Introducing Albus Silente: Harry Potter in translation

After the revelation that we’ve been pronouncing Voldemort’s name wrong we ask, would you recognise JK Rowling’s well–loved characters after they fall under the translator’s spell?

We’ve all been getting Voldemort’s name wrong by not pronouncing it with a French accent (it’s a silent T, who knew?), so now it’s time to look at the real foreign names of JK Rowling’s band of wizards.

Harry Potter and his friends have travelled the world: since the first book was published in 1997, the franchise has been translated into over 60 languages. While on their travels, however, some of the characters have undergone a bit of a transformation.

Translating a book always comes with a host of challenges – idioms (ie to spill the beans actually means to reveal a secret), humour and style, for example, are very tricky. JK Rowling’s books are no exception; the Harry Potter series is spattered with references to mythological creatures, puns and made up names.

Translators often tackle this difficult language with a brave face and successful results. It is easy to see the logic behind some choices: Scabbers for instance, Ron’s rat, becomes Croûtard in French. Croûte means scab, so French Scabbers is pretty similar.

Other characters’ names display more signs of interference. Mrs Norris becomes Miss ‘Teigne’, unfortunately for her the word for ringworm, although it can also be used to insult a person – even better. Mrs Norris is not the most pleasant of cats (as Filch’s sidekick she often creates problems for Harry and his friends as they have their adventures), but Norris itself does not immediately bring that to mind.

If readers of Harry Potter in other countries experience the world of Hogwarts differently, it may be worth reflecting on the nature of the translations we ourselves enjoy. When we pick up a foreign language book and love it, whose work are we actually appreciating? The author’s or the translator’s?

Japanese manga for example, is easily found in most big bookstores and has spawned a host of specialist shops. Japanese texts not only use a different alphabet (with three different scripts), but will also make cultural references that may be difficult for us to understand.

A good translator then, must not only have a superb grasp of the language itself but also the culture surrounding it. Translation becomes an art and a knowledgable translator is paramount. Otherwise, you run the risk of errors in interpretation as well as bad choices, detracting from the quality of the work that caused it to be translated in the first place.


Artículos relacionados