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This project explores the relationship between mistranslations and information disorder, focusing on how disregarding nuances in language can produce starkly different narratives and lead to serious consequences. Different languages have different grammatical structures and a word in one language can have several meanings in another language, depending on context, such that translations of important messages demand thorough understanding of discrepancy between languages. This project focuses on several cases of inaccurate translations that benefit the parties of the translators, bringing about consequences that range from problematic to damning. On one end of the spectrum, Chinese social media circulated a mistranslation and misappropriation of Western media, giving a false sense of legitimacy to Chinese conspiracy theories that say that COVID-19 originated in the United States. On the other end of the spectrum, a mistranslation between Japanese Premier Kantaro Suzuki and allied leaders in 1945 resulted in a misunderstanding of the Premier’s sentiments, which led to the dropping of a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. Many cases of mistranslation with damaging consequences produce a benefit to related parties, which could explain a potentially intentional mistranslation in order to produce a specific outcome. This project argues that stopping subjective translations requires understanding not only direct translations, but also understanding the small nuances and multiple meanings of words between different languages in order to more accurately capture the meaning of a statement in one language translated into another language. Thorough understanding of other languages also requires cross-cultural sensitivity and cultural context that affects viewpoints of the original message. Culture and language scholars could be instrumental in ensuring that important messages are not lost in translation.



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Lost in Translation: How Mistranslations Can Become Disinformation