29 May 2015


On 14 May 2015 Nick Gaj of Language Scientific posted a definition of 'transcreation' on the blog associated with the company's website.
Nick's definition, which he restricts to marketing campaigns, reads as follows:
What is transcreation?Transcreation often referred to as creative or adaptive translation is a hybrid of new content, culturally adapted content and imagery, and straightforward translation. It is the process of adapting a company’s message in its source language, so that it carries the same emotion, tone and context in the target language. Transcreation enables you to convey your creative messages in a way that is both relevant and engaging, while maintaining your original brand concept. It is a vital part of any international marketing campaign.
In a private exchange, Bill Maslen over at the Word Gym defined the concept as follows:
Transcreation is about translating a piece of copy (i.e. marketing or advertising text) in such a way that it exerts exactly the same impact on the target audience, and conveys the same messages in the target language, as it did in the source language.
Bill also wrote:
In my view, one of the best definitions of the act of creative translation is in Ken Liu’s rather good translation of The Three-Body Problem, a science-fiction novel by Chinese writer Cixin Liu:
Overly literal translations, far from being faithful, actually distort meaning by obscuring sense. But translations can also pay so little attention to the integrity of the source that almost nothing of the original’s flavour or voice survives. Neither of these approaches is a responsible fulfilment of the translator’s duty. In a sense, translating may be harder than writing original fiction because the translator must strive to satisfy the same aesthetic demands while being subjected to much more restrictive creative constraints… In moving from one language, culture and reading community to another language, culture and reading community, some aspects of the original are inevitably lost. But if the translation is done well, some things are also gained—not the least of which is a bridge between the two readerships. (Translator’s Postscript, p. 397)
Like Nick's, Bill's definition is restricted to marketing and advertising copy.

Nicole Y Adams of NYA communications defines transcreation as:
a free interpretation of the core message of the source text that takes extensive linguistic liberties in regard to style, word order, syntax, etc. without necessarily mirror-imaging the source content. The extent of such linguistic liberties can range from simple changes in word or sentence order up to a complete rewrite of the source text in the language of your target market.

My thoughts

Provided, of course, that the transcreator has the client's confidence and a broad mandate, I think the concept can be taken further and applied more widely. I would therefore like to suggest:

What is transcreation?
It's about adapting a client's document in the source language to a specific communication challenge in a target language. Given that the audiences are different, the aims will differ. The process typically combines high-quality translation with new content as appropriate. Passages of little or no interest to the target audience may be deleted. Transcreation enables clients to convey their messages in a way that is relevant and engaging.

Challenge: Provide into-English language services for a continental European engineering company aiming to promote its corporate image and more particularly a new product or service to potential (B2B or B2C) customers.
Assumptions regarding the original: Writer is an in-house engineer with no particular experience in technical journalism who was simply assigned the task of drafting an article promoting the company and latest product or service. This type of author is prone to dwell on the company's history, the design team's track record, the project's specific challenges and so forth. He or she is also likely to describe the product's potential impact in terms of the company's home market. Worse, the writer may neglect entirely to discuss why the purchaser might need it, what problems it solves and so forth.
Assumptions regarding target language version: Aim for compromise. Include enough of the original content to satisfy the company paying for your services, but introduce (provided you have the mandate or believe you can convince the customer before final sign-off) basic elements of best English-language technical communication practice beginning with a shift to the product end-user's perspective. What challenges might they be facing? How and why does this new service represent a solution to such challenges? Why should the end user trust a foreign supplier that they have never heard of? And so forth. This type of transcreation involves a 180° switch from the supplier's perspective to the end user's perspective.

Comments and discussion welcome.

Corporate BS generator

Tommy Butler of Atrinex has posted a corporate bullshit generator.

He uses a Dilbert strip as an attention grabber:

Tommy writes:
For the ambitious business professional looking to get ahead in the industry.
Dazzle all the execs at your next business meeting...
Create your own corporate BS catch phrase!
I can certainly understand the motivation given the number of times, when translating corporate gobbledegook, that I have been unable to fathom how so many authors manage to put so much jargon into a single sentence. Still, I think that the  corporate bullshit generator is guilty of a degree of overkill given that many of the words listed are often used perfectly well.

Nikki Graham rates 101 Things a 'goodread'

Nikki Graham of Tranix writes a blog called My Words for a Change. She is also, presumably, the author of her company's excellent slogan:
Words are my business and I want to make them work for you.

On 29 May 2014, Nikki reposted a glowing review of 101 Things a Translator Needs to Know. Many thanks Nikki.

27 May 2015

Newspaper layouts, punctuation and more

I've been looking for comments and information on the trend adopted by some newspapers and magazines regarding kickers, straplines, or whatever they're called, like this:

Note that this journalistic device does not match the definitions given below or elsewhere.

