The notion of transcreation in the work of the translator

Transcreation is a mixture of translation, adaptation and localization. It consists in replacing a cultural element while translating in order to adapt the speech to the target audience. Thus, this process is a genuine linguistic and cultural creation, mostly used in the audiovisual sector and in publicity and marketing, with subtitling and dubbing.


Indeed, the translator’s goal is to think beyond the induced linguistic elements and to make a transcreation choice reflecting the culture of the target language. In that way, this is how he becomes the author of the work. Translation can add or skip some elements as long as the general idea of the text is respected. The objective is not only to send the same message as in the source language, but also to create an identical reaction among the foreign audience. He must be both translator and writer in order to analyze the puns and the cultural allusions of the original text to reproduce them in the target language.

To illustrate this concept in cinema, let’s take the example of Inside Out, where Riley does not want to eat broccoli. Broccoli being a type of food that is usually disliked by Western children, this makes sense. However, when came the time to translate the movie in Japanese, broccoli -which Japanese children enjoy- was replaced by chili, since they do not like it.

If translating a specific cultural element seems to be tricky or induces a deep reflection, just imagine how it is to translate songs. It clearly requires a careful a cautious work and a creation respecting songwriting rules (rhymes, number of syllables and so on) but also the general sense and ideas of the original text.

For the song “Let it go” from the Disney animated movie Frozen, the translation does not quite transcribe the idea of closed doors, which is repeated throughout the movie. The text of the original version is “Turn away and slam the door” while the lyrics for the French version are “I have decided to go”. Therefore, we understand how hard it can be to translate a song without losing some ideas yet important.

In my opinion, the transcreator is somewhere between an author and a translator. For specialized translators who are not completely satisfied with non-literary translation, transcreation could be of more interest to them in their translation assignment, since transcreation is culturally and creatively oriented.

Zohra Lepeigneul

Translated by Sarah Deville 

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