Tuesday, January 31, 2017

He Said What?

This is an interesting time to be a lover of language. All the discussion of fake news and alternative facts aside, following President Trump's style of communication offers a unique linguistic challenge. It's bad enough trying to follow his tortured syntax in English, but what about the problem the rest of the world has in trying to understand what the leader of the Free World is saying?*

As someone with many friends and relatives in Europe, many of whom speak no English or have limited facility with it as a second language, I can tell you that I spend a lot of time trying to explain just what I think it is that our president is saying. While Mr Trump's basic message is directed at the gut-level to his lower- to middle-class working American base, who understands what he means as opposed to what he says, his simplistic and convoluted language is not easy for the rest of the world to follow.

I call your attention to this very interesting article by Samantha Schmidt in the Washington Post: "'Make America Big Again’? The Headache of Translating Trump into Foreign Languages."

Start with Mr Trump's simple, direct campaign slogan: Make America Great Again. You and I both understand what he means by great ... but how would you translate great into another language? As Ms Schmidt points out in her article, it's usually translated as big or large, with the idea of a quality of political or social greatness as a secondary definition**. In English, it's the other way around.

And continuing on the theme of Make America Great Again, consider what we mean by America. There are two continents - North and South America - which between them contain 35 independent nations and a handful of dependent territories. The United States of America may be the largest and wealthiest, but it's still only one of 35 nations in "America." When we make America great again, do we take all the other ones along? Accurately translated, but far more cumbersome, the slogan should be Make the United States of America Great Again.

You can read more about this fascinating topic in Ms Schmidt's article, and you should. And you should also have some sympathy for those who have to convey the meaning of his twisted language to speakers of other languages.

Have a good day, and tell us about it clearly. More thoughts tomorrow.


* I first wrote about this in my post "The Trump Thesaurus" on January 12th.

** For example, in German, the adjective gross means big or large, but it can also mean great ... as in Friedrich der Grosse - Frederick the Great.


John Hill said...

Plus we have the difficulty of determining whether we should explain what he meant when he said it or when he was walking back his original meaning to say something else equally unintelligible.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

"Make America Great Again" can be taken as a slogan for neo-imperialism, and I'm afraid it can go that way.

Mike said...

People here do take for granted that America only means the USA.

allenwoodhaven said...

You have my sympathy Bilbo. I'll have to ask my sister she's asked to explain him in Mandarin. It's a tough job in any language!