Japanese TV broadcaster captions Donald Trump’s sumo speech in Tokyo as just “English”

But even though it looks like the laziest translation job ever, it might be justified.

U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in Tokyo on Saturday for a state visit. Sunday was spent primarily on leisure/social activities with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and in the afternoon the two attended the final day of the May Grand Sumo Tournament, which was held in Tokyo’s Kokugikan arena.

識者「トランプが相撲観に来てもファンは迷惑」 ファン「うおおおおおおおお」パシャパシャ https://t.co/vgnvEzcw9U


なんJ迷言bot (@jbot26830444) May 26, 2019

#大相撲 アナウンサーがトランプ大統領が「一般のお客さんと握手して」って言ってたけど、まさかの金美齢さんじゃねーかよwww https://t.co/VSJWVKA0Qu


  (@ankoromochi2017) May 26, 2019

This was the first time for an acting American president to attend a sumo match, and to mark the occasion Trump presented the tournament winner, sumo wrestler Asanoyama, with a special United Sates President’s Cup, which had been brought from America.

伝統ある大相撲をトランプ大統領と観戦しました。現役の米国大統領として初めてのことです。大きな歓声とともに、トランプ大統領から真新しい大統領杯が、朝乃山関に手渡されました。 https://t.co/dLEVA1rDrE


安倍晋三 (@AbeShinzo) May 26, 2019

Trump also gave a short congratulatory speech, speaking in his native English. However, those watching on the TV broadcast from Japan’s public broadcaster NHK didn’t get the most helpful captions, since as the president began to speak, the captions simply read:

“Trump: English”

▼ トランプ = Trump
英吾 = English

字幕頑張れw https://t.co/7pGKcL7D9f


エターナル総書記 (@kelog21) May 26, 2019

Online commenters were quick to crack wise about NHK’s less-than-thorough written translation, with remarks such as:

“We know he’s speaking Ensligh – that’s why we need the subtitles!”
“Come on, Subtitle Person, try a little harder.”
“Looks like the translator just can’t be bothered.”
“Did they just give up?”
“Well, the subtitle is technically correct.”
“Maybe Trump’s speech was full of dirty jokes?”
“So when Abe speaks, the subtitles should just say ‘Japanese.’”

Several commenters also grumbled about what they saw as unforgivably sloppy work from NHK despite the public broadcaster reputation for strongly (and sometimes deviously) insisting that people pay their NHK fees.

NHKの字幕、トランプのセリフが[英語]でまとめられてるの思い切り良すぎでしょ笑 https://t.co/pZhaiWjwgV


白鳥士郎 (@nankagun) May 26, 2019

However, in NHK’s defense, the writing at the bottom of the screen in the above photos is meant, first and foremost, as closed captioning for hearing-impaired viewers. With a live broadcast (as NHK’s coverage of the tournament was) closed captions will always trail slightly behind what’s being said. Likewise, Trump’s speech couldn’t be translated until after he’d delivered it, and once the president finished speaking, TV announcers gave a spoken translation/summary in Japanese, with that translation then showing up in the captions for the announcers’ spoken words.

NHK likely didn’t want hearing-impaired viewers to think something had gone wrong and closed captions had disappeared from the broadcast entirely, and so someone apparently decided that the caption of just “English” would make a good placeholder, since that’s all non-English speaking Japanese viewers with functional hearing would understand at that exact point of the broadcast too.

▼ That said, Trump didn’t do translators any favors

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