The Politics of Translation: The U.S. 2020 Elections

By: Nicolás Arízaga, Denver, CO

The fields of political science, sociology, international relations, translation, and interpretation have built bridges for humankind throughout history. Humans have been gregarious by nature, looking out for their peers, understanding one another. Aristotle believed that every human is a “political animal” because every person is a social creature with the power of speech and moral reasoning. Hence it is evident that a complex political entity, such as the government of a country, is a creation of nature. There are different political cultures within the U.S., and many of them speak foreign or native American languages.

Living in a multilingual society, such as ours, has many advantages as well as many challenges. The United States’ democracy, for instance, is conceived under the unity of its people, states, and territories. “We the people…” is how the founding fathers identified and described themselves after coming to their first agreement after the declaration of independence, the Constitution. Because American democracy adopted the Athenian model, political rights and responsibilities are reserved exclusively for Americans, American citizens.

To understand and be understood is a fundamental concept of democracy and the primary purpose of translation and interpretation. Most Americans speak English. However, the U.S. does not have an official language. Therefore, the government has the duty of translating and interpreting every program material in multiple languages. For instance, The U.S. ranks as the country with the second-most Spanish speakers in the world. Mexico has the most, and Spain ranks third.

The problem arises when the political meaning is not being translated accurately. And not necessarily because the content is not being translated correctly, but because it needs a proper cultural and political background. There is a need for political science fieldwork around the translation background and objective. When a politician is trying to transmit a sense of positivity to the audience, the message must have the same emotion, passion, and content.

For instance, in a discourse in the United States, if a politician starts by saying, “I have a dream…”, most of the audience will probably be aware of the historical event the politician is referring to. However, if you translate say into Spanish as “Tengo un sueño…“, it does not necessarily mean the same thing since it does not have the loaded meaning in that language. The political translator’s role is no easy task since one must find the equivalent without changing the discourse’s meaning. Hobbes was one of the first political translators that highlighted a need for study in the field.

I was proud and moved to contribute my translation skills to facilitating communication channels among different cultures and multilingual voters during the recent election cycle and its historic voter turnout levels.




Nicolás Arízaga holds Master’s in Political Science and has been a translator for the past six years.  In 2020, he founded Political & Legal Translation Ltd. (, addressing the need for discourse, political marketing, election, and campaign material in foreign languages.

Leave a Comment