Harry Potter in translation
The Harry Potter series of fantasy novels by J. K. Rowling is one of the most translated series of all time, with the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, having been translated into over 74 languages. This includes languages diverse as Azerbaijani, Malayalam and Welsh as well as the dead languages Latin and Ancient Greek. This makes it the longest published work in Ancient Greek since the novels of Heliodorus of Emesa in the 3rd century AD. Additionally, regional adaptations of the books have been made to accommodate regional dialects such as the American English edition or the Valencian adaptation of Catalan.
For reasons of secrecy, translations were only allowed to begin after each book had been published in English, creating a lag of several months for readers of other languages. Impatient fans in many places simply bought the book in English instead. In France in 2003 the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, became the first book in English to top the French best-seller list. Another response to this, and unavailability in certain languages, has been fans creating their own translations unofficially.
Interesting issues arising in the translation of Harry Potter include cultural references, riddles, anticipating future plot points, and Rowling's creative names for characters and other elements in the magical world which often involve wordplay and descriptive phonology.
- