• A brief look at the revisions to Harry Potter in Italian

    A brief look at the revisions to Harry Potter in Italian

    Lately I’ve been taking a look through the Italian translation of Philosopher’s Stone, first published in 1998 but extensively revised and edited in 2011. The translation by Marina Astrologo is a classic pre-movie translation and quite well done. But the translation was done as a stand-alone before Chamber of Secrets was even published. Astrologo could not foresee how the rest of the Harry Potter saga would play out before deciding how to set the proper tone with words like goblin and Neville Longbottom.

    So after the series had been fully published, the Italian publisher commissioned a revision (by Stefano Bartezzaghi) of the books to sort of standardize the language throughout the series. This was met with backlash and annoyance among those Italian readers who had to relearn the names of their favorite characters, but it also earned a good amount of defenders. You can read a bit more about the rationale behind the revision over at Potterglot.

    For now, I just want to give you a little illustration of the sorts of changes that were made. From all I’ve looked at so far, there’s probably no more representative sample than the Oliver Wood pun.

    In the original Italian translation from 1998, we have:

    “Mi scusi, professor Vitious, mi presta Baston per un attimo?” Baston? pensò Harry allibito; forse la McGranitt aveva intenzione di picchiarlo?

    “Excuse me, Professor Vitious, would you lend me Baston [Baton] for a moment?” Baston [Baton]? thought Harry shocked; maybe McGranitt was intending to beat him?

    The revised Italian translation makes quite a few changes:

    “Mi scusi, professor Flitwick, mi presta il suo Wood per un attimo?” ‘Il suo Wood?’ pensò Harry confuso; sperò che la situazione non stesse prendendo una brutta piega.

    “Excuse me, Professor Flitwick, would you lend me your Wood for a moment?” ‘Your Wood?’ thought Harry confused; he hoped that the situation was not taking a turn for the worst.

    Here are a few observations:

    1. The names have been changed in favor of Warner Bros. trademarks. Vitious, Baston, and McGranitt have all reverted to Flitwick, Wood, and McGonagall (and McGonagall was also removed from this excerpt altogether).
    2. The pun was sacrificed in favor of restoring ‘Wood.’ Baston, which is a genuine surname just like Wood, means “baton” in Italian and lent itself well to the pun.
    3. The adjustment is broad and thorough. It’s clear that the backbone of Astrologo’s translation is intact—even though only 10 of the words remained the same. The entire excerpt is recast in order to accommodate the change from ‘Baston’ to ‘Wood.’
    4. The language remains engaging. Although the original pun is no longer there, the new presentation is hardly stilted. An engaging workaround was conceived. This follows a trend throughout the revision: not only were proper nouns and magical concepts standardized for a better flow, but the language was also made more smooth.

    So what judgments can be gleaned from this example? I think that’s largely open to your preferences. On the one hand, the revised translation of Philosopher’s Stone in loses some of the pizzazz and originality of the older translation. But it jives better in the broader context of Harry Potter, both in terms of the Italian translation of the series and in terms of the global franchise, without losing the creativity and flow of the Italian text.

  • “P for Prefect!” Molly Weasley gets in on the joke!

    “P for Prefect!” Molly Weasley gets in on the joke!

    Harry Potter plays on English at every turn, and often in the most subtle of ways. When Christmas rolls around in Philosopher’s Stone, Molly Weasley gifts Percy a knitted sweater with a big ol’ “P” for Percy. But Fred jokea that the “P” actually stands for “Prefect,” carrying on a year-long tease of Percy taking his prefecture too seriously. Of course, this tease requires Percy’s name and the word “prefect” to begin with the same letter as his name.

    So what about translations that don’t translate prefect as prefect? After all, the position of Prefect is a very British thing to have in a school. Some translations even feel the need to explain or footnote what exactly Percy’s role is because the target culture has no equivalent concept.

    One obvious solution is to change Percy’s name in the target language to match the translation of prefect. But so far I have not come across any translation that makes any significant changes to Percy’s name. (And I’m unlikely to find any: since the expansion of the Harry Potter franchise after 2000, proper nouns have largely remained unchanged across translations.)

    So let’s take a look at three different ways this translation problem is resolved.

    Ditching the “P”: German, Icelandic, Finnish, and Turkish

    The most common strategy translators use (aside from just keeping the word prefect) is ditching the “P” on the sweater. This ends up bringing Molly into the tension in these translations, because she chooses to stitch the letter for prefect over the letter for Percy:

    German (Klaus Fritz):V für Vertrauensschüler! Zieh ihn an, Percy…”

    Icelandic (Helga Haraldsdóttir): U fyrir umsjónarmanninn! Klæddu þig í hana, Percy.”

    In these translations, Percy is the only one gifted a sweater with a letter that is different from the first letter of his name. Molly gave a sweater knitted with “R” to Ron, “H” to Harry, “F” to Fred, and “G” to George.

    This is a significant alteration by the translations because, in English, there is no reason to think Molly intended any sort of double entendre with her P-stitched sweater. In these translations, she is acknowledging that Percy’s identity is wrapped up in being a prefect, and accommodates his enthusiasm—while giving Fred and George great fodder for teasing.

    Interestingly, Jaana Kapari-Jatta’s Finnish translation changes the letter but leaves the reader to infer what it stands for. “Sinun puserossassi on V! Pue se päällesi, Percy…” (The V stands for valvojaoppilas, the Finnish equivalent of a prefect.)

    Mustafa Bayındır’s Turkish also changes the letter to fit Percy’s position as “class president” (sının başkanı): Sınıf başkanının S‘si! Giysene, Percy…”

    Preserving the P: Turkish (again), Danish, Maori, and Malay

    The later Turkish translation by Ülkü Tamer uses a different strategy, choosing a phrase that allows Molly to keep the “P”: P var! Herhalde Parlak Öğrenci anlamındadır! Hadi, Percy, giy şunu.” This is interesting because, to achieve this, Tamer actually removes the concept of a prefect from the tease altogether: “There’s an S! It probably means Star Student! Come on, Percy, put it on.” “Star Student” isn’t meant as a replacement for prefect here; Percy is still the class president (sının başkanı) in this translation.

    Hanna Lützen’s Danish translation does something similar. While Percy holds the position of vejleder (mentor), Fred teases: “Vejlederen har fået et P for Perfekt! Tag den på, Percy, kom nu.” (“The mentor got a P for Perfect! Put it on, Percy, come on.”)

    Maori—whose translator, Leon Blake, used every tool in his box—also preserved the “P.” But he replaced “prefect” with another word for leader (poutoko) that begins with “P.” “He P mō te poutoko! Kuhuna, Pēhi, kia tere…”

    Malay also keeps the P by using the word pengawas (supervisor) for prefect: “P untuk pengawas! Pakailah, Percy.”

    Foreign scripts: Hebrew, Uyghur, Japanese, and Hindi

    Of course, the issue gets more complicated if your alphabet doesn’t even have “P.”

    Gili Bar Hilel’s Hebrew translation offers a very clever solution:
    “P for Percy — instead of M for Mentor!” (Mentor, or Madrich, is an equivalent position to Prefect in some Israeli schools.)

    Alimjan Azat’s Uyghur translation uses the Latin letter “P” in combination with a footnote: “The letter ‘P’ stands for class president (bashliqi degăn).” The accompanying footnote clarifies that that English word for bashliqi (president) and Percy both begin with that Latin letter “P.”

    The Japanese translation (Yuko Matsuoka) and the Hindi translation (Sudhir Dixit) likewise embrace the British context of the situation. Japanese, like Uyghur, uses the Latin letter “P”: 監督生のP, kantokusei no P. Kantokusei clearly does not begin with P, but the Latin letter P tips off the average Japanese reader that the English word does.

    Hindi—whose readers are very typically educated in British-style schools that use English as the language of instruction—preserves the familiar word prefect. But instead of using the Latin letter “P,” it spells out the letter as (पी): for Prefect!”


    Each approach has its advantages. Molly, ever supportive, would certainly show her pride in Percy by stitching the letter of his prefecture into his sweater. And this strategy has literary merit in that it doubles down on the image of Percy as both a goodie-two-shoes and a momma’s boy.

