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.


  1. Here at www.ustranslation.com, we're always trying to figure out the best way to explain transcreation. You've just helped us a lot —thanks!


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