Interviews & Articles 2020
Translation in the creative industries: a new domain of study and research
By Dionysios Kapsaskis, Senior Lecturer, University of Roehampton
The interdisciplinary study of translation and the media is still in its young stages. Audiovisual translation, the most important achievement of this inquiry, is currently reinvigorating translation studies through the creation of new socially relevant knowledge, concepts, and methodologies. However, its main focus on film, TV and video has limited its purview to only some of the translation activities that take place in the broader creative sector. Looking at the variety and quantity of translation exchanges in media and creative environments, it is important to begin a discussion about the role of translation in the creative economy.
The significance of conceptualising this new area is that it will allow us to track, study and understand translation practices that tend to slip under the radar of both academic and public awareness. To be sure, there is already serious translation research into some creative subsectors, such as music, museums and tourism. But the lack of a coherent approach to the domain as a whole means that the generated knowledge remains local and not sufficiently shared. Yet, this knowledge can feed into public policies, translation manuals and translation courses, which, in turn, should help to improve translation quality and facilitate the implementation of cultural policies at international, national and regional levels.
So, what is "translation in the creative industries"? The term "creative industries" is associated with the political initiative of various governments in the 1990's and 2000's to "bring the arts (i.e. culture) into direct contact with large-scale industries such as media entertainment (i.e. the market)" (Hartley 2005: 6). The combination of individual artistic creativity with the mass production of cultural goods was already happening, of course, but the policy aspect of it was new. The point was the creation of jobs and the contribution of the cultural sector to the growth of the economy. The idea has drawn significant criticism mainly from leftist quarters, on the grounds that it subsumes culture to the economic logic of the marketplace and conflates citizenship with consumership. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the term has caught on and is now used in economic reports, policy reports and higher education programmes across the globe.
Yet there are geographical variances with regard to what counts as creative industry and what its role is within each national economy. For the sake of the argument, we can refer to the UN's definition which distinguishes four main categories of creative industries: (i) heritage, including festivals and museums; (ii) arts, including visual arts, e.g. galleries, and performing arts; (iii) media, including publishing, films, TV, software and video games; and (iv) "functional creations" , which includes advertising among other things (UNCTAD). Form a translation viewpoint, it is not difficult to see that all of the above activities need to be linguistically mediated either for export, or to provide access to foreign users and to those with sensory disabilities.
While the heterogeneity of translation practices associated with this range of activities may threaten the coherence of the rubric "translation in the creative industries", there are two good reasons for persisting in it. The first is that geographical variance between different creative industries traditions may affect strategic decisions in the process of translation. Flew and Cunningham (2012: 5) have identified four different models of the culture - economy relationship that are worth mentioning here. United States is characterised by a divide between arts and culture on the one hand and the entertainment/copyright industries on the other; in Europe, there is emphasis on the cultural mission of creative industries and on strategies for social inclusion; in many Asian countries, there is emphasis on the role of national and sociocultural circumstances; and in developing countries such as South America and South Africa, the accent is on cultural heritage maintenance, and poverty alleviation. In realistic scenarios where content related to the local creative industries needs to be translated for an overseas market, (for instance, the translation of tourist guides or advertisements), the difference between source and target creative industries traditions should be a decisive factor in the translation.
To give but one example, a comparative study between English and Chinese museum websites conducted by Hogg, Liao and O'Gorman (2014) suggested that the former tended to be interpersonal and visitor-centred, while the latter were more authoritative in tone and focused on the education of the public.When it comes to translating these websites, this knowledge should inform the translator's assumptions as to what visitors' expectations from museum websites are, and should be factored in, in translation decisions.
The second reason for conceptualising creative industries as a distinct field in translation studies is that the forms of translation concerned seem to share some general characteristics. Elsewhere, I have identified three of them (Kapsaskis 2018).First, creativity, in the sense of liberty to adapt the message to the target audience; second, the importance of the aesthetic element of the message, which implies developing techniques for translating the image-sound-text complex; and, third, the promotional element, putting the accent on the persuasive function of the translated text.
The knowledge we currently have of the forms, methods and contexts of translation in the creative industries is tentative and unsystematic. The time is ripe for a debate that will help us understand how translation contributes to the creative economy and what we can do to improve its quality and visibility.
- Hartley, John. 2005. Creative Industries. In John Hartley (ed.) Creative Industries. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.
- UNCTAD (n.d.) UNCTAD's work on the Creative Economy. https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DITC/CreativeEconomy/Creative-Economy.aspx
- Flew, Terry and Stuart D. Cunningham. 2010. Creative industries after the first decade of debate. The Information Society, 26(2), 113‐123.
- Hogg, Gillian, Liao, Min-Hsiu & Kevin O'Gorman. 2014. Reading between the lines: Multidimensional translation in tourism consumption. Tourism Management, 42, 157-164.
- Kapsaskis, Dionysios. 2018. Translation in the creative industries: An introduction. The Journal of Specialised Translation, 29, 2-11. Online at http://www.jostrans.org/issue29/art_kapsaskis.pdf
Dr. Dionysios Kapsaskis will be presenting a panel discussion on Media Translation in the Creative Industries at the Languages & the Media conference taking place on December 14-16, 2020 in Berlin. Also speaking at the panel will be:
Dr Michelle Min-Hsiu Liao
Dr Dimitris Asimakoulas
University of Warsaw