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Transcreation: How Is It Different From Translation and Localisation?

Transcreation is a blend between “translation” and “creation”. By now, you can probably guess what it’s all about. Let’s start, however, by defining translation: it is an act through which the content of a text is transferred from the source language into the target language (Foster, 1958). For example: if you have a text in English and you want it in Spanish, English would be the source language and Spanish would be the target language. So far, so good.

Are Transcreation and Localisation the Same?

Nope. But they do have a few things in common. How so? Well, they both take cultural nuances into account. As we have previously explained in this article, localisation involves going one step further than simple translation. In localisation, we translate the source content in such a way that it acknowledges the target culture. In other words, we adapt the content for local consumption. The purpose behind it? To make the content resonate in the target audience. As such, localisation might involve changing colours, cultural references, names of people, names of places, etc. Therefore, we frequently use it for evocative content aimed at eliciting an emotional response in the reader. It is the case of websites, blog posts, hotel descriptions, literature, etc.

Transcreation (or creative translation), on the other hand, focuses on the intended impact of your message. The goal is maintaining such message in the target language. For this reason, transcreation goes one step further than localisation: it’s not just tweaking the cultural references in the text to make it resonate locally (which is what localisation does, see an example here). Rather, transcreation involves creating a new text from scratch that will maintain the original intent, style, and tone. That’s why transcreation is common for marketing materials such as slogans or ads, and for creative texts such as comics.

Good Examples of Transcreation

We loved the example that Today Translations chose for successful transcreation, the Asterix comics:

There is no better place to end a discussion of creative translation than with the English translations of the Asterix comics. Many might quibble and say that this is translation pure and simple. When Anthea Bell was translating all the puns and nuances within those strips, she certainly wasn’t thinking “I am transcreating”. The difference is academic, but few other examples quite capture the joyous spirit of creative translations that improve upon the originals.

The names of all the characters are puns, many of which can’t be translated – but they can be recreated. The English versions that Bell created were often cleverer than the French names. For instance, the tone-deaf village bard was originally Assurancetourix, a play on ‘assurance tous risques’ – ‘full cover insurance’. In the English, he became Cacofonix, a wordplay on ‘cacophony’. The insalubrious fishmonger was Ordralfabétix, playing on ‘ordre alphabétique’. He became Unhygienix. The French originals are funny because they are absurd. The English names actually reflect traits of the characters, and make the cast that much more vivid.

Other name translations hit the nail on the head in most perfect way imaginable. The cantankerous pet dog of the lead character Obelix was called Idéfix, a play on the French phrase ‘une idée fixe’ meaning a stubborn obsession. He became Dogmatix – which is a delightful translation, since Idéfix is indeed a dog, and he is also dogmatic.

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