A transcreation is not just a creative translation
I bet that you have read somewhere that transcreation is a kind of “creative translation.” In fact, judging by Google results, “creative translation” appears to be the most commonly used term to describe transcreation.
Yet “creative translation” is a misnomer.
It’s misleading at best. Why? Let’s take a step back and ask ourselves: What does “creative” in the context of a translation even mean?
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, “creative” means:
1: marked by the ability or power to create : given to creating
//the creative impulse //a creative genius
2 : having the quality of something created rather than imitated : imaginative
//the creative arts //creative writing
3 : managed so as to get around legal or conventional limits
// creative financing
also : deceptively arranged so as to conceal or defraud
// creative accounting
In my experience, creativity in translation is a double-edged sword. Think of legal agreements, a scientific report, or a financial statement. They should not be handled “creatively” (especially not as per definition 3 above). On the contrary, such documents need to be translated faithfully and accurately, with painstaking attention to factual details. Contrary to definition 2 of “creative” above, translations should in fact imitate.
Seen from this viewpoint, “creative” and “translation” would seem mutually exclusive. I therefore propose that the term translation be reserved to all texts that require painstaking attention to factual details. Texts that are meant to inform fully and accurately. Texts where readers want to know exactly what the source text says. Where tone and content are faithfully imitated throughout.
On the other hand, when you have texts that are supposed to intrigue, persuade, and motivate the reader (which applies to promotional material of all types), a translation as defined above will likely not be the route to success. Why? Because every language, every culture, every market works in different ways. In such cases, the linguist will have to adapt or rewrite the text in the target language to give it the right punch and ensure it instantly touches a target-language reader’s nerve (or pain point, as they say in marketing parlance).
And that is where transcreation comes in. In trans-creation, you translate first, then decide how much of that translation can be used in the target-language text, and how much needs to be rewritten (“re-created”), and in what ways. To do that well, the linguist needs deep insights into the target-market culture (based on experience and thorough research) as well as a client brief. And in transcreations, as opposed to translations, that brief takes precedence over the source text.
In a nutshell, a transcreation is not a creative translation. A transcreation is a translation combined with the creation of new ideas on how to spin a message in another language. It is a strategically focused process: What marketing goal does the client want to achieve with the text, and how can you best achieve that goal in the target language? Creativity – a seemingly clever wordplay, for instance – may be fun, but not helpful if it doesn’t contribute to that goal.
Hence, transcreation is all about the expertise to decide what to translate and what to rewrite, and how to do that. In addition, the linguist needs to make sure that all the facts remain correct. It takes experts to maintain that exquisite balance. Transcreation experts.