More particularly I was hoping to stumble upon an explanation of why this device is punctuated the way it is, i.e. with no full stop (or period).
I haven't had much success, but here are some of the items located so far:

The FT on its own new layout (15 September 2014 issue): New look for Financial Times newspaper.

From The Wall Street Journal: Punctuation Nerds Stopped by Obama Slogan, 'Forward.', subtitled From Both Sides of the Aisle, a Question: Is Ending It With a Period Weird?

'Strapline', 'crosshead', 'standfirst' and 'pull quote' defined and discussed under the heading
6 newspaper writing techniques for the web. Example:
Standfirsts are short (1 or 2 sentence) summaries of the complete text.
Among the definitions offered by Elements of a newspaper:
Kicker: Kicker is the headline that is written on top of the main headline. It is set in a point size that is less than the point size used to set the main headline. In several newspapers the Kicker is called Shoulder.
Strapline: Strapline is a headline written beneath the main headline. It is written in a point size that is smaller than the point size used to write the main headline, and is generally used to highlight a new point. It can also be used to amplify the main headline. In some newspapers, Strap-line is also referred to as Reverse Shoulder.
Infographic: An infographic is an art form where words are used with charts, illustrations, graphs or photographs to tell a news story.
On taglines, including tagline punctuation: Tagline blues.

30 Awesome Newspaper Layout Examples & Tips
30 Stylish Examples of Layouts in Magazine Design
include examples from various countries in various languages.

12 May 2015

Snippets from Pinker on style, Ch6, part III: Punctuation

More snippets from Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Chapter 6: Telling right from wrong. How to make sense of the rules of correct grammar, word choice, and punctuation.

p284: Punctuation restores some of the prosody (melody, pausing and stress) that is missing from print.The problem is that ... (it) indicates prosody in some places, syntax in others, and neither of them consistently anywhere.
... even today, the rules differ on the two sides of the Atlantic and from one publication to another.
The rules, moreover, are subject to changes in fashion, including an ongoing trend to reduce all punctuation to the bare minimum.
p285: ... even the sticklers can't agree on how to stickle.
Still, a few common errors are so uncontroversial ... that they have become tantamount to a confession "I am illiterate", and no writer should be caught making them.
p286: Strings of modifiers without commas progressively narrow down the referent of a noun ... (whereas) strings of modifiers with commas just keep adding interesting facts about it.
[For more on this, see OSASCOMP: Applied analysis.]
p287: a syntctic break (marking a phrase that is not integrated into a larger phrase) ... (a) semantic break (marking a meaning that is not essential to the meaning of the sentence) ... a prosodic break ...
p289: ... today, because commas are regulated less by prosody and more by syntax.
p 291: ... the comma splice, comma error, comma fault, and comma blunder.
... comma splices ... I won't tolerate them in my student's writing, not even in email.
p292: ... dashes can enliven writing, as long as they are used sparingly.
[SD: I was frustrated for a while because I couldn't work out how to produce an em dash using the Blogger interface. But now I know. If I press the Alt key then type '0151', I get this: —.]
p293: ... the serial comma or Oxford comma.
On the one side we have most British publishers (other than Oxford University Press), most American newspapers, and the rock group that calls itself Crosby, Stills and Nash.
p294: I say that unless a house style forbids it, you should use the serial comma.
[SD: As indeed SP does throughout his book and as I have attempted to reproduce snippets thereof in this blog.]
p297: ... or, with a same sex couple, He is his mothers' son.
p298: ... the ordering of a quotation mark with respect to a comma or period. The rule in American publications (the British are more sensible about this) is that when quoted material appears at the end of a phrase or sentence, the closing quotation mark goes outside the comma or period.
The practice is patently illogical ...
But long ago some American printer decided that the page looks prettier ...
The American punctuation rule sticks in the craw of every computer scientist, logician, and linguist because any ordering of typographical delimiters that fails to reflect the logical nesting of the content makes a shambles of their work.
[SD: Note that in the book, this sentence had a comma between 'linguist' and 'because'. I think the sentence works better without it.]
[SD: My bold. How pleasing it is to read this from an eminently logical and competent writer! Note that in transcribing snippets from SP's book for this blog, I have often reverted to my preferred ordering fro precisely the reason SP himself gives.]
[SD: It is also interesting to note that SP's publisher, Allen Lane, part of the Penguin group, composed the author's passages on this typographically challenging topic precisely as required since otherwise SP would have been unable to make his point in composed text.]
p299: Many logic-conscious and computer savvy writers have taken advantage of the freedom from copy editors they enjoy on the Web and have explicitly disavowed the American system, most notably on Wikipedia, which has endorsed the alternative called Logical Punctuation.
p300: Anyone who reviews the history of prescriptive grammar can't help but be struck by the misplaced emotion the topic evokes.
p302: And for all the vitriol brought out by matters of correct usage, they are the smallest part of good writing. They pale in importance behind coherence, classic style, and overcoming the curse of knowledge, to say nothing of standards of intellectual conscientiousness.

