It’s not all English to me!

Transcreation or localisation is a means of seeking out the essence of a message and rephrasing it for a specific purpose, for example, marketing. There is nothing especially new about this. In distinguishing between ‘semantic’ and ‘communicative’ translation, Peter Newmark, stresses that the latter should convert the source language culture into the target language culture as far as is possible. Transcreation/localisation in fact in some ways turns the translation process on its head. No longer is a faithful rendering of the original sought, but rather a text that will apparently match not just the readers’ linguistic experience but also their cultural expectations. The translator of course has always acted as an interface between writer and reader. How could it be otherwise since it is always assumed that somebody will read it, though in the case of certain bulky EU multiannual reports on animal health and welfare I’m not always quite so sure?

However, does the above always reflect the reality in a time when English dominates so much in the world? English now occurs ever more frequently in supposedly foreign-language texts like some fast-spreading virus. The reasons for this are multifold: English may lend ‘prestige’ or ‘cool’, may imply some unspecified (and often dubious) level of education or expertise. Why is the term ‘Business Management’ used so universally when ‘local’ equivalents most certainly exist? Thus, paradoxically, this serves to undermine the notion of transcreation since it cannot always be assumed that every reader understands the ‘offending’ English word or phrase. From the 1980’s Audi’s advertising slogan in Britain, ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’, successfully employed precisely this technique, whereby the manifestly transparent ‘Technik’ was juxtaposed with an entirely unknown word to many, but some vague sense of German engineering ingenuity could be guessed at. Of course, such a tactic may run the risk of the consumer not wanting to explore the possible meaning of ‘Vorsprung’ and turning away.

Thus, it would seem that the question of when to translate and when not to translate from English (or German for that matter) may not always depend on whether the readers will understand the text but how much they should understand. A question for another time, perhaps…

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