- Language Concepts LLC
When only substituting word by word from one language to another, translation falls short of communicating the complexity and flavor of the original idea fully, but especially when translating a cookbook, an author needs a skilled translator. Words we use in English for measurements, for example, don’t directly translate to other languages.
When English-speakers in the U.S. refer to a pinch or a dash, the direct translations of those words into other languages may not capture the same equivalents for amounts. Languages seem to rely on a lot of idioms in the kitchen, and these also do not translate by just substituting the equivalent language word-by-word. For example, in English we have “a baker’s dozen,” “acquired taste,” “couch potato,” “junk food,” and so on. Even “comfort food” is a localized idiom- for some areas of the English-speaking world it means Southern food or heavy, decadent food, while in others it might mean something that reminds you of childhood.
For Brits, a poll found the foods that rank highest as comfort food were fish and chips, a roast, or pizza (Source). In the U.S., on the other hand, foods that rank highest are mac and cheese, chicken and waffles, and spaghetti. Spaniards, on the other hand, don’t use the phrase comfort food. Therefore, a book titled Comfort Food would carry little meaning in Spain’s market.
Most importantly, other audiences may need to know how to substitute ingredients that were commonly found in the country of the cookbook’s origin. Not all supermarkets carry quinces, for example, which are common in Turkey but not the U.S. Fruits, vegetables, spices, sauces, brands, and even types and cuts of meat all need to be evaluated for accessibility in the target language’s local markets.
Most countries rely on the metric system, meaning any recipes written primarily for a U.S. audience using the imperial system (pound, pint, gallon) will need calculations to translate them to metric measurements. Vice versa is true for any cookbook written in primarily metric system countries for publication in imperial system countries. Some cookbooks will include both, especially in the United States, where more serious chefs often prefer metric measurements since ratios are easier to calculate using that system.
Most cookbooks rely on stories and an author’s personality in addition to the recipes themselves. These may need more transcreation than just translation. Transcreation often necessitates reworking much of the individual words in order to better mirror the overall message. It is a reimagining of the original language’s wording in order to better capture the original meaning in the new, target language without losing meaning. This often involves using idioms and cultural references in the new language, adapting jokes, adding historical context to make sense to a foreign audience, and more in order to make the target language’s message resonate with the target language’s culture. This will make the message feel more natural in the target language and not like a piece that was translated from a different original language.
Another option many cookbook authors and publishers choose is including two languages in a multilingual cookbook. This is especially popular in the United States, where many communities are bilingual and authors want to preserve their heritage and language in their original voice while also making the recipes and content accessible to a wider audience.
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