Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Harry Potter in translation

(MINOR SPOILER ALERT)
Having just finished the final book of the Harry Potter series, I find myself once again pondering the difficulty of translating works so rich with puns and British culture to languages highly unrelated to the original. I've read a few of the early books in their Spanish (distinctly Castilian) translations, and was impressed with how deftly the anagram of Tom Marvolo Riddle's name was handled, as I described in this earlier post.

For those interested in exploring the particular challenges of the Harry Potter books---the task made yet more daunting by their notoriety---I recommend this Wikipedia article, which has a number of excellent references at the bottom. As someone who was also confused by the meaning of "Deathly Hallows" before I actually read the book, I was fascinated that the Swedish publisher asked for, and received from Rowling, an alternate title that removed the ambiguity of "hallows": Harry Potter and the Relics of Death.

I love how so many of the spell names in the wizarding world derive from Latin, and am particularly interested to know how they are handled in translations to languages that don't use the Roman alphabet; unfortunately, I don't read any of those languages myself, so I welcome comments from any readers who do. Are they simply rendered phonetically, or done in a clever way that retains the semantic connection to an linguistic ancestor? And I'd love to get my hands on the Latin version itself, as I wonder if it's confusing to have spells in the same language as dialogue and narration.

And at the risk of inviting another flame war, I find it worth noting that there is no official translation into Esperanto, which to me makes a statement about the success and future of this language.

2 comments:

La Lernanto said...

I believe that the first HP book has been translated into Esperanto, but Rowlings agent has not responded to the translators. Here's the story:
http://www.liberafolio.org/2006/harrypotter/

Language Lover said...

Thank you for the comment. Note that I was referring to an official translation into Esperanto, which does not appear to exist. In light of this I think it's great that Esperanto speakers have taken it upon themselves to translate the first book, but it says something about this language's lack of recognition in the publishing world.