Transcreation: Translation with Super-Powers!
Posted by Nick Peris on December 1, 2009
Transcreation is another concept which could easily be mistaken for a buzz word. In reality, it refers to vast areas of translation which have for ever been adapting content rather than simply translating it.
Like “Localisation” itself however, it seems to have been appropriated and reinvented by the Information Technology industry (2). So what do we mean by it and do methodologies really differ enough to warrant the use of this term?
Origins of the Concept
If you’ve grown up in an environment where English wasn’t the first language, chances are you have been exposed to transcreated content from a very young age. It may have been through entertainment, television, or advertising; most likely all of the above.
I never knew, nor did it matter to me, that Musclor was not He-Man’s real name. A more famous example of very liberal marketing translation is the story behind the Mitsubishi Pajero’s alternative name in Spanish-speaking countries. I’m also pretty sure that Smurf is not a literal schtroumpfation for Schtroumpf. Spider-Man: India seems a successful example of a multi-national company truly embracing a local culture.
This phenomenon does not only relate to the “Americanisation” of western-culture or even to the intense globalization of this century. Research (3) has shown that forms of Transcreation have been used in Indian poetry and religious writing, where form and content have always been adapted to some of the many cultures and languages of India.
There, is the key to Transcreation in my opinion: recognising the need to become part of a local culture rather than simply communicate in its language.
While translators always aim to reach out to their audience, the software industry often bounds them to the demands of technical content. Transcreation in its modern sense signals the releasing of these bounds, and gives the explicit brief to stray from the source message in favour a better way to communicate the same idea to the target audience.
The term Transcreation is often attributed to Carmen Mangiron and Minako O’Hagan (1). They were among the first to use it in the context of IT, more precisely of the gaming industry.
They recognised the fact that with most games developed in Japan or the U.S., yet targeting truly global markets, there was an inherent need to free translators from the source text in order better connect to local gamers everywhere. In fact even some of the functionalities of games are sometimes adapted to the local culture: the amount of violence, explicit language etc. is not only changed to meet age ratings, but in cases to actually comply with the cultural and legal requirements of different regions of the world.
Countries such as Germany have laws which regulate video game content and manufacturers are faced with the choice of adapting their games or not being commercialised.
Advertising, Copywriting and SEO
The localisation of advertising, or copywriting is an area where the idea of Transcreation is also very apt.
While in a lot of cases translators are not copywriters themselves, they are given instructions to be creative with their work. Rather than just delivering the meaning in a grammatically correct manner, they have the task to also deliver in a form which creates the same reaction in the potential customer.
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) copywriting and translation are a further extension of this, where the translator even has to select the words in a very strategic manner. SEO is of course more than just selecting keywords, but even this part of optimisation has to be translated in ways which achieve the best search engine rankings in the target languages, not the source.
But is all this really that progressive an idea? Aren’t all translators always trying to come up with the best possible translation anyway?
Things get complicated when you try to measure or monitor the quality of translations where the translators have been asked to stray from the source in order to convey a marketing campaign’s message in the best possible way.
This becomes a highly subjective exercise where chiefly, the client is right.
Here comes the next hurdle: localisation clients rarely have marketing staff in all the countries they market to. So vendors have to come up with processes which ensure that the product delivered meets those sometimes subjective requirements. This in my mind can only be achieved through a durable relationship between the clients and their translators/reviewers. Processes must transcend the limitations of the outsourcing model and recreate the fuzzy feeling of enlightened ownership once only common to the now endangered species of the in-house translator.
Such is the challenge of Transcreation: creative translation requires creative quality management.
(1) Game Localisation: Unleashing Imagination with ‘Restricted’ Translation
Carmen Mangiron and Minako O’Hagan, Dublin City University, Ireland
(2) On the Translation of Video Games
Miguel Bernal Merino, Roehampton University, London
(3) Elena Di Giovanni “Translations, Transcreations and Transrepresentations of India in the Italian Media” (2008), in Klaus Kaindl and Riitta Oittinen (eds), The Verbal, the Visual, the Translator, special issue of META, 53: l. Les Presses de l’Université de Montreal, pp. 26-43.
Many thanks to Carmen for the tips.