Vexed Volodymyr: The Role of Language and Translation in Geopolitics

Certain words and phrases do not always translate well into another language, which can cause confusion and misunderstanding. One difficult-to-translate word can completely alter the meaning of a sentence; therefore, translation plays a critical role in geopolitics. President Volodymyr Zelensky is now aware of the potential ramifications of word choice after President Biden’s description of the possible Russian invasion.


As Biden continues to make remarks regarding the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, he has continued to use the word “imminent.” In English this means that an event could happen in the near future but is not guaranteed. Translating this word into Ukrainian proves difficult. There is no comparable word in the Ukrainian language for imminent, forcing translators to use a word that means “inevitable” in Ukrainian. This frustrates Zelensky, because when Biden is trying to convey his belief that Russia may invade soon, Ukrainians take it as there is going to be an invasion regardless of any action they may take. As a result, Zelensky feels he must clarify that a Russian invasion is not a guarantee.


When reading media outlets’ headlines and speeches from politicians, it is important to remember that their word choice is intentional and is used to support their ideologies. Political beliefs effect the translation process and its final product. The US has taken a strong stance against Russia to limit their sphere of influence. According to US officials, Biden is continuing to use “imminent” because he believes an invasion could happen in the near future. But critics may argue that it is an intentional move to sew discord in Ukraine.


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