First, looking things up. Humans are cursed with the deadly combination of a highly fallible memory and an overconfidence in how much they know.
Actually he [Mark Twin] didn't say it ["The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that aren't so."]—I looked it up.
Second, be sure that your arguments are sound.
Third, don't confuse an anecdote or a personal experience with the state of the world.
Fourth, beware of false dichotomies.
Finally, arguments should be based on reasons, not people.
Keep in mind a bit of wisdom from the linguist Ann Farmer: "It isn't about being right. It's about getting it right."
There is no dichotomy between describing how people use language and prescribing how they might use it more effectively.

Sam Leith on fonts

On 11 May 2015, under the occasional rubric The Art of Persuasion, the FT, published an article by Sam Leith entitled The subliminal power of fonts. Sam is also the the author of ‘You Talkin’ to Me?’ Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama’.

In his engaging book Just My Type: A Book About Fonts, Simon Garfield argues that Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency was materially helped by setting its campaign posters in Gotham: “There are some types that read as if everything written in them is honest, or at least fair.”
Bloomberg recently hit on the idea of consulting three “typography wonks” to ask about the best typeface touse on a CV. For what it is worth, the elegant but ubiquitous Helvetica came out on top. After that they seemed to differ.
One deplored Times New Roman: “It’s like putting on sweatpants.” Another execrated Courier: “You don’t have a typewriter, so don’t try to pretend that you have a typewriter.” Most, sensibly, warned against joined-up handwriting-style fonts such as Zapfino: better on a wedding invitation than a CV.

07 May 2015

The psychology of pricing: Terms and questions

Here's how The Browser summarises The Psychology Of Pricing: A Gigantic List Of Strategies:
... a long read, almost an e-book, but clearly written and easily read, which explains plausibly why things are priced for sale the way that they are, right down to the omission of dollar signs from restaurant menus. And all the 0.99 price tags, the “charm pricing”? It’s about getting the first digit down, the anchor number. Even when we think we know the trick, we are easily manipulated (7,500 words)
If you're translating into English, this document could be a useful source of terminology and understanding. But, if your read it as a translator or linguist familiar with French, or just about any other language for that matter, then you will be struck by the translation challenges posed by statements like these, or more generally by their limited cross-cultural validity:

Charm pricing is most effective when the left digit changes. A one-cent difference between $3.80 and $3.79 won’t matter. However, a one-cent difference between $3.00 and $2.99 will make a huge difference.
Why is the left digit so important? It involves the way our brain encodes numerical values.
Our brains encode numbers so quickly (and beyond consciousness) that we encode the size of a number before we finish reading it.

Tactic 3: Choose Numbers With Fewer Syllables
Our brain uses more resources to process phonetically longer prices (which triggers a fluency effect). Since we use a larger amount of mental resources, we falsely infer that those prices must be larger.
The flipside is more important. People will perceive your price to be lower if it contains fewer syllables.
But Nick! When I see a price, I don’t say it out loud. I just read it.
Same here. But according to research…that doesn’t matter. When you read a price in written form, your brain nonconsciously encodes the auditory version of that price (Dehaene, 1992). You don’t even need to verbalize the price in your mind — your brain encodes it either way.

04 May 2015

Snippets from Pinker on style, Ch6, part II: Common issues

p200: What follows is a judicious guide to a hundred of the most common issues of grammar, diction (word choice), and punctuation.

p201: ... flat adverbs are identical to their related adjectives ...
p206: When enough careful writers and speakers fail to do something that a theory of syntax says they should, it could mean that it's the theory that's wrong, not the writers.
p208: ... the traditional distinction between can ... and may (permissibility) is tenuous at best.
p210: ... some dangling modifiers should be avoided, but they are not grammatical errors.
p211: ... in formal styles it's not a bad idea to keep an eye open for them (dangling modifiers) and to correct the obtrusive ones.
p215: In English, a past-tense form ... can also be used with a second meaning, factual remoteness.
p221: The problem with stranding a preposition is that it can end the sentence with a word that is too lightweight ...
p222: The rule (concerning the predicative nominative) is a product of the usual three confusions: English with Latin, informal style with incorrect grammar, and syntax with semantics.
p231: subjunctive mood and irrealis were.
p235: that and which.
p236: The spurious rule against restrictive which sprang from a daydream by Henry Fowler in Modern English Usage in 1926.
p239: ... such neologisms make it easier to think
p241: ... whom has long been perceived as formal verging on pompous.
p243: ... a fewunmistakeable informal sentences in which whom is so natural as to be unnoticeable.
p244: absolute and graded qualities (very unique).
p253: As many linguists have pointed out, the purists have botched the less-fewer distinction.
p255: Many purists claim that singular they is a LOLcat-worthy grammatical howler ...
p257: English has no gender-neutral pronoun.
... there is a bug in the English language.
p258: Today, it is sexist usage that stops readers in their tracks and distracts them from the author's message.
p259: ... they functioning as a bound variable ...
p260: So singular they has history and logic behind it.
... singular they is less acceptable in formal writing then in informal writing.
p261: ... a more grammatical-than-thou reader may falsely accuse you of making an error.
p263: Though less nonsense is disseminated about word meanings than about grammar, the nonsense factor is far from zero.
p283: But the most twisted family of look-alike and mean-alike words in the English lexicon is the one with lie and lay.