    Gili Bar-Hillel comes up with a smart solution for Hebrew, preserving the P for Percy while also tying the tease to the Madrich position so well known to Israeli schoolchildren. On the other hand, it’s not clear in this case why Percy would be ashamed of a sweater that has P for Percy. Perhaps being Prefect makes him too good to wear his mother’s handknit sweater.

    But my favorite approach is that of Hannah Lützen. With the P for Perfekt, she successfully connects the first letter in Percy’s name with the twins’ recurring mockery of him as prefect, using a phrase (vejleder) for prefect that translates naturally into Danish language and life.

    Explore this in your translations at home! Check out the Catalan, Ancient Greek, and Chinese translations, for instance, which each take their own interesting approaches. Let us know what you discover in the comments!

  • Harry Potter in the Classics: How Latin and Ancient Greek Captured a 20th Century Setting

    Harry Potter in the Classics: How Latin and Ancient Greek Captured a 20th Century Setting

    Today’s post will offer a brief sampling of Harry Potter in the classical languages of Latin and Ancient Greek. I’ll say a few words about the translations and then follow them up with examples of how the two languages deal with modern technology, the magical world of Harry Potter, and modern cultural phenomena like Christmas, birthdays, and even homework.

    Harry Potter in Latin and Ancient Greek
    Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Latin (Peter Needham) and Ancient Greek (Andrew Wilson).

    If you enjoy this article, leave us some feedback in the comments about what you like or by contacting us to tell us what you’d like to see! You might also be interested in many of our other articles on topics like Harry Potter in Hebrew, Dumbledore’s favorite sweets, Harry Potter in a made-up language, and HP Japanese book art. Potter of Babble is also looking for contributions from readers like you, so please let us know if you have something you’d like to Babble about!

    Introduction: Translating Children’s Books into Latin and Ancient Greek

    Even though I studied Wheelock’s Latin as a kid and first engaged with anything Ancient Greek only as a young adult, I’m more familiar with Ancient Greek texts than Latin ones. And I can say the Ancient Greek translation is a true delight. It reads exactly like an Ancient Greek treatise, from the styling of the chapter titles (“On the Boy Who Lived“) right down to the sentence structure.

    You do have to keep in mind that these books are meant to be approachable and fun for casual learners of these classical languages. I remember one friend taking a negative view of the Ancient Greek translation because it had some modernisms here or there. Both Ancient Greek and Latin make use of modern punctuation, for example. But, quite frankly, what does it matter if the publishers decided to use commas and em-dashes to aid the novice learner? Isn’t it more important that they create an enjoyable experience? (But to be fair, the translator does make some odd judgments, such as deriving Quirrell’s name [Κίουρος] from squirrel [σκίουρος].)

    The Latin translation was born out of a broader phenomenon of translating children’s books into Latin. There’s Winnie Ille Pu (Winnie the Pooh), Cattus Petasatus (Cat in the Hat), and, as of 2015, Ubi Fera Sunt (Where the Wild Things Are). As far as I’m aware, Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis broke the mold for being the first full-length novel to be translated into Latin (along with its sequel Harrius Potter et Camera Secretorum. The translations were done by Peter Needham, a retired classics instructor at Eton College.

    The Ancient Greek translation was inspired by the Latin translation, and is one of the only children’s books translated into Attic Greek. (Peter Rabbit and Max and Moritz have been translated into Koine Greek, which is much later and easier than Attic Greek.) One of the really neat things about the Ancient Greek translation is that the translator, Andrew Wilson, has a website that explains some of his translation choices in the first 5 chapters. As he mentions, his translation is entrenched in Ancient Greek literature, from Aristophanes to Hippocrates to Lucian.

    How do Ancient Greek and Latin deal with modern technologies?

    Modern tech is the first and possibly the most evident place in which the translation approaches of Needham and Wilson differed.

    Needham relied on existing terms that are already used by the Roman Catholic Church, which continues to keep Latin alive into the present as a lingua franca. The words below can all be found in the Lexicon recentis latinatis, the dictionary of the Roman Curia. By using these established terms, Needham clearly intended for his translation to be read by modern students of Latin to practice their Latin. He didn’t create a text that exemplified the Latin of a Roman, but rather a text that would reflect the practical use of Latin as it’s used today.

    Interpretation of airplane in Harry Potter in Ancient Greek
    A flying ship etched by Bartolomeu de Gusmão (1685–1724).

    Wilson, on the other hand, did seek to recreate an ancient text in all its conventional forms. Instead of relying on modern Greek for modern technologies and objects, he coined new terms that he intended to be comprehensible to someone from ancient Greece with a time machine. His typical strategy was to translate terms descriptively—someone from ancient Greece should be able to read a phrase like “tele-operated air-ship” and imagine something similar to a “remote-control airplane” (albeit they’d probably imagine something with sails and oars). A modern speaker of Greek, however, would be confused by the use of aeroskafos (“air-ship”) in place of the word aeroplano (“airplane”).

    LatinLatin translationAncient GreekAncient Greek transliterationAncient Greek translation
    video cameracinematographicam machinulamfilm machineτέχνημα κινηματογραφικόνtechnema kinematografikonfilm device
    remote-control airplaneaeroplanum ex longinquo directumairplane controlled from a distanceἀερόσκαφος τηλεχειριστέονaeroskafos telecheiristeontele-operated air-ship
    video gamesludos computatorioscomputer gameπαίγνια ἠλεκτρονικάpaignia elektronikaelectronic games
    VCRtelevisificum exceptaculumtele-vision receptacleμηχάνημα τηλεοπτικογραφικὸνmechanema teleoptikografikontele-vision machine
    (flying) motorcyclebirotula automatariaautomatic bicycleδικύκλου αὐτοκινήτου (πέρι αἰωρουμένου)dikyklou autokinetou (peri aioroumenou)(hovering) auto-kinetic bicycle
    Modern technologies in the Latin and Ancient Greek translations of Harry Potter.

    But even though the Latin and Ancient Greek translations use different strategies for their translations—Needham using established terms and Wilson creating new ones—we see definite similarities. The terms used in the two translations for “video camera,” “VCR,” and “motorcycle” are actually pretty close in meaning to each other. “Motorcycle,” for instance, is “automatic bicycle” in Latin and “auto-kinetic bicycle” in Wilson’s Ancient Greek. So the difference in strategy actually lies not in the words that the translators chose, but in Needham using conventional Latin terms while Wilson diverged from conventional Greek terms.

    How do Latin and Ancient Greek deal with magic?

    Magic was translated in either language using a variety of strategies depending on the word.

    LatinLatin translationAncient GreekAncient Greek transliterationAncient Greek translation
    QuidditchLudus QuidditchQuidditch the SportἸκαροσφαιρικήIkarosfairikeIcarusball
    poltergeistidolon clamosumclamorous spookδαιμόνιονdaimoniondemon
    The magical wizarding world words used in the Latin and Ancient Greek translations of Harry Potter.

    Many magical objects, like “wand” and “Remembrall,” were translated pretty literally in both languages. Proper nouns invented by Rowling, like Quidditch and Hufflepuff, remained as such in Latin. Some culture-specific words, like “vampires” and “poltergeist,” were treated descriptively in Latin as “bloodsucker” and “clamorous spook.”

    Wilson’s Ancient Greek translation, on the other hand, tried to incorporate Greek mythology where it could. Quirrell encountered lamias, rather than vampires, in the forest. It’s a reference to Lamia, a female nightcrawler known for seducing young men in order to feed upon them. Peeves is called a demon rather than a poltergeist. Although “demon” came to denote an evil spirit in Greek Christianity, a demon earlier referred to any supernatural being with disruptive behavior. Some demons might rain on your parade, but others could actually brighten up your rainy day.

    The Greek word for “Quidditch,” ikarosfairike, is a combination of “Icarus” and “ball.” Icarus is a figure of Greek mythology well-known for flying high to reach a certain golden ball—the Sun. It’s only fitting that ancient Greek wizards would relate the Icarus story to a game whose goal is to catch the elusive Golden Snitch on a flying broom!

    How do Latin and Ancient Greek deal with other cultural phenomena?

    Modern cultural phenomena in Harry Potter presented another challenge to the translators of these ancient languages. Things like Halloween and birthdays accompany important plot points and are not easily replaced. Let’s take a look at how they were dealt with:

    LatinLatin translationAncient GreekAncient Greek transliterationAncient Greek translation
    HalloweenVesper SanctusHoly NightΝεκύσιαNekysiaNekysia
    Christmasfestum nativitatis ChristiFeast of Christ’s NativityΧριστούγενναChristmas
    “Happy Birthday”Felix Sis Die NataliMay Your Birthday Be HappyΧρόνια πόλλαMany Years
    “They piled so much homework on them that the Easter holidays weren’t nearly as much fun as the Christmas ones”tot pensa domestica eis ingesserunt ut feriae paschales haudquaquam tam iucundae essent quam brumalesSo much homework was given to them that the Easter holidays weren’t at all as pleasant as the winter holidaysπερὶ τὰ κατ’ οἷκον μαθητέα προστιθέντες πλείω ἐπὶ πλείοσιν, ὥστε οὐκ ἦν τοσοῦτο ἐν τῃ πασχαλινῃ ἀναπαύλῃ εὐφραίνεσθαι ὅσον ἐπὶ τῶν ΧριστουγέννωνMore and more was added to the homework, so that there wasn’t as much merriment during the Easter holidays as the Christmas holidays
    Words for holidays in the Latin and Ancient Greek translations of Harry Potter.

    The modern Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter are preserved in both languages. Halloween is translated simply “Vesper Sanctus,” or Holy Night, in Latin. It’s used to refer to a celebration on the night before any sacred festival. In this case, it’s Halloween (which, as “All Hallow’s Eve,” originated as the evening celebration before the very sacred day of All Saints in Catholicism).

    In Wilson’s Ancient Greek, Halloween becomes Nekysia, an ancient Athenian festival for commemorating the dead. Like many of the All Saints’ Day (or Día de los Muertos) traditions of today, Nekysia was marked with an offering for the dead, a banquet, and even attempts to interact with the dead. It was very much Athens’ Halloween, in a way. The only problem is that the timing isn’t right for the timeline of Harry Potter: Nekysia took place in the springtime, not in the fall.

    As a final note, I took a look at how Harry’s birthday is treated in these translations because, well, the tradition of celebrating birthdays is only a couple centuries old! In Latin, Hagrid simply wishes that Harry’s birthday be a happy one. In the Ancient Greek translation, Hagrid wishes him “Many years!”—the formal way in Ancient Greek to wish someone good health on any annual holiday.

  • Ready to be part of the Babble?

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  • Japanese book art in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

    Japanese book art in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

    Let’s have a look at some of the book art from the Japanese edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone ハリー・ポッターと賢者の石 (Harii Pottaa to Kenja no Ishi) by Dan Schlesinger.

    A Harvard-educated New York lawyer, Schlesinger seems on the surface like an unlikely candidate for illustrating a Japanese edition. But as he discusses in the Ted Talk below, the connection actually isn’t tenuous at all. He learned Japanese as a young adult and learned traditional Japanese woodblock printing while practicing law in Japan. It was during that time that he was approached by a largely unknown publishing house looking for new titles to publish, and Schlesinger recommended a still little-known book his 9-year-old son happened to be reading: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The publisher then commissioned him, Schlesinger, to illustrate the book.

    Now, let’s take a look at those first illustrations that started off his fulfilling career as an artist:

    Chapter 1 illustration, by Dan Schlesinger, from the Japanese edition of Harry Potter. It depicts Professor McGonagall as a cat on Privet Drive.

    It was on the corner of the street that he noticed the first sign of something peculiar — a cat reading a map. For a second, Mr. Dursley didn’t realize what he had seen — then he jerked his head around to look again.
    There was a tabby cat standing on the corner of Privet Drive, but there wasn’t a map insight.
    What he could have been thinking of? It must have been a trick of the light.

    Chapter 2 illustration, by Dan Schlesinger, from the Japanese edition of Harry Potter. It depicts Dudley Dursley in his Smeltings uniform.

    Dudley paraded around the living room for the family in his brand-new uniform. Smeltings’ boys wore maroon tailcoats, orange knickerbockers, and flat straw hats called boaters. They also carried knobbly sticks, used for hitting each other while the teachers weren’t looking. This was supposed to be good training for later life. Harry didn’t trust himself to speak. He thought two of his ribs might already have cracked from trying not to laugh.

    Chapter 4 illustration, by Dan Schlesinger, from the Japanese edition of Harry Potter. It depicts Hagrid, the Keeper of the Keys, digging into his giant pocket.

    The giant sat back down on the sofa, which sagged under his weight, and began taking all sorts of things out of the pockets of his coat:
    a copper kettle,
    a squashy package of sausages,
    a poker,
    a teapot,
    several chipped mugs,
    and a bottle of some amber liquid that he took a swig from before starting to make tea.

    Hogwarts letter from the Japanese edition of Harry Potter.

    Dear Mr. Potter,
    We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

    Yours sincerely,
    Minerva McGonagall

    Chapter 6 illustration, by Dan Schlesinger, from the Japanese edition of Harry Potter. It depicts Hogwarts students arriving at the castle.

    And the fleet of little boats moved off all at once,
    gliding across the lake, which was as smooth as glass.
    Everyone was silent, staring up at the great castle overhead.
    It towered over them as they sailed nearer and nearer to the cliff on which it stood.

    Chapter 7 illustration, by Dan Schlesinger, from the Japanese edition of Harry Potter. It depicts Peeves in front of the portrait of the Fat Lady.

    A bundle of walking sticks was floating in midair ahead of them,
    and as Percy took a step toward them they started throwing themselves at him.
    There was a pop, and a little man with wicked, dark eyes and a wide mouth appeared,
    floating cross-legged in the air, clutching the walking sticks.
    At the very end of the corridor hung a portrait of a very fat woman in a pink silk dress.
    “Password?” she said.
    “Caput Draconis.”

    Chapter 8 illustration, by Dan Schlesinger, from the Japanese edition of Harry Potter. It depicts Hogwarts students in Potions class.

    Snape swept around in his long black cloak, watching them weigh dried nettles and crush snake fangs, criticizing almost everyone except Malfoy. This was so unfair that Harry opened his mouth to argue, but Ron kicked him behind their cauldron. “Don’t push it,” he muttered, “I’ve heard Snape can turn very nasty.”

    Chapter 13 illustration, by Dan Schlesinger, from the Japanese edition of Harry Potter. It depicts Quirrell in the Forbidden Forest.

    He’d done it, he’d shown Snape. . . And speaking of Snape. . . A hooded figure came swiftly down the front steps of the castle. Clearly not wanting to be seen, it walked as fast as possible toward the forbidden forest. Harry’s victory faded from his mind as he watched. He recognized the figure’s prowling walk. What was going on? In a shadowy clearing stood Snape, but he wasn’t alone. Quirrell was there, too.

    Chapter 17 illustration, by Dan Schlesinger, from the Japanese edition of Harry Potter. It depicts Quirrell removing his turban to reveal Voldemort on the back of his head.

    Petrified, he watched as Quirrell reached up and began to unwrap his turban. What was going on? The turban fell away. Quirrell’s head looked strangely small without it. Then he turned slowly on the spot. At once, a needle-sharp pain seared across Harry’s scar; his head felt as though it was about to split in two.

  • Gringotts Break-In: Catalan newspaper clippings

    Gringotts Break-In: Catalan newspaper clippings

    At the end of chapter 8 of Philosopher’s Stone, Harry finds a newspaper clipping in Hagrid’s hut about the Gringotts break-in. In the Catalan translation, Laura Escorihuela Martínez changed the final paragraph in such a way that it reads a bit more like a formal newspaper than the English original.

    As a refresher, here’s how the newspaper article reads in the original English:

    Investigations continue into the break-in at Gringotts on 31 July, widely believed to be the work of Dark wizards or witches unknown.
    Gringotts goblins today insisted that nothing has been taken. The vault that was searched had in fact been emptied the same day.
    “But we’re not telling you what was in there, so keep your noses out if you know what’s good for you,” said a Gringotts spokesgoblin this afternoon.

    In Catalan it reads:

    Intent de robatori a Gringotts: continuen les perquisicions

    Continuen les investigacions sobre l’intent de robatori a Gringotts el passat 31 de juliol. Es confirma la creença que va ser obra de bruixes o bruixots del mal.
    Avui els goblins de Gringotts han insistit a dir que els lladres no s’havien endut res. La cambra de seguretat que buscaven havia estat buidada prèviament aquell mateix dia.
    El portaveu del banc ha anunciat aquesta tarda que no revelaran què hi havia a la cambra de seguretat i ha aconsellat als periodistes que «no fiquin el nas on no l’han de ficar».

    Translation into English:

    Robbery Attempt at Gringotts: Searches Continue

    The investigations into the robbery attempt at Gringotts this past 31 July continue. The belief that it was the work of evil witches or wizards is confirmed.
    Today the goblins of Gringotts insisted that the thieves did not take anything. The vault they searched was emptied earlier that same day.
    The bank’s spokesperson announced this afternoon that they will not reveal what was in the vault and advised journalists to “not put their noses where they don’t belong.”

    The difference in the third paragraph, which minimizes the quotation and focuses around a public statement from the bank’s spokesman, feels much more like what you would read in a newspaper.

  • The Sphinx’s Riddle: Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Icelandic

    The Sphinx’s Riddle: Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Icelandic

    A recent episode of Dialogue Alley brought up a scene from the Goblet of Fire where a sphinx offers Harry a riddle:

    First think of a person who lives in disguise,
    Who deals in secrets and tells naught but lies.
    Next, tell me what’s the last thing to mend,
    The middle of middle and end of the end?
    And finally give me the sound often heard
    During the search for a hard-to-find word.
    Now string them together, and answer me this,
    Which creature would you be unwilling to kiss?

    Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J.K. Rowling)

    The riddle is highly dependent on the English language and cannot be translated easily. Brock (who, by the way, has a phenomenal Harry Potter translation food series on his Instagram) explained in the episode how the riddle is treated in Basque. In this post, I want to highlight a couple other interesting examples of how the riddle has been adapted for a new language and a new language community.

    But first, a quick housekeeping note to those of you who have been following Potter of Babble with regularity:

    Because we’d like to deliver you content frequently—and quality content at that—we’ll aim to do a long post and three brief posts per month. The long posts will delve into those deep dives, like the post on the Uyghurs and their Harry Potter as well as the six most common translation strategies for the opening sentence of the series. Brief posts (as this one was at least intended to be) will get into the nitty gritty minutiae of translation, highlighting very specific translations. All posts, both long and brief, will help you appreciate the books you own and the books you’d like to add to your collection.

    As usual, leave us feedback and let us know what you enjoy and what you’d like to see more of!

    Now let’s take a look at the riddle in English, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Icelandic.

    J.K. Rowling’s English riddle

    First, let’s break down the English poem.

    First think of a person who lives in disguise, who deals in secrets but tells naught but lies.

    The answer Harry settles on: a SPY.

    Next, tell me what’s the last thing to mend, the middle of middle and end of the end?

    This part is my favorite, just because the answer is literally spelled out for you if you’re just looking for it. It’s the letter D.

    And finally give me the sound often heard during the search for a hard-to-find word.

    This one’s already a bit of a stretch for us Americans. Harry pronounces the answer for us, luckily. It’s “Er” (as in “Uh“).

    Now string them together, and answer me this, which creature would you be unwilling to kiss?

    String them together to get a creature? SPY + D + Er. SPYDer. Spider.

    Spanish’s Spain riddle by Adolfo Muñoz García and Nieves Martín Azofra

    Now let’s look at how the riddle is handled in Spanish!

    The riddle in Spanish comes as part of the third leg of the Torneo de los Tres Magos—Tournament of the Three Wise Men. The Tres Magos (Three Wise Men) refers to the Magi who journeyed from Persia to Judea to visit the infant Jesus Christ and bestow gifts upon him. In Spain and throughout the Spanish-speaking world, the Tres Magos are a prominent part of the Yuletide as the ones who bring gifts to children (rather than Santa Claus).

    Could it be said that the Three Wise Men, Balthazar, Caspar, and Melchior, were also the progenitors of Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang?

    Statues of the Three Wise Men (Spanish: Tres Magos), Balthazar, Caspar, and Melchior. In Harry Potter y el cáliz de fuego (the Spanish edition of Goblet of Fire translated by Adolfo Muñoz García and Nieves Martín Azofra), the Three Wise Men are the three wizards referenced in the name of the “Triwizard Tournament.”

    But back to the riddle! Spanish takes an approach that relies on Spaniards’ knowledge of geography. Let’s take a look.

    Si te lo hiciera, te desgarraría con mis zarpas,
    pero eso sólo ocurrirá si no lo captas.
    Y no es fácil la respuesta de esta adivinanza,
    porque está lejana, en tierras de bonanza,
    donde empieza la región de las montañas de arena
    y acaba la de los toros, la sangre, el mar y la verbena.
    Y ahora contesta, tú, que has venido a jugar:
    ¿a qué animal no te gustaría besar?

    Harry Potter y el cáliz de fuego (Adolfo Muñoz García and Nieves Martín Azofra)

    The crux of the clue lies in these lines:

    Donde empieza la región de las montañas de arena y acaba la de los toros, la sangre, el mar y la verbena.

    [The answer is found] where begins the region of the sandy mountains and where ends that of the bulls, the blood, the sea and the verbena festival.

    Harry reasons: the land of the bulls, the blood, the sea and the verbena festivals is Spain (España). The end of España is ña. The region of the sandy mountains must be Morocco, or the Maghreb, or Arabia. The beginning of Arabia is ara.

    Use ara for the beginning and ña for the end to get to the answer: araña (spider). How simple!

    That’s pretty specific to Spain, however, and I’m curious whether the other regional Spanish translation variants use the same riddle. If your Spanish edition uses a different riddle, let us know in the comments!

    Liz Wyler’s Very *Brazilian* Portuguese

    The riddle in the Spanish edition keeps the answer the same, but changes the riddle substantially. Liz Wyler, the translator of Harry Potter into Brazilian Portuguese, changes the answer instead so that it mirrors the approach of the English riddle in piecing clues together throughout the poem.

    Primeiro pense no lugar reservado aos sacrifícios,
    Seja em que templo for.
    Depois, me diga que é que se
    desfolha no inverno e torna a brotar na primavera?
    E finalmente, me diga qual é o objeto que tem som,
    luz e ar e flutua na superfície do mar?
    Agora junte tudo e me responda e seguinte,
    Que tipo de criatura você não gostaria de beijar?

    Harry Potter e o Cálice de Fogo (Liz Wyler)

    Like in English, the instructions for solving the riddle are clear: Agora junte tudo… “Now put everything together…” So we can again look at the poem by each couplet:

    Primeiro pense no lugar reservado aos sacrifícios, seja em que templo for.

    First think of the place set aside for sacrifices, no matter the temple.

    Harry makes a guess: it’s either um altar (an altar) or uma ara (an altar stone).

    Depois, me diga que é que se desfolha no inverno e torna a brotar na primavera?

    Then, tell me what is it that sheds leaves in the winter and resprouts in the spring?

    This one is straightforward, but vague. Harry’s left with a list of possibilities: árvores (trees), galhos (twigs), rama (branch).

    E finalmente, me diga qual é o objeto que tem som, luz e ar e flutua na superfície do mar?

    And finally, tell me what’s the thing that has sound, light and air and floats on the surface of the sea?

    With some thought, Harry figures it out: uma bóia (a buoy).

    He thinks through his list and strings together the possibilities: Ara… Hum… Ara… Rama… Uma criatura que eu não gostaria de beijar… Uma ararambóia! “Ara… Hm.. Ara… Rama… A creature that I wouldn’t want to kiss… An ararambóia!”

