Transcreation – Localizing creative content

Localization extends beyond mere translation of source to target language. With creative content, it requires an understanding of the heart and soul of the source content and transcreation in the target language.
Written by: Shankar G

As a localization agency, we work with content that is formal and therefore comes under the category of non-fiction. Every now and then, we come across a challenge – such as localizing a famous poem. If a poem needs to be localized across several Indic languages, how do we ensure it is done so with the same inspirational value and intensity? Here is our approach at Magnon.

Localizing a poem is a typical example of a creative form of translation, called transcreation. Transcreation is defined as the process of adapting a message from one language to another, while maintaining its intent, style, tone and context. To do that effectively, it requires a linguist to deviate from the mindset of a translator and dig a bit deeper into the creative centres of the brain. Here are some questions that we ask ourselves while transcreating.

  • What is the soul of the message? Even if the words mean something, the intended meaning may be quite different. In fact, in renowned poetry, it usually is. In addition, it is always helpful to understand the historical context of the poem to fully grasp its meaning.
  • What is the tone of the message? Is it aggressive or soothing? Is it snarky or straight-forward? Does it take the form of a folk song or that of a devotional hymn?
  • Who is the target audience? Is it the barely-literate toiling masses or the urban educated youth? Does the translation reach those that the source is aimed at? If not, should it be simplified?
  • What elements in the source are relatable for the target audience’s culture and what are not? Will the poetic technique(s) used in the source be understood by the target audience? If not, should the adjectives, allusions or imagery be changed?
  • What reactions should these words evoke in the audience? This question, being closer to the second question above, should guide our choice of words and their structure.

After analyzing the source content well enough for these answers, we put on the creative hat and try to recreate the magic in the target language. Therefore, it is fair to say that this is not only a work of translation but is closer to good original writing inspired by a foreign source. The adapted lines should use relatable words, expressions and examples to the target audience and touch the same emotional chord – just like the source!

If a translator does not understand these nuances and carries on as usual, the transcreated content would fall flat in a best case scenario. In the worst case scenario, it might even turn into a laughing stock.

However, we would reiterate that not every day does a business require a poem or a creative script to be localized. But transcreation is required most in creative copywriting, marketing communications, subtitles for entertainment content and so on. In all such cases, effective transcreation is vital for the commercial success of a brand that is beyond cultures, borders and of course, languages.

After all, human emotions transcend the barriers of language. This is why, when adapted correctly, transcreated content can make everyone feel the same joy, the same pain, the same motivation and the same emotion.

It could be Piyush Mishra of Hindi, Subramanya Bharathi of Tamil, Vemana of Telugu or K.S. Narasimhaswamy of Kannada. Let language never be a barrier to inspire humanity. We try our best to bring the creative spirit and nuanced meaning of their verses to audience who don’t speak those languages.

Did you come across any transcreation (good or bad) that made you go Wow or WTF? Share these with us in the comments. We are all ears!

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