Linguistics and Identity: Why Translation Without Transcreation Falls Short

March 3, 2021 Author: Mario X. Carrasco

Linguistic anthropology dives into how people use language to create culture, enact different identities, tell stories, and create relationships. But language is continuously changing.

In the U.S., Hispanics are becoming more English dominant. Spanish speakers or descendants of Spanish speakers are encountering a different linguistic experience as language evolves to meet the needs of Hispanics in the present day. The Spanish language has been influenced by the American ethos resulting in a hybrid language, known as Spanglish, which sits at the intersection of language (Spanish and English) and culture. By allowing people to enact both sides of their identities as Spanish speakers and English speakers, you enable them to show up authentically. 

However, moving beyond language to how people actually talk and see themselves is essential to creating resonant messaging. With Spanglish, for example, marketing materials that have as little as one Spanglish word see an uptick in overall receptiveness even among Hispanics who speak little to no Spanish. The use of the term Latinx, on the other hand, is only preferred by 2% of Hispanics, so its use in marketing is unrelatable to most of the population. 

Language and how it’s interrupted has a tremendous impact on behavior. And for marketers, that’s where translation and transcreation work hand in hand. While translation renders an original text into a target language, transcreation works to make the concept of that copy real for the audience, evoking the same emotional response the original copy intended but in the targeted language. The challenge for marketers is understanding how to tie all these pieces together.

This week, linguistic anthropologist Jill Kushner Bishop, Ph.D., Founder & CEO of Multilingual  Connections, is our guest on The New Mainstream podcast to discuss the intersection of language and culture and why marketers need to understand how translation and transcreation work together.