    The ararambóia is known in English as the Emerald tree boa (Corallus caninus), a snake species specific to the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

    Emerald tree boa (Corallus caninus, Brazilian Portuguese: ararambóia) coiled along a tree branch. The Emerald tree boa is highlighted in the Brazilian Portuguese translation of the Harry Potter series by Liz Wyler.

    Apart from being a great candidate for this form of riddle, the ararambóia plays another role in the Brazilian Harry Potter canon. In Chamber of Secrets, its skin is mentioned as an ingredient in the Polyjuice Potion (in place of the skin of Boomslang, an African tree snake, in English).

    Pretty cool intertextuality there!

    Helga Haraldsdóttir’s Icelandic play on language

    Harrison kindly lent me a look at the Icelandic riddle, which he’d asked about prior to me putting this post together. The translator employs some nice poetic devices.

    Hvað kallarðu þann sem elskar hún Hera
    og höfuðfatið þungt þarf að bera?
    Hvað heitir svo það sem á hvolfi er enn,
    og hvílir á vörum er hugsa menn?
    Síðast vér spyrjum, hvað saman safnast,
    undir sófa og engum gagnast,
    Settu saman svörin þrjú
    og svara oss
    Hvaða skepnu myndir þú
    aldrei gefa koss?

    Harry Potter og eldbikarinn (Helga Haraldsdóttir)

    Hvað kallarðu þann sem elskar hún Hera og höfuðfatið þungt þarf að bera?

    What do you call the one whom Hera loves and who has to wear heavy headdress?

    Harry surmises: Kóng? A king?

    Perhaps. Hera’s husband, Zeus, is the king of the gods. As to why Hera’s husband was chosen as a clue for royalty, well, simply put, she was chosen because Hera rhymes with bera (“to wear”).

    Hvað heitir svo það sem á hvolfi er enn, og hvílir á vörum er hugsa menn?

    What do you call what is still upside down and rests on the lips of those who are thinking?

    This couplet is a beautiful one, with an alliteration scheme that plays quite a bit on “hv” (with near-alliteration with the “h” in heitir and hugsa and with the “v” in vörum). The pairing of á hvolfi (“[hanging] upside down”) and hvílir á (“it rests upon”) offers a contrast that’s quite satisfying for a riddle as well. This contrast is accentuated all the more by the triple entendre of á hvolfi. In contrast to “rest,” á hvolfi denotes chaos and busyness: it’s used to mean things are messed up, out of place, or out of control. Indeed, the translator intends this double reading: “What do you call what is still confused and rests on the lips of those who are thinking?” This reading anticipates Harry’s response to the clue: Uh… hef ekki hugmynd…” “Uh… I haven’t a clue…”

    The third thing á hvolfi could mean is “on the ceiling,” although this meaning would not be particularly idiomatic. The image that comes to mind is something hanging from the ceiling that can also come down and land on you. Admittedly, that might be a stretch and not be the intention of the translator. But perhaps it is a clue that the answer is a spider.

    Síðast vér spyrjum, hvað saman safnast, undir sófa og engum gagnast

    At last we ask, what gathers together, under a sofa and is of use to nobody

    This couplet takes advantage of one of my favorite grammatical features in Icelandic: the middle voice (inflected with the suffix -st in safnast and gagnast). The middle voice is a somewhat vague concept that varies from language to language. But in each language that has a middle voice, it occupies some function between the active voice (“the students gather”) and the passive voice (“the students are gathered”). In the active voice, the subject is the one doing the action. In the passive voice, the subject is the one being acted upon. In the middle voice, the subject is both doing the action and being acted upon.

    To illustrate: in the active voice example of “the students gather,” the students are the ones doing the gathering. In the passive voice example of “the students are gathered,” someone else is gathering the students. In the middle voice, “the students gathered themselves,” the students are both gathering and being gathered.

    The answer to this couplet is —lint—which happens also to be a great image for the middle voice. Lint doesn’t simply gather. Lint gathers up other lint. And lint is gathered up by other lint. It sticks to itself and builds upon itself, forming into concentrated and self-reinforcing clumps and balls.

    Settu saman svörin þrjú og svara oss
    Hvaða skepnu myndir þú aldrei gefa koss?

    Put together the three answers and tell us
    Which creature would you never give kiss?

    Harry does so: Kóng + Uh + Ló. Kónguló. A spider!

    Anyway, so much for a brief post! Leave your thoughts and comments and share with your friends! We’d all love to hear more about how your language translates this poem.

  • The Big Reveal: the rare Uyghur translation of Harry Potter I just got my hands on…

    The Big Reveal: the rare Uyghur translation of Harry Potter I just got my hands on…

    For weeks, I’ve been teasing other collectors with what rare mystery book I was able to get ahold of. Initially, I intended to reveal the book as soon as I received it. But when I opened it and found how pleasantly surprised I was by it, I decided to wait.

    The reason why? I wanted to make a case for why it’s worth looking for. Few collectors own this book. And few details are known about it, save for an investigation over at Potterglot. So I thought that owning a copy put some responsibility on me to augment Potterglot’s work with some additional info!

    Below, I’ll begin with a note to collectors before I provide a brief background about the language community and the language itself. Finally, I’ll give you a little taste of the translation style and discuss some text examples while providing a little sampling of wizarding names and terms. There’s a lot more to say about this book than the little preview I offer here. So if you get the chance, leave some feedback on what you enjoy from the post and whether there’s more you’d like to see!

    A note to collectors and an introduction to the book

    Before I get to the reveal, let me start by addressing the reasons collectors hesitate to look for this book. The first is that the legal permissions for the translation are questionable. It’s possible that Rowling and her agents never authorized it, although no definitive answer to that question has been determined. Some collectors hesitate to own an unauthorized translation because of how easy it is for anyone to produce, and especially without any consideration toward quality or seriousness.

    Whether this one has appropriate permissions, it is published by a reputable and established publisher and has gone through the proper legal channels for its locality. It also appears to be a formal attempt at translation and publication, and the translation itself reads really well. On the Spellman Spectrum, it rates 52.3, meaning it’s an enjoyable read on par with the German, Catalan, and Portuguese translations. Unauthorized translations tend to be of lower quality and rate much lower as well.

    The other hesitation among collectors is the cover art. Or rather, the lack of it. That’s a big turn off for some collectors. But the book quality itself is otherwise amazing. When I held it in my hands, I was pleasantly surprised. The binding and the pages are decent quality, and it feels very nice to hold the book and flip through its pages. It’s probably more pleasant, in fact, than any other softcover Harry Potter book I own. It Exceeds Expectations in many regards.

    If you’re the type of collector who collects some unauthorized translations, I’d highly recommend adding this one to your collection. Not only because it approaches professional quality, but also for purposes of language preservation. More on that below, but first the big reveal…

    Harry Potter (Kharri Pottir) in the Uyghur language, translated by Alimjan Azat.

    It’s Uyghur! Shout out to Jenny, who was the first to guess it.

    The title of this book is simply Kharri Pottir and it was translated by Alimjan Azat. He seems to be a prolific translator, with The Da Vinci Code (or Davinchining Măkhpiyiti) among his other major sellers. The book was published in 2012 by a reputable publisher called Xinjiang Juvenile Publishing House, which has published more than 20,000 books in Uyghur, Chinese, and Kazakh.

    It’s worth taking a moment to mention that there is a strong preference among Uyghurs to spell their ethnonym with a “y,” which more accurately reflects that the y in the OOY-ghur pronunciation is a consonant rather than a vowel. I’ll admit that I don’t fully understand why there seems to be an aversion to the “Uighur” spelling, at least among human rights activists, but these seemingly small matters become very important for communities that face existential threats to their communal identity.

    Who are the Uyghurs? And why are Uyghur books becoming precious?

    Map of China, showing the distribution of Uyghur speakers in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Province. Light red indicates desert region with few inhabitants.

    The Uyghurs are frequently in the news these days, at least in English-language media. They live mainly in northwestern China in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Province, which has become a focal point in the discussion of human rights in China.

    Map of approximate extent of the Uyghur empire in the 9th century.