Snippets from Pinker on style, Ch6, part I

More snippets from Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Chapter 6: Telling right from wrong. How to make sense of the rules of correct grammar, word choice, and punctuation.

p188: The goal of this chapter is to allow you to reason your way to avoiding the major errors of correct grammar, word choice, and punctuation.... purists, also known as sticklers, pedants, snobs, snoots, nit-pickers, traditionalists, language police, usage nannies, grammar Nazis, and the Gotcha Gang.

p189: (Following definitions of the terms Prescriptivist and Descriptivist) (my bold)
The Descriptivists had their way with the publication of Webster's Third New International Dictionary in 1961.
This created a backlash that led to Prescriptivist dictionaries such as The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
What's wrong with this fairy tale?
As the chair of the Usage Panel of the famously prescriptivist American Heritage Dictionary (AHD), I am here to tell you that this assumption is false.
When I asked the editor of the dictionary how he and his colleagues decide what goes into it, he replied: "We pay attention to the way people use language".
That's right: when it comes to correct English, there's no one in charge, the lunatics are running the asylum.

p190: ... the rules of usage are tacit conventions.

p192: ... I am ... a descriptive linguist ...
But the book you are holding is avowedly prescriptivist.

p193: The rules of standard English are not legislated by a tribunal of lexicographers but emerge as an implicit consensus within a virtual community of writers, readers, and editors.

p194: Although lexicographers have neither  the desire nor the power to prevent linguistic conventions from changing, this does not mean, as purists fear, that they cannot state the conventions in force at a given time. That is the rationale behind the American Heritage Dictionary's Usage Panel ...

p195: And now we come to the most bogus controversy of all. The fact that many prescriptivist rules are worth keeping does not mean that every pet peeve, bit of grammatical folklore, or dimly remembered less from Miss Thistlebottom's classroom is worth keeping.
Phony rules, which proliferate like urban legends and are just as hard to eradicate, are responsible for vast amounts of ham-fisted copyediting and smarty-pants one-upmanship.

p197: ... reasons to obey some prescriptivist rules ...
One is to provde grounds for confidence that the writer has a history of reading edited English and has given it (the text) his full attention.
Another is to enforce grammatical consistency ...
Still another reason to care about usage is to ratify a certain attitude to language.

p198: This raises the question of how a careful writer can distingusi a legitimate rule of usage from a grandmother's tale. The answer is unbelievably simple: look it up. Consult a modern dictionary with usage notes such as Merriam-Webster's Unabridged, the American Heritage Dictionary ...
[And, I would add, the New Oxford Dictionary of English, or NODE, edited by Judy Pearsall and published in 2001. After Webster's Third New International Dictionary, this is my personal favorite, but, to my immense disappointment, it proved a commercial failure and has not been updated. Amazon link for second-hand copies here.] [The NODE blurb reads: This dictionary focuses on contemporary English as it is really used, informed by currently available evidence and the latest research. The dictionary places the most frequently used meanings of each word first, followed by secondary and technical senses, slang, idioms, and historical and obsolete senses. There are over 500 boxed usage notes, giving guidance on all aspects of the language and backed up by extensive analysis of the evidence. Featuring 350,000 words, phrases, and definitions, this dictionary offers comprehensive coverage of English as it is actually used in the 21st century.]

.. reference works, with their careful attention to history, literature, and actual usage, are the most adamant debunkers of grammatical nonsense (This is much less true of style sheets drawn up by newspapers and professional societies ...

01 May 2015

Leonardo da Vinci’s CV

Leonardo da Vinci’s résumé -- written in 1482, at the age of 30 -- along with what reads like a good translation and some sound analysis directly applicable to the modern-day CV writer here.
Leonardo was born on 15 April 1452 and died on 2 May 1519.

Transcreating technical journalism, conference presentation

On Saturday 17 June, I at spoke at the TransLisboa 2017 conference organised by Aptrad . My presentation was entitled  Transcreating techn...