In "Trump’s Tower of Babble: How the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis explains Donald Trump’s rantings — and why the rest of the world is so confused" (Foreign Policy, 8/30/16), Christopher M. Livaccari and Jeff Wang allege:
Questions about the meaning of Trump’s words… may be a type of category mistake. Trump and his supporters seem to be adherents to a strong version of what linguists call the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis — the idea that the language we use has an effect on our thinking and the way we perceive the world. There’s only one thing the Trump campaign seems to sincerely believe, in other words — namely, that if it says something enough times, no matter how disconnected from truth or logic, other people will begin to believe it.
Neither is it clear to me how "[q]uestions about the meaning of Trump’s words" are "a type of category mistake", nor is it evident that Trump and his supporters are "adherents of a strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis." Neither the strong nor the weak version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis have anything to do with repetition, truth, logic, or belief. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis simply holds that "an individual's thoughts and actions are determined by the language or languages that individual speaks", while the strong version of the hypothesis maintains that " all human thoughts and actions are bound by the restraints of language" (definitions from Linguist List).
When Livaccari and Wang stick to discussions of notable instances of mistranslations, they make the most sense. For instance, when in 2011 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, supposedly declared that Israel would be "wiped off the map", what he really said was that "the regime in Jerusalem would fall or vanish", but that is not "another good indication that the Sapir-Whorf principle has some validity".
Likewise, the notion that Vladimir Putin called Donald Trump a "genius" is based on a false extrapolation from yarkii яркий ("bright; colorful") –> "brilliant" ≠ "genius".
Disappointingly, Livaccari and Wang do not give any examples of Trump's utterances being translated or mistranslated into Chinese.
The Chinese have had a lot of fun transcribing / translating Trump's name in Mandarin:
"The Chinese already have an amazing nickname for Donald Trump" (Fusion, 5/6/16), and see also the Quartz article cited below.
"What Is Being Said On Chinese Social Media About Donald Trump" (XpatNation, 3/17/16):
In China’s social media, Trump is transliterated [VHM: –> transcribed] into “Chuan-pu”* or “Tang-Chuang-Po,”** both of which sound funny and disrespectful in Mandarin. The former literally means “Sichuan-style Mandarin” and the latter “Donald Breaking Bed.”
**Táng chuáng pò 唐床破
The normal transcription for Trump is Tèlǎngpǔ 特朗普 (purely phonetic)
The normal transcription for Clinton is Kèlíndùn 克林顿 (purely phonetic)
For those who are curious about why Trump is so popular in China, despite his caustic rhetoric directed at that country, this article by Aaron Mak is worth a read:
"Why China’s Not Afraid of Donald J. Trump: No matter how much he trashes the country, the Chinese media love The Donald" (POLITICO, 5/18/16).
"What do Chinese people have to say about Donald Trump? " (Brookings, 7/22/16), by David Dollar and Wei Wang, also helps to understand the Trump phenomenon in China.
Above all, the Chinese people seem to be fascinated and even flattered by Trump's fixation on China:
"Trump on China" (Language Log, 8/29/15).
Conversely, whereas they think the Donald is a riot, by and large the Chinese are wary of Hillary Clinton:
"China’s netizens mock Donald Trump, but they fear Hillary Clinton" (Quartz, 3/02/16)
Clinton played hardball with China when she was Secretary of State, and many Chinese fear that, as president, she would be tough on them for their aggression in the South China. The bad blood between Hillary Clinton and Xi Jinping runs deep. It's hard to forget that, shortly before he was anointed as the ruler of China, Xi conspicuously failed to keep a long-appointed meeting with Secretary of State Clinton, without the slightest explanation or expression of regret.
It also hasn't helped Clinton's cause in China that, unlike Trump, she has said things that are translated in such a way as to come off as threatening. Here Livaccari and Wang do a much better job of illustrating the kind of problem that can occur in representing American political discourse in Chinese:
During a Democratic primary debate last year, the former secretary of state shared stories of her and Obama “hunting for the Chinese” at an international climate conference in Copenhagen. The expression in Chinese used to translate “hunting” — bulie — by a number of Chinese media outlets does not include the extended meaning of “searching” that is common in English. So to Chinese ears (or eyes, if they were reading subtitles), Clinton had conjured up the image of her carrying a gun and trying to hunt down and kill her Chinese counterparts. The internet lit up with debate and anger. Just like the complexities surrounding the use of the word “brilliant” to translate Putin’s comments about Trump, there is no one-to-one correspondence between the English word “hunting” and the Chinese word “bulie.”
VHM: bǔliè 捕猎 ("hunting")
I would like to end with a transcription and translation of the captions on the photograph at the top of the article by Livaccari and Wang:
xīnwén zhíbò jiān
mínzhǔdǎng jìngxuǎn chǒuwén xìjié pùguāng
niēzào zhèngjù dǐhuǐ Tèlǎngpǔ
Details of Democratic Party election scandal revealed
Fabricated evidence to discredit Trump