain impartiality (neutrality), regardless of their personal beliefs on a topic. Which makes all of the above such a challenge.

Interpreters have expressed concern that when Trump doesn’t make sense, neither does the interpreter. Should an interpreter relay Trump’s words accurately, even at the risk of confusing the listeners? Or, should an interpreter render Trump’s broken English in an intelligible manner that people will understand, but makes Trump sound like someone who speaks in a proper presidential manner? Is it appropriate to tone down something that might be construed as offensive? These are just a few of the questions being raised as interpreters debate the extent to which they can ethically moderate Trump’s language, if at all.

finding the right interpreters

After receiving The Daily Show’s call, our interpreting manager immediately delved into the specifications: the language and country requirements, the shooting schedule, and the process for screening the interpreters prior to filming. The Daily Show had some flexibility with their filming schedule, but also had a specific vision for the segment. This was not a job for just any interpreters. They could not be camera shy. They needed to be able to openly answer any of the questions The Daily Show would ask, and be willing to express their feeling on a divisive topic in a very public format.

Eriksen has spent years cultivating a strong pool of interpreters who are outstanding communicators with cultural competency and exceptional proficiency in their language combinations. Our network of diverse professionals enables us to carefully select the interpreters who are a perfect fit for the specific requirements of each assignment.

The Daily Show conducted a thorough interview process, to ensure that the selected interpreters would be comfortable expressing their opinions on camera to the extent needed. Ultimately, by utilizing our strong network and working closely with show’s producers, we found just the right Arabic, Russian, and Spanish interpreters for the segment.

on the air

On July 13, 2017, The Daily Show aired its piece on the challenges of interpreting the language of Trump. Daily Show correspondent Desi Lydic addressed the interpreters’ pivotal role in communicating the president’s messages around the world, and spoke with the interpreters about their perspectives on the challenges of translating Trump’s special vocabulary.

Humorous and informative, the piece relied on the special personalities of the interpreters to shed light on language, communication, and the dilemma of translating Trump.