The Language Room, Translation & Interpretation, Edinburgh, Scotland, London, UK

Monday 26 June 2017 marked twenty years since Harry Potter was first published. Initially The Philosopher’s Stone was seen as just another children’s book. It featured a bit of magic, a strange school in a Scottish castle and a few centaurs and unicorns. However, in the end, it became a world-wide phenomenon and with it came Harry Potter translations.

Today, Harry, Ron and Hermione’s adventures can be read all in over 64 languages. The list of Harry Potter translations even includes Latin and ancient Greek (which makes these dead languages all that more entertaining to study!). Have you ever wondered what Tom Marvolo Riddle is called in French? Or how to cast the Cruciatus Curse in Spanish (if you happen to be a Death Eater, or just really mean)? Or even just how Hogwarts is called in German? We certainly have.

Let’s answer these questions about Harry Potter translations, along with a few others.

Harry Potter translations – some examples

The first thing to mention with Harry Potter translations is Hogwarts. In German, Hogwarts remained Hogwarts. And quite a few translators make this choice, including Danish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish. However, others chose to translate it and to replicate the play-on-words Hog wart. In French ‘Poudelard’ means bacon lice. In Latvian ‘Cūkkārpa’ means pig wart. Then there is Dutch ‘Zweinstein’, which sounds like zwijnsteen (hog rock). Other funnier but less logical examples of translations are Norwegian ‘Galtvort’, which doesn’t seem to have any particular meaning. Then there is the Slovakian ‘Rokfort’, like the cheese!

Now, due to ethical concerns (and partly because it is tricky to find examples online), we will not reveal how to cast the Cruciatus Curse. We will, however, remind you that all Death Eaters will be sent to Azkaban for life if caught using the spell. Death Eaters is translated perfectly to Mangemorts in French and Todesser in German. Similarly, it is Mortifagos in Spanish, Dooddoeners in Dutch and Śmierciożercy in Polish.

We would also like to point our readers’ attention to the fact that certain translators have given Lord Voldemort a very ridiculous name. The requirement that Tom Marvolo Riddle is an anagram of “I am Lord Voldemort” forced translators to come up with very different solutions from one country to another. Therefore, “Je suis Voldemort” gave Harry Potter’s nemesis the name Tom Elvis Jedusor in French, while “Jeg er Voldemort” led to dark wizard being called… Romeo G. Detlev Jr in Danish!

We could easily fill countless encyclopaedias with everything there is to say about the translations of JK Rowling’s famous novels. However, here are a few random funny facts:

  • In the books, Hagrid has a strong West Country accent that was completely lost in French, but kept in Japanese by using a dialect called Tōhoku.
  • For the part where Sirius Black performs a satirical version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” at Christmas in the fifth book, the Hebrew translator opted for a mock rendition of the Hanukkah song “Mi Y’malel” for readers in Israel.
  • The Ancient Greek translation of JK Rowling’s work is the lengthiest text in this language since 3AD!

Harry Potter translations – some facts about the translators

Translators could only access the books after they were released in English and had about two months to translate them. Yes, The Order of the Phoenix is almost 800 pages long. And yes, you can profess your undying respect for all the Harry Potter translators around the world!

Well… almost all of them, actually. In Russia, the Harry Potter books were translated by different translators from one book to the next, and as a result, the names of the houses changed from The Philosopher’s Stone to The Chamber of Secrets. What a mess!

In Italy, readers were so impatient to get their hands on the last book that they launched “Operation Feather” and sent an obscene number of feathers to the editors to urge them to rush the translation.

In China, one writer decided that J. K. Rowling was taking too long to write the fifth book and published a fake one. Many copies were sold before the editor had a chance to react.

In France, a sixteen-year-old high school pupil was arrested in 2007 after posting a pirate translation of The Deathly Hallows online, less than 20 days after it came out in English. Police said he might have received help from “friends” to translate it so quickly, but his work was “semi-professional” and they were “genuinely impressed with the quality”.

Any more facts about translating Harry Potter around the world? Share them in the comments!