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Transcreation: A Pivotal yet Unacknowledged Act within Translation

3/2/2018 by Sara Leonhartsberger

While the concept of language translation (the act of transferring information from one language to another) is widely known, the element of transcreation within translation is often obscure to those outside the translation industry. Transcreation refers to the act of developing alternate phrasing in the target language to convey the same meaning as the source language; while this is a common element in translation, some forms of translation require more transcreation than others when the original meaning faces a greater risk of obscurity. Some areas that offer frequent opportunities for transcreation are marketing slogans, rhyming text, and idioms.

Although attractive and memorable in the target language, marketing slogans often suffer if literally translated, paving the avenue for transcreation. Some examples of ineffective translations in this area would be a Chevy car named Nova released in Mexico where “No va” in Spanish means that “it will not go”, the slogan “Got Milk?” directly translated into Spanish as “Are you lactating?” for the Latino market, or Coors’ “turn it loose!” slogan being translated as “You will suffer from diarrhea” in Spain. Clearly, businesses who intend to maintain their image and promote their brand would benefit from acts of transcreation in each of these examples, a translator discovering a phrase that conveys the same meaning as the original to ensure audience comprehension.

Another opportunity for transcreation emerges with rhyming texts, such as poems or songs. While a poem may provide exquisite rhyme schemes in English, a literal translation into another language such as Spanish or French would obliterate the musicality of the poem. While lines ending in “there” and “hair” would rhyme in English, Spanish’s allí and pelo or French’s là and cheveux would not lend themselves to the same rhyme. A translator would be faced with recrafting the text to reflect the same meaning of the poem or song with alternate phrases that rhyme in the target language. A translator, therefore, must sometimes have a sense of rhyme, a poetic sense in the target language to best represent the original source material.

Finally, idioms are perhaps the most glaring needs for transcreation interventions. Once again often used in marketing or in colloquial dialogue, idioms are often culturally dependent. When an employer may encourage American-English employees to “knock their next project out of the park” and the meaning is understood, an employee without a knowledge base of baseball will not understand the positive implication of the term, leading to confusion.  A translator would be tasked to retool this meaning of “make your next project a phenomenal success” into an easily accessible phrase within the target language.

Marketing slogans, rhyming text, and idioms—all of these text types can prove disastrous if literally translated into another language. Through the act of transcreation, however, their structures may be reshaped into parallel phrases within the target language that clearly convey the original meaning. Transcreation, then, is an essential component of the translation process and necessary skill for the professional translator.

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