Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Near the end of the second Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the villain reveals his identity through an anagram of his full name:


which is then rearranged into


I'm well aware of the difficulty in translating idioms literally from one language to another, but anagrams present a whole new level of challenge. So I was both surprised and impressed when I read the book in Spanish (a very excellent translation, by the way) and the character's name was changed just enough to make the anagram work in the new language:


Of course, it's a fortunate coincidence that the word "I am" in Spanish lends itself easily to such a minor alteration. I started wondering about other languages. In German, would the translator find a way to work the letters of "Ich bin" into some similar variation of the name? Not quite; the phrase is changed slightly to read "Ist [Is] Lord Voldemort", rather than "I am..." and accordingly, the name becomes "Tom Vorlost Riddle".

Here is a table of translations into other languages; there are apparently quite a few in which this trick is preserved. In the Vietnamese edition I found at my local library, however, both parts of the anagram are left in their original English form, with the translation of "I am Lord Voldemort" given in a footnote. This, despite the fact that Vietnamese uses, more or less, the Roman alphabet; perhaps the translator couldn't come up with a similar-enough Vietnamese phrase, or perhaps it didn't occur to him that he could change the name as others had done. I haven't been able to lay my hands on a translation into a non-alphabetic language (e.g. Chinese) but I imagine there that the footnote method is the only way to go.

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