How Do Translators Around The World Translate Harry Potter Into Their Language?

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Written by: Phương Thảo

INDUSTRY INSIGHTS | LITERARY TRANSLATION

It has been 20 years since the first Harry Potter novel appeared in 1997. Since then, the boy who survived has gained immense popularity around the world. The series has been translated into 74 languages, more than The Hobbit, The Great Gatsby, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and even the Koran.

How do translators in countries around the world translate Harry Potter into their native language?

There is no contact with the author in case of questions, and no information outside of the novel, meaning that the translators have been in the dark about any mysteries the author establishes for the next volume.

And they worked under tight time constraints to meet publisher demand and fan pressure. In Italy, fans held an ‘Operation Feather’, which flooded publishers with sent-in feathers to protest the wait for an Italian Harry Potter translation.

In France, fans were so impatient with Harry Potter’s translation that they eventually gave up and bought the English version – making the first English Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix volume appear on the bestseller list. France’s best.

Because there are so many imaginary words and place names, many of which are puns, translators must decide whether to try to shift humor in the Harry Potter translations or keep the original English.

In French, Slytherin is called Serpentard, and Snape is known as the “arrogant” Rogue. The translation of Harry Potter in Norwegian is called quidditch rumpledunk.

Abbreviations such as O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s in the Swedish translation of Harry Potter became G.E.T. (Grund-Examen i Trollkonst, or “Basic Tests in Troll Arts”) and F.U.T.T. (Fruktansvärt Utmattande Trollkarls-Test, or “Excellent Wizards Test”). In Sweden, G.E.T. Means “goat”, while F.U.T.T. Means “measley”.

How Did Harry Potter Translators Translate The Names?

As for the character’s name, Lena Fries Gedin, the talented person behind the Swedish translation of Harry Potter, agreed to the editor’s policy. She points out that the Dostoevsky letters also often have second-meaning names in Russian, but they still don’t translate. The same is true of Harry Potter, she decided.

What Was The Most Challenging Part When Translating Harry Potter?

“Apart from the word games,” said Gedin, “the hardest thing to translate is the anagram in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. In the original, ‘Tom Marvolo Riddle’ was an abbreviation of ‘I am Lord Voldemort’. But the Swedish ‘Jag är Lord Voldemort’ includes the letter ‘ä’, which is not the case with English names. I solved it by giving him the last name Dolder (not entirely English, and with a bit of mystery), and adding a holy name, and I got Tom Gus Mervolo Dolder = Ego Sum Lord Voldemort. I had to explain a bit about “ego sum,” but since Rowling uses Latin for spells and mottos, I feel it makes sense to do so.

This scene has caused more problems than in the Chinese Harry Potter translations. Mandarin is a wordless language and therefore cannot have upper case letters. The interpreter addresses Tom Riddle by referring to it directly in the narrative, explaining that “’汤 姆马沃罗 里德尔’ in English is ‘Tom Marvolo Riddle’ and ‘我 是 伏地魔’ in English as ‘I am Lord Voldemort’; The letters are precisely the same, only the order is different. “Since the story’s context is very clearly spoken in English, the translator determines that this will not be disturbing to the reader.

How Did Translators Address The Pun In Tom Riddle's Name?

Here are some creative solutions:

Tom Marvolo Riddle in Harry Potter

  • French: Tom Elvis Jedusor = Je suis Voldemort (Jedusor also sounds like some kind of jeu du, which can mean game of fate, or a game of magic)
  • Spanish: Tom Sorvolo Ryddle = Soy Lord Voldemort (I’m Lord Voldemort)
  • Portugal: Tom Servolo Riddle = Lord Voldemort (Hey Lord Voldemort)
  • Icelandic: Trevor Delgome = Ég er Voldemort (I am Voldemort)
  • Finnish: Tom Lomen Valedro = Mälenen Voldemort (I’m Voldemort)
  • Dutch: Marten Asmodom Vilijn = Mijn naam is Voldemort (My name is Voldemort)
  • Norwegian: Tom Dredolo Venster = Voldemort den store (Wonderful Voldemort)
  • Danish: Romeo G. Detlev Jr. (aka Romeo Gåde) = Jeg er Voldemort (I am Voldemort, Gåde means puzzle)
  • Ukranian: Tom Yarvolod Redl = I love Lord Voldemort (I am Lord Voldemort)
  • Slovenian: Mark Neelstin = Mrlakenstein (translator Jakob Kenda culturally translates the name Voldemort)
  • Czech: Tom Rojvol Raddle = Já, lord Voldemort (I, Lord Voldemort)
  • Croatian: Tom Marvolo Riddle (not translated) = Ja sam Lord Voldemort (in Croatian, not an anagram, but clarified in English text in a footnote)
  • Arabic: Not yet translated. Tom writes out “I am Lord Voldemort” directly, without the anagram.
  • Turkey: Tom Marvoldo Riddle = Adım Lord Voldemort (My name is Lord Voldemort)
  • Hindi: Untranslated, one of the only sentences in the series that remains in English.
  • Greek: Anton Morvol Chert = Archon Voldemort (Lord Voldemort, although it’s an imperfect pun)
  • German: Tom Vorlost Riddle = …ist Lord Voldemort (…is Lord Voldemort, the uppercase sentence ends)
  • Romanian: Tomas Dorlent The first book must be changed in the second book for Tom Ruvel Doodler = Lord Eu Lord Voldemort (I Lord Voldemort)
  • Hungarian: Tom Rowle Denem = Nevem Voldemort (My name is Voldemort, caused an unwanted connection with a character named Thorfinn Rowle, whose name has been changed to Thorfinn’s Rovel)

Translating Names Can Have Unintended Consequences

The baffling name in the Hungarian translation of Harry Potter is also common in other Harry Potter translations. Translators don’t have any additional information outside of the book, so if they translate the name of one character and not another, they could be in a difficult situation if, in a later book, when two characters have the same name.

This happened to Tom the Innkeeper, who met Harry in the first book. Some translators have had to omit a dialogue from Dumbledore in later Harry Potter translations when he mentions that Tom the innkeeper and Tom Riddle share the same name. Tom Riddle’s name has changed on many occasions, so this wouldn’t make sense.

Even a simple adult novel with prose can baffle translators. But the best thing is that the translators handled the translations creatively, ensuring that the Harry Potter translations were just as colorful and unique as their British predecessors.



Conclusion

It is always a fascinating challenge to convey all of the literary devices and metaphorical expressions in a literary translation. Literary translators always have to be extra creative to preserve the original beauty in the works they translate. 

Feel free to share in the comment section your experience with literary translation. All opinions and thoughts are welcome!

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