    Although you may not have heard much about the Uyghurs before 2018, they’re one of the major ethnic groups in Central Asia, where they commanded an empire in the 8th century. It was led by a khagan, the military commander charged with conducting foreign affairs, alongside a domestic policymaker appointed from among a council of tribal leaders. The empire flourished after its conversion to Manichaeism attracted merchants, artisans, and specialists of the Manichaean faith to relocate from Persia and nearby regions. It was at that time that the Uyghurs adopted the Manichaean script and adapted it for their own language. That famously vertical script, or at least a version of it, remains in use today by speakers of Mongolian and Manchu.

    Text example of Manchu language. The vertical Manchu and Mongolian alphabets are derived from the Old Uyghur alphabet.

    The wealth attained by the Uyghurs during this period, by both material and cultural measures, ensured the elites’ survival after the fall of the empire from Kyrgyz invasions in the mid-9th century. Only years later, a Uyghur kingdom was re-established in modern Xinjiang. Xinjiang had previously been under the peripheral control of the Uyghur rulers, but was now at the center of their power. The kingdom continued to be a powerhouse for Uyghur cultural production until the 13th century, when it was overtaken by the Mongols.

    It was during these two eras that the rich traditions of Uyghur culture were augmented by a melting pot of the world’s most influential literary heritages, including those of Persia, India, and even the distant Greeks. According to Rian Thum in his book The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History, the Uyghurs have a national hero, Siyawushullah, whose tomb near Kashgar serves as a place of pilgrimage. The legendary figure is clearly derived from the Siyavash of the Shahnameh, the Persian national epic, but adapted in a way that represents centuries of the Uyghurs’ historical experience.

    The Uyghurs slowly and gradually converted to Islam over a period of centuries, first from exposure to Muslim elites who migrated to their kingdom and later from socioeconomic and political pressure as the governing elites themselves became Muslim. With access to the Qur’an and to Islamic literature now a priority among the well-educated, the Uyghurs switched to the Arabic script for writing their language. Still, only around the 18th century or so did the rich folk and literary traditions of the Uyghurs start becoming Islamicized—relatively late for an Islamic people.

    Unfortunately, Uyghurs today are losing access to their language and centuries of literature. One factor is a major spelling reform in the 20th century. The changes improved literacy overall. By matching the written language to pronunciation, it became much more simple for people to learn to read and write in Uyghur. But the differences to the old spelling conventions were so great that it became very difficult for literate Uyghurs to read old books and manuscripts.

    More recently, policies by China’s government have begun suppressing the Uyghur language. Officially and historically, China has protected and promoted Uyghur literacy and education. But tensions between Beijing and the Uyghurs go back centuries and, geopolitically, Xinjiang is a very important region for the Chinese government to keep under its control. The relationship is not inherently hostile. But Uyghur and Chinese interests have often been at odds with one another.

    China, especially under the initiatives of Xi Jinping, now views language policy and education as a big part of the problem (and thus also part of the solution). It has systematically transitioned education among the Uyghurs away from Uyghur language schools and toward schools where the language of instruction is Mandarin Chinese—all with the intention of integrating the Uyghurs into the socioeconomic fabric of China. Over the last 5 years or so, a lot of evidence has emerged indicating that China’s strong-handed education policies are both coercive and repressive.

    In all of this, Uyghur literacy is being suppressed. Uyghur children are not being taught how to read the language and even the most harmless of Uyghur books are being banned. In the past couple years, some people have reported that the only Uyghur-language books they can now find in bookstores in Xinjiang are translations of Xi Jinping’s book. What that means for books like Kharri Pottir, which are translated directly from approved Chinese publications and whose content is well-known to Chinese officials, is unclear. But in an era of language repression, it’s always a good idea for collectors in safe countries to hold on to whatever books they have in that language.

    Some comments on the Uyghur language

    The Uyghur language is a Turkic language of at least 10 million native speakers, and as many as 150 million people can understand it to some extent. It’s a cousin of Turkish, and the two languages enjoy such a high degree of mutual intelligibility that speakers of either language can pick up most words in the other. It’s even more closely related to Uzbek, a language of 25 million speakers, and speakers of Uzbek and Uyghur can converse freely with one another without much difficulty. Uyghur also enjoys some mutual intelligibility with Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, and a few other languages.

    As mentioned above, Uyghur primarily uses an adapted Arabic alphabet. It underwent a major spelling reform in the 20th century which introduced a more regular system of phonetic vowels.

    Uyghur translation

    Let’s take a look at the opening lines of Kharri Pottir. I like to look at that first sentence in Harry Potter translations not only out of general interest, but because it’s linguistically fascinating and complex. That’s no less true for Uyghur, which takes a somewhat unique approach:

    مەبۇدە كوچىسىدىكى تۆتىنچى نومۇر لۇق قورۇدا ئولتۇرىدىغان دېسلى ئەر – خوتۇنلار هەمىشە ئۆزلىرىنى توليمۈ قائىده-يوسۇنلۇق ئائىلە دەپ پەخىر لىنەتتى، ئەمەلىيەتتىمۇ ئۇلار قائىده-يوسۇنغا بەك ئېتىبار بېرەتتى

    Măbudă kochisidiki tötinchi nomur luq qoruda olturidighan Desli ăr – khotunlar hămishă öz lirini tolimü qa’idă-yosunlüq a’ilă dăp păkhir linătti, ămăliyăttimu ular qa’idă-yosungha băk etibar berătti.

    Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, who live at Number 4 Mabuda Street, were always proud of themselves as a very well-mannered family—in fact, they were very disciplined.

    Kharri Potter (Alimjan Azat)

    In the post linked above, I identified six common strategies translators have used to interpret this sentence. Azat uses the third strategy in his Uyghur translation: he replaces the phrase “thank you very much” with an emphatic repetition (“in fact, they were very disciplined”) to drive home the point of how well-mannered the family is.

    Notice that Azat also takes a creative approach to interpret “perfectly normal.” I took some liberties in translating qa’idă-yosun and qa’idă-yosunluq as “well-mannered” and “disciplined.” But the compound phrase generally refers to someone with an upright upbringing and the ability to navigate proper etiquette in social occasions. It’s a good application of the so-called “skopos principle” in translation theory: translating not only the words but also the cultural implications. To be “perfectly normal” in Uyghur culture is to have that proper upbringing and etiquette.

    An interesting feature about the translation, as Potterglot first pointed out, is that it is clearly translated from the Simplified Chinese version of Philosopher’s Stone as translated by Su Nong. In fact, the Mabuda Street mentioned above is the first thing to betray the Chinese background. The word măbudă in Uyghur means “female idol.” The Chinese word for privet, 女贞, literally means female idol.

    But evidence of translation from Chinese really comes out in the translation of proper nouns and other wizarding terms that are transliterated rather than translated. Below are some examples of names, words, and phrases that directly reflect the Mandarin pronunciation of the names and words found in Su Nong’s Chinese translation of Philosopher’s Stone.

    EnglishUyghurUyghur (transliterated)Simplified Chinese (pinyin)
    Albus Dumbledoreئاربوس دىمبورىدوArbus DimboridoĀbùsī Dèngbùlìduō
    Minerva McGonagallمىلۋا ماكMilva MakMǐlēiwá Màigé
    Draco Malfoyدېلاك مولفۇرDelak MolfurDélākē Mǎ’ěrfú
    QuirrellچيرروChirroQíluò (q pronounced like ch)
    sickleشىكshik xīkě (x pronounced like sh)
    wingardium leviosaيۇهادىم، لىۋىئوۋساyuhadim livi’ovsayǔjiādímǔ lēiwéi’àosà
    Transliteration of names in the Uyghur (Alimjan Azat) and Chinese (Su Nong) translations of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

    These examples show just how close the Uyghur names are to the Chinese names. Don’t be distracted by the r’s and l’s that are seemingly out of place—that’s all more or less just a fluke of accent. In fact, the “r” in nard (“knut”) actually strengthens the claim that nard comes from Mandarin nàtè. In northern accents of Mandarin, the syllable is pronounced nàr (a phenomenon sometimes called erhua). Direct translation from Mandarin is the best explanation for where that “r” came from in the Uyghur translation.

    Some other tell-tale signs in these examples: the insertion of that second i in Dimborido (Dèngbùlìduō); the abbreviation of Mak (Màigé) from “McGonagall”; Heygir and Hǎigé are pronounced almost identically, despite the difference in spelling, and neither one is close to “Hagrid.”

    In a few cases, direct translation from Chinese is betrayed by the use of an exact calque:

    EnglishUyghurUyghur (transliterated)Uyghur translationSimplified ChineseSimplified Chinese translation
    beaterتوپ ئۇرغۇچىtop urghuchiball batter击球手ball batter
    chaserتوپ قوغلىغۇچىtop qoghlighuchiball chaser追球手ball chaser
    golden snitchتوپ ئالتۇن رەڭ ئۇچقۇر قاراقچىtop altun răng uchqur qaraqchigolden flying-bandit ball金色飞贼gold flying-bandit ball
    Remembrallخاتىرە شارىكىkhatiră sharikimemory ballmemory ball
    You-Know-Whoسىرلىق ئادەمsirliq adămMystery ManMystery Man
    Translations of Harry Potter wizarding terms in Uyghur (Alimjan Azat) and Chinese (Su Nong)

    The clearest examples are the translations for “golden snitch” and “You-Know-Who,” which completely differ from the original English but whose Uyghur and Chinese translations match one another.

    Although it’s clear that the translator used the Su Nong translation as his guide, he did not rely dryly on the Chinese text. He introduced some creativity of his own. Peeves’ name, for example, is translated as Shăytanchaq (“Demonic”). The word for Muggle (Máguā in Chinese) was translated as Hangvaqti (“Befuddled”). And even the opening sentence provided at the start of this section employs a different translation strategy from the Chinese. (While Azat’s Uyghur uses the third strategy of emphasizing “perfectly normal,” Su Nong’s Chinese translation uses the second strategy of reinterpreting the meaning of “thank you very much.”)


    Whether or not Azat’s Uyghur translation acquired appropriate permissions is unclear, but it’s worth having in your collection. Not only is the publisher well-established and the translator professional and experienced, the translation itself is quite good and unique. The book is getting harder to find, perhaps because of a broader crackdown on Uyghur literature. But it’s a good addition to your collection, not only because it’s as close to an authorized edition as seems possible for the region and language, but also for the sake of literary preservation.

  • Harry Potter in a made-up language? The Esperanto translation!

    “Jes…” diris Zomburdo reve. “Strange la homaj mensoj funkcias, ĉu ne? Profesoro Snejp ne povis toleri tion, ke li ŝuldas al via patro… mi ja kredas, ke li tiom klopodis por protekti vin ĉijare, ĉar li sentis, ke tio kvitigus la aferon inter li kaj via patro. Tiam li povus denove malamadi la memoron de via patro senĝene…”

    Hari klopodis kompreni, sed tio faris lian kapon bategi, do li ĉesis.

    “Kaj sinjoro, restas sola demando…”

    “Nur tiu sola?”

    “Kiel mi ekhavis la Ŝtonon el la spegulo?”

    “Ah, nun mi ĝojas, ke vi demandas tion. Tio estis unu el miaj pli geniaj ideoj, kaj inter ni mi konfesas, ke tiu signifas multon. La solvo estis tia: nur tiu, kiu deziras trovi la Ŝtonon — trovi ĝin, sed ne uzi ĝin — nur tiu povis ekhavi ĝin, alie oni vidus sin farante oron aŭ trinkante la Eliksiron de la Vivo.

    Hari Potter kaj la Ŝtono de la Saĝuloj (George Baker and Don Harlow)

    Those of us who collect Harry Potter translations often talk about how few people have gotten to read Harry Potter in languages like Gujarati or Nepali: so few copies even exist in those languages. But if there’s ever been a translation that’s widely available but has never been read, it’s most likely the Esperanto edition! At least cover-to-cover.

    What even is Esperanto?

    Esperanto is a constructed language, not unlike High Valyrian from Game of Thrones or Elvish from Lord of the Rings. That comparison is a little unfair, though. High Valyrian and Elvish were made up just for fun. Esperanto was created with a serious purpose.

    Invented by L. L. Zamenhof (self-styled “Doktoro Esperanto,” which means “Dr. Hoping”), Esperanto is an international language easy enough for everyone to learn, whether their native language is English, Italian, German, or Polish. The grammar is very simple. No verb conjugations. No grammar. Its words are recognizable and easy to pronounce.

    ِAnd the easy language caught on! There are thousands of people who actually speak this made-up language. You can learn it at Duolingo. William Shatner starred in Incubus, the most well-known of many Esperanto-language films. George Soros is rumored to be a native speaker. His father was a dedicated Esperantist; the family name Soros is Esperanto for “We Shall Soar.”

    So much has been written in Esperanto that Google Translate has a module for the language. In a previous post, we mentioned that only several dozen languages (of the thousands spoken today) have enough literature for Google Translate to work.

    The story behind Harry Potter in Esperanto

    It’s ultimately no surprise that people would endeavor to translate Harry Potter into Esperanto. People use it, people believe in it, and it offers opportunity for language practice. And although I joked that probably nobody has read the translation cover-to-cover, I wouldn’t doubt that hundreds of people have read at least the first chapter or two.

    The translators of the Esperanto edition were George Baker and Don Harlow, active participants in an organization known as Esperanto-USA, which is a 501(c)(3) organization that aims to promote education in Esperanto. The translation was reviewed and edited by other Esperantists, and a serious attempt was made to have the translation published. Rowling’s attorneys declined to authorize its publication, however, without working through a well-established publishing house.

    So the Esperantists started a website that was intended to demonstrate interest in the publication. In 2007, its petition had more than 600 signatures, 460 of whom claimed either fluency or competence in Esperanto. If each one of those signatories were to buy the Esperanto edition, it would be roughly as successful as at least two other translations: Asturian and Greenlandic. Who knows how many more people would buy it just out of general interest in either Esperanto or Harry Potter book collection. (I’d definitely buy it!) One thing’s for certain, though: it would be a real challenge to market and to identify bookstores that could display and successfully sell the edition.

    Harry Potter in Esperanto: Hari Potter kaj la Ŝtono de la Saĝuloj (George Baker and Don Harlow), cover art provided by Melanie at The Harry Potter Collection.

    Although the book has remained unauthorized and therefore exists only in digital form, some collectors do have physical editions that they’ve printed out. The photo featured here comes from Melanie at the Dialogue Alley podcast. A student of hers drew the cover, which depicts Harry and Hedwig with a radiant crayon aesthetic! (Check out her Instagram, by the way, for great photos of her collection!) As far as I’m concerned, this is the official Esperanto cover art.

    Translation style of Hari Potter kaj la Ŝtono de la Saĝuloj

    Now let’s talk a little about the text itself. Like a handful of other foreign editions, the Esperanto translation relies on footnotes to mention cultural references. And because Esperanto is a constructed language, this translation also uses footnotes to explain certain neologisms and obscure words that other Esperantists may not have previously encountered.

    One excellent use of footnotes is in the translation of Halloween as Halovino: “Halovino (angle: Hallowe’en) fest je la 31a de oktobro, ĉefe en Britio kaj Nord-Ameriko, kiam oni tradicie maskaradas kiel gesorĉistoj, fantomoj, aŭ similaj. Esperante: antaŭvespero de ĉiusanktula tago.

    This fits with the translators’ express goal of preserving the British context of the novel. They explain Halovino in the footnote, particularly the special nature of Halloween in the Anglosphere. It then goes on to provide the native Esperanto phrase for “All Hallow’s Eve” (antaŭvespero de ĉiusanktula tago), even though the translators chose to borrow Halovino from English. That choice to borrow the English word “Halloween” and explain it with a footnote allowed the translation to retain the cultural context behind the word, which would have been obscured by using the native Esperanto phrase for “All Hallow’s Eve.”

    But naturally translators who rely on footnotes are going to over-rely on them. An example of this occurs already in the fourth footnote of the translation. In the English edition, Uncle Vernon hums a song called “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” The song title is translated literally into Esperanto as “Paŝetu en Tulipoj.” The accompanying footnote explains that “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” is a well-known song in English by Tiny Tim. Again, this served the aim of preserving the British context. But in that case, they should have just kept the title in English—especially if they were going to explain the reference in a footnote!

    I’d argue that the footnote reference to the Tiny Tim song was too specific to serve the reader anyway. Sure, the song is a bit silly and readers benefit from knowing how frolicsome the song actually sounds. But the real effect for the reader comes from the title, not the sound of the song. The footnote distracts the reader from the intended takeaway of a very passing moment: Vernon Dursley humming about gaily in the garden to a happy tune. It didn’t matter for the reader how dainty the real song sounds. It matters how dainty the alliterative title came off. (After all, how many of us were even aware of the Tiny Tim song when we read Harry Potter as kids?)

    The choices for proper nouns, meanwhile, are either hit or miss. Ron Weasley becomes Ron Tordeli, a believable name that rolls off the tongue (although hardly British). But Neville Longbottom becomes an awkward Neville Longejo. The translators also missed many opportunities to take creative license, such as “Kvidiĉo” (Quidditch) and “Skabro” (Scabbers), where the English name was simply adapted for Esperanto morphophonology.

    Some idiomatic phrases come off dry in the translation. When the goblins of Gringotts warn journalists to keep “their noses out” of Gringotts’ affairs, the quite literal interpretation of “do tiru viajn nazojn el la afero” just does not have the same effect. On the other hand, if that’s what lacks most in a translation of a novel into a constructed language, I would still count that translation a pretty impressive project!

    Overall the rating of the Esperanto translation on the Spellman Spectrum is 45.5 (at the time of this post). That’s a fairly successful score for what the translators wanted to achieve: a translation that’s easy and straight-forward for an intermediate language learner. At the same time, the score reflects a moderate degree of creativity and innovation, offering the occasional Easter egg, if you will, for the Esperanto student to discover.

  • A tale of trolls and goblins: the Low German “Puk” in Harry Potter

    Today, we’re going to explore an example from Harry Potter un de Wunnersteen in Low German where the translators’ choices have significant implications for world-building. In this case, the translators, Hartmut Cyriacks and Peter Nissen, chose to use the same word (Puk) for both the goblins at Gringotts and the troll in the dungeon. While the descriptions of the two Puken make it clear that they cannot be the same type of creature, the reader assumes some sort of association between the two creatures, whether they be two races of the same type of creature or just belong to a broad category of creatures.

    Regardless of what the connection between these two creatures is, we’ll see that the use of the same word for both creatures has clear implications—most notably, that some wizards and witches hold disparaging views of the Puken at Gringotts.

    What’s a Puk? (And where to find them)

    The Puk (in English, “puck”) is a mythological creature known throughout the northern European plains, Great Britain, and Ireland. Its description tends to be vague. It dwells among humans but goes undetected, so it’s thought to be small enough to scurry away unseen or to have the ability to take the unsuspicious form of domestic animals (cats, dogs, goats, rats…).

    Puken like tidiness and they’re prone to cleaning up their living spaces, even if it’s your home and your mess. Sometimes they’ll do little favors for you, too—with your encouragement of course. They’ll expect you to leave them some nibbles or some old clothes as rewards.

    They’re not above playing tricks on people. They mostly just pull harmless pranks, like tying your shoes together or pulling the blanket off you while you sleep. It gives them a good laugh and provides them with some entertainment. It can even be a sign that they feel comfort and companionship with you. But if you anger them, you’d better watch your step and leave a light on as you sleep, because they’re capable of far worse than those benign jests. Some Puken are also just bad apples who want to create havoc.

    In Low German folklore, Puken have a more certain physical form than in other parts of northern Europe. They’re short, elf-like creatures with pointy hats and slippers not unlike, well, elves. They’re quite clever, and so it’s no wonder why Puk was chosen as the Low German substitute for the Gringotts goblins.

    The troll in the Dungeon (or: the Puk in the Cellar)

    More curious was the choice to translate “troll” as Puk as the description doesn’t fit the Low German conception of a Puk at all:

    Dat sehg gräsig ut. Veer Meter hooch, mit ‘n Huut so bleek as gries Granit, dat Liev as ‘n groten Hinkelsteen, wo ‘n unheemlichen Glatzkopp op seet, de nich grötter as ‘n Kokosnutt weer. Mit dree korte Been, dicker as utwussen Eekbööm, un ünnen an platte Fööt mit dicke Hoornhuut. De Gestank weer nich to’n Utholen. In de Hand harr ‘t ‘n gewaltig grote hölten Küül, de vunwegen de langen Arms op de Eer slarr.

    “It looked horrible. Four meters high, with skin as pale as gray granite, its body like a big cornerstone on which sits an unseemly bald head no bigger than a coconut. With three short legs, thicker than fully grown oak trees, and flat feet at the bottom with thick, horned skin. The stench was unbearable. In its hand it had a large wooden club, which dragged on the ground because of its long arms.”

    Harry Potter un de Wunnersteen (Hartmut Cyriacks and Peter Nissen)

    Quite the opposite of your traditional Puk, this one is gigantic. Not only does it stand four meters tall, but each of its three(?!) short legs is thicker than a tree trunk! There is no way this particular Puk could get away with anything sneaky around your house.

    But perhaps that’s why this type of Puk is lesser-known: they’re too big to live inside your walls or beneath your floor panels. They’d be quite clunky for sneaking around your house while you’re asleep. You just simply wouldn’t encounter such a gigantic Puk as commonly as one of the smaller ones that reside inside your home.

    The Gringotts Puken

    Now let’s take a look at how the Puken at Gringotts are described:

    De Puk weer bummelig een Kopp lütter as Harry. He harr düüster Huut, ‘n plietsch Gesicht, ‘n Spitzboort un – dat full Harry op – gewaltig lange Fingers un grote Fööt.

    “The Puk was about a head shorter than Harry. He had dark skin, and clever face, and a pointed beard and – Harry observed – huge long fingers and big feet.”

    Harry Potter un de Wunnersteen (Hartmut Cyriacks and Peter Nissen)

    Not only are the Puken at Gringotts short, but they have dark skin. You’ll recall that the tall Puk in the Hogwarts cellar (Keller), as the dungeon is described in Low German, has pale, gray skin.

    Are the Gringotts goblins dumb?

    Clearly the Puk in the cellar and the Puken in Gringotts are not the same creature. As readers of Harry Potter un de Wunnersteen, we might suppose that both creatures are called by the same name because they’re different races of the same creature. Or we might consider Puk just to be a category of creature, not unlike how “troll” in English refers categorically to earth-dwelling creatures who may either be monstrous ogres or shy little dwarves.

    But consider the consequences of lumping them into the same category:

    When Harry asks what a Puk would be doing in Hogwarts a Ron responds: “De schüllt doch egentlich so dösig ween.” (“They’re supposed to be really stupid.”) In this scene, Ron doesn’t yet know whether the Puk in the cellar is the ogre-type or the dwarfish Gringotts-type. He doesn’t make any effort to distinguish between the two types, either. He just categorically dismisses Puken as dumb, necessarily implying an assumption on Ron’s part that there are no clever Puken.

    As readers of this Low German-language wizarding world, we learn that at least some wizards consider the Puken in Gringotts to be dumb creatures. Whether or not they are dumb is a separate question: they’re described as having a clever face (“plietsch Gesicht“), but we also know that someone had outsmarted them by breaking into Gringotts. We might even assume that Ron calls them “stupid” out of frustration about the Gringotts break-in. But we can be quite clear that there’s disdain for the Gringotts goblins reflected in Ron’s statement.

    By creating this association between the dungeon troll and the Gringotts goblins, the Low German translators demonstrate the power of translation to alter the world imagined by the reader. In this case, where the English reader is led to believe that the goblins at Gringotts are incredibly clever and admirable, the Low German reader is left with a less positive impression that they’re at least somewhat dumb and wreckless.

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