Transcreation: translation + creation?

In the last two decades, transcreation has achieved a prominent position in the language services industry.

In a broad sense, transcreation can be defined as a translation-related activity that combines translation processes with cultural adaptation and creative (re)creation or reinterpretation. This process depends on the characteristics of the source copy, the instructions provided by the customer (brief), as well as the linguistic and cultural characteristics of the target audience, and the purpose/objective of the text.

It is a process of adapting a message from one language to another while retaining intent, style, tone, and context. In other words, it is not about literally translating the source copy, but rather preserving the message, eliciting the same emotions, and retaining the same implications of the source copy in the target copy.

Transcreation somewhat resembles localization, which consists of adapting a translated text to a certain target audience, but it differs from localization in that the translator’s role is essentially creative.

Transcreation involves the adaptation not only of words, but visuals (video and photos). The transcreated copy can be completely different in terms of wording, provided it retains the message and serves the purpose of the original.

Contrary to what most people think, transcreation is much more than “creative translation.” Precisely because of its creative nature, transcreation stands midway between translation and copywriting. In fact, one can even say that transcreation is much closer to copywriting than to translation.

Transcreation is copywriting. The difference is that one does not start from scratch, because there is already a reference text that happens to be in another language, and translation is just one stage of the complete transcreation workflow.

A little bit of history

In the academic context, the term transcreation is thought to have been introduced in the 1960s by the Indian poet, essayist, translator and editor, Prof. Purushottam Lal. He described the translation of ancient Sanskrit texts as a task in which “the translator must edit, reconcile and transmute; his work in many ways becomes largely a work of transcreation.”

Concurrently, the term has also been proposed in the 1950s by the Brazilian poet and translator Haroldo de Campos, in a very peculiar cultural context: the Concrete Poetry literary movement, which privileged linguistic materiality: the aspects of sound, spelling, and even the graphic arrangement of the words on the page.

In fact, form took prominence over semantics, which would develop later in the poem-reader interaction, thus, producing a literary work that was open to the reader’s choices.

As great authors like James Joyce disrupted canonical standards, translating their work became harder. How could one translate these works while still preserving their essence, exploring these resources of linguistic materiality, if the meaning of the source text was no more than a secondary aspect?

From such a challenge, a new translation technique was born: transcreation. It also developed from the theories of the American poet Ezra Pound, with the main goal of recreating the original text in the target language, while trying to explore the resources used in the source language, in an effort to re-enact them.

This new technique has allowed several authors to translate truly challenging classical texts into Portuguese, like Homer’s Iliad and Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Although born out of art and literature, transcreation grew along with the rampant growth of international and global marketing campaigns.

Fast forwarding to the 21st century, some translation agencies have begun to sell themselves in the marketplace specifically as transcreation agencies, with local marketing professionals and translators who take the essence of an original advertisement and adapt it to their own market. It is easy to see why transcreating an advertising campaign, rather than simply translating it, makes it so much more effective.

Which fields benefit more from Transcreation?

One of the main difficulties of transcreation is creating a conceptual delimitation. In fact, it is not even a concept, the term was originally created to designate a translation process, which happens to be distinct for being creative.

So, it is more related to a practice than to a theory and having no preset conceptual delimitation we can easily understand just how complex and even elusive it can be. But that is also why this technique is fit for many different purposes.

As shown earlier, transcreation and translation are not the same. Transcreation is also distinct from marketing translation because instead of faithfully representing the text, it adapts it to elicit an emotional response. Nor is it similar to multilingual copywriting, which would be creating texts in multiple languages without any reference text, based only on the requirements of the brand, product, or campaign.

If it had remained diluted in the translation and writing processes, transcreation would never have emerged. However, it has now found its place and relevance in marketing precisely because it has the specific function of transferring the message of a marketing or advertising campaign in a way that makes it understandable, relatable, and appealing to a different audience and market, while still respecting the brand identity.

After all, although transcreation fits like a glove in marketing, it is a transdisciplinary technique, applicable to a variety of fields.

It is also present in fields that are not even related to creativity, such as health care, where it adapts health education materials aiming for the best possible understanding while maintaining cultural relevance for the various specific linguistic and ethnic groups.

It is also applicable, for example, in the response of international organizations to crises (such as the current health crisis, where several documents have been prepared for distribution across five continents); in corporate communications between subsidiaries located in different parts of the world; in the translation of websites, corporate newsletters, corporate magazines, blog content and social media posts; and for applications like scientific papers intended for presentation in several countries.

In general, any materials that must be persuasive, motivational, and elicit an action (Call-to-Action), require a generous dose of sensitivity, adaptation, and creation.

Having said that, transcreation is already positioned as a very prolific professional service, used in a wide variety of fields and is on the rise. Although still undervalued by many, it is unquestionably a high-value service in many markets.

Do explore our website for further information on this topic and other subjects!

Tags: marketing

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