Tolnai Translations

Why Transcreation is Not Structurally Different from Translation

It may seem like a bold statement, but it really isn’t. If you have at least heard of German Functionalism (Katharina Reiss, Christiane Nord, Hans Vermeer and others) you will definitely agree with it. There is no difference between translation and transcreation. Because translation IS transcreation. As a translator you don’t merely reproduce a source text, you don’t mechanically transcribe a source text into your target language (you’re not Google Translate), but produce a completely new text in your target language based on a source text, and on several other crucial coordinates. These coordinates are provided in your translation… brief. You can’t possibly properly translate a text without a translation brief. You always need to know who your target audience is, what medium will be used for your target text and what your goal is. Because your final goal as a translator is not to produce a target text but to achieve something by means of your target text.

Quite often, you are asked to maintain the form, style and structure of your source text, like when you’re translating a user manual. Your purpose in this case is to help your target audience use a certain device, so apparently you’re not operating very many changes. ‘But you don’t need a brief for that and you don’t really need to be creative’, you might say. As far as the brief is concerned, some of the information is self-explanatory, it’s true. I mean, no-one expects you to translate the manual in the form of a poem. You also know that you will have to explain the functioning of your device to your target audience. Nonetheless, it is very important to know who your target recipient is (a professional? a layman?). This information might now always be self-implied. You would need your client to tell you that. About creativity, that’s completely untrue! You cannot possibly translate without being creative (if that were true, Google Translate would be the best translator in the world). No two languages are alike. Sometimes, sentences, but also paragraphs, should be rewritten, rephrased. The order of your information might also change – based on the culturally approved model of the user manual. You might need to replace certain idiomatic expressions with equivalent functional phrases in your target language. An example that comes to mind is ‘Congratulations on purchasing this device’. Romanians would react quite strangely if somebody congratulated them for purchasing something. You might want to thank them, but not congratulate them. You have to do anything and everything to help your target audience use the device.

In advertising, because your fellow citizens react to different messages or because their buying behaviours are very different, the target text sometimes (but not always) needs to be completely rewritten. In this case, you use the source text as a guide. It can help you understand what the brand aimed to achieve in the source environment. You are probably expected to achieve the same goals in the target audience (anyway, in such a situation the brief would be much more elaborate). And it is up to you to choose the strategy. You might have to change everything (pictures, text, tagline) or preserve the message and structure of the original. It all depends on what works and what not.

It has been assumed (wrongly, I might add) that translation is some sort of a transcoding process whereby only the language is changed, therefore a new improved concept was deemed necessary, and this is transcreation. In fact, between translation and transcreation there is only a difference of degree (of how much change is needed in your target text in order to achieve your goal). Structurally speaking, the process is the same, because whether you translate or transcreate, your approach must always be target-oriented, never source-oriented.

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