Transcreation in Literature

Here at Lionbridge, we are all about translation, localization, globalization—pretty much anything language-related you need, we’ll do. One of the many services we offer is called “Transcreation,” a portmanteau of translation and creation.  We’ve told you about transcreation before and why it is so important to transcreate your content instead of just translating it. But transcreation isn’t just for businesses and marketing campaigns. In fact, transcreation has been around since before there was even a word for it! Just ask translators of literature.

Do you think Shakespeare’s world play or the rhythm, rhymes, and shape of a classical poem would translate word for word into another language? Literature is a craft and an art form, but the musicality and emotion in those words might not be the same in another language.

For example:

The Mad Hatter character written by Lewis Carroll in the children’s masterpiece Alice in Wonderland is named for his hat, of course, and his “madness.” In this case, we know from the way the character is depicted that the word “mad” means crazy or insane. But the word “mad” is something called a polyseme, a word with different but related meanings. We know that the Mad Hatter is not an angry person, he’s just a little off. But what if the work was translated word for word? How would this terminology come across? Alice in Wonderland has been translated into 174 different languages, one of which calls the crazy character a “Marble Mason.” In the Provençal dialect, they use the phrase “he broke the marble” to mean “he’s crazy,” so the translators used their imagination to create a new, yet equally illustrative, nickname for the character.

Cultural norms are also important when it comes to transcreation. In western cultures, it is not uncommon for children to question or argue with adults, especially if they are mentally unstable, like the Mad Hatter. In Japan, however, it is frowned upon to disrespect your elders. The translators chose to omit the arguments between these two characters so that the book would be acceptable in Japanese culture.

A more modern example would be the world-famous young adult series Harry Potter. Many of the words, names, and spells in the fantasy world are completely made up, and therefore would not translate well into other languages. This is where transcreators can step in and work their creative magic. The school of witchcraft and wizardry named “Hogwarts” was renamed in French as “Poux-de-lard” which literally translates back to “bacon lice.” While bacon lice might not have the same ring to it as Hogwarts, it’s essentially the same meaning. Ravenclaw became “Serdaigle,” meaning “eagle talon,” and Hufflepuff became “Poufsouffle,” literally meaning “out of puff.”

The literature translations of the books obviously did a good job, as Harry Potter world is a global fan favorite. But when the movies were translated into Chinese, the translators did not take as much care when reverting back to English in the subtitles.

This slideshow may be quite funny if you are familiar with the scenes, but for someone trying to watch a foreign movie using subtitles, this translation just isn’t good enough.  Literature translators have known for a long time the importance of transcreation, and now it is available to you.

Whether you are translating text, video, or audio for your business meetings, marketing campaigns, training materials, or anything else, Lionbridge onDemand is here to help. We have transcreation services for all your needs that will get your message across with the right words, bringing over the emotions and creativity that you have crafted into your work. Check out all we have to offer here.