What does transcreation mean in literature?

Transcreation is a term that fuses the words “translation” and “creation”. It refers to the process of writing content in a source text that needs to be made coherent, relevant, and engaging in a new language.


Often referred to as “creative translation”, transcreation goes beyond a literal translation of words. Instead, it focuses on faithfully conveying the essence and meaning of the original text while making it culturally relevant in the target language. This requires adapting words, adding idiomatic expressions, and adjusting figures of speech to suit the context of the new language.

Transcreation is a complex process that involves considering all aspects of the target language’s meaning. It is not merely a word-for-word interpretation but rather a creative and cultural adaptation of the original content.

A transcreation professional is more than a linguist; they must possess excellent linguistic skills, as well as creative writing and copywriting abilities. As a result, it is not uncommon for copywriters and translators to collaborate on transcreation projects.

Transcreation is a translation-related activity that goes beyond a simple linguistic transfer of a text from one language to another. It involves a combination of linguistic translation, cultural adaptation, and creative re-interpretation of certain parts of a text. This means that the translator must not only convey the meaning of the words, but also capture the cultural nuances and emotions of the original work in order to make it resonate with the target audience.

The balance between these three elements of transcreation, translation, creative writing and copywriting, will depend on a variety of factors, including the characteristics of the text itself, the instructions provided in the transcreation brief or by the client, the linguistic and cultural traits of the audience receiving the text, and the purpose and objective of the text. For example, a marketing campaign aimed at a specific cultural group may require a greater emphasis on cultural adaptation and creative re-interpretation, whereas a technical manual may require a greater emphasis on linguistic translation.

In recent years, transcreation has gained prominence as a professional practice within the language service industry. International standards such as ISO:17100 now recognise it as an added-value translation service. This is due in part to the growing recognition of the importance of cultural context in communication, as well as the increasing globalisation of markets and audiences. Transcreation allows companies and organisations to communicate effectively with diverse audiences, while also maintaining the integrity and impact of their message.


Previous research has defined transcreation as the creative interpretation of texts, both inter- and intra-lingual, to suit the characteristics of a target audience. It is not just a linguistic translation but also a cultural adaptation, and evidence suggests that it can be applied in various fields such as literature, marketing, advertising, video games, websites, mobile applications, and information materials. Transcreation is popular in marketing and advertising as it allows companies to tailor their campaigns to international markets. Projects that may require transcreation include web campaigns aimed at attracting clients from other markets.

Although transcreation is a current topic in academia, inconsistencies exist in the scientific literature on its definition, origin, and specialisation fields. Some authors argue that transcreation is different from translation based on the emphasis of cultural relevance and fitness for purpose, while others do not consider it as an area of specialisation in itself. Transcreation is located halfway between translation and copywriting, and it is not the same as marketing translation or multilingual copywriting.

Transcreation is also present in non-creative fields such as healthcare, where it refers to adapting health education materials to improve understanding and cultural relevance among specific language and ethnic groups. Many researchers have addressed the potential of transcreation in disseminating healthcare information among audiences with different linguistic and cultural characteristics.

As transcreation is a prolific and professional activity, it is an interesting area of research present in various fields. Different authors have dealt with questions such as the processes involved, the agents involved, the origin and evolution of transcreation, and the skills required to carry it out.

Here are 13 examples where transcreation has affected the way a book is translated:

  1. In the Harry Potter series, the character’s names are often changed in translations to reflect cultural differences and make them more relatable to local audiences. For example, in the French translation, Hermione Granger is known as “Hermione Granger-Weasley” to reflect her marriage to Ron Weasley.
  2. In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” the phrase “Macondo” is translated as “Macondo” in English, but in Spanish, it has a double meaning of both a place and a state of mind.
  3. In Haruki Murakami’s novel “Kafka on the Shore,” the translation from Japanese to English involved transcreation of certain cultural references, such as Japanese idioms and proverbs, into their English equivalents.
  4. In “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson, the Swedish word “män” which translates to “men” in English was changed to “people” in the English translation to avoid excluding non-male characters.
  5. In the French translation of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” the character Hagrid speaks with a strong southern French accent, which adds a layer of cultural specificity to the text.
  6. In the Spanish translation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera,” the character’s name “Dr. Juvenal Urbino” is translated as “Doctor Juvenal Urbino del Casal.”
  7. In Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” the original French text uses a play on words with the French word “fissure” (meaning crack or crevice) and the German word “fissur” (meaning a small, mischievous creature). This play on words is transcreated in the English translation as “crevice” and “gryf,” respectively.
  8. In the Spanish translation of “Alice in Wonderland,” the character of the Caterpillar is referred to as the “Oruga” (meaning “caterpillar” in Spanish), but is also given the nickname “Don Oruga,” which adds a layer of cultural specificity to the text.
  9. In Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” the English translation uses the word “kitsch” to translate the Czech word “kitch,” which has a more complex cultural meaning that encompasses both sentimental and political aspects.
  10. In the French translation of J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” the main character Holden Caulfield’s speech is transcreated to reflect the character’s New York accent, using slang and idioms specific to that region.
  11. In the German translation of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, the title character’s name is changed from Harry Potter to “Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen” to reflect the importance of the Sorcerer’s Stone in the plot.
  12. In the Spanish translation of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” the title is changed from “El Viejo y el Mar” to “El Viejo y el Mar: Un Relato del Mar” to emphasize the importance of the sea in the story.
  13. In the French translation of Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” the title character’s name is transcreated as “Dolorès Haze” to reflect the character’s French ancestry.

Sometimes it can go wrong.

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: In the French edition of J.K. Rowling’s famous novel, the character Neville Longbottom was translated as “Neville Londubat.” This mistranslation caused confusion among French readers and resulted in criticism from fans.
  2. The Bible: The King James Version of the Bible is considered a masterpiece of English literature, but it also contains numerous mistranslations. For example, in the book of Exodus, the Hebrew word “karan” is translated as “shone” instead of “grew horns,” leading to the common misconception that Moses had horns on his head.
  3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: The Swedish title of Stieg Larsson’s novel, “Män som hatar kvinnor,” literally translates to “Men who hate women.” However, the English translation changed the title to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which some argue was a less accurate representation of the book’s content.
  4. The Little Prince: In the English translation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic children’s book, the character’s iconic line “On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur” was translated as “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.” However, the word “bien” in the original French carries a connotation of “clearly” or “perfectly,” making the English translation less faithful to the original.
  5. Don Quixote: The first English translation of Miguel de Cervantes’ novel, published in 1612, was a poor and incomplete adaptation that failed to capture the humor and depth of the original Spanish text. It wasn’t until much later that more accurate and nuanced translations were produced, helping to establish Don Quixote as a masterpiece of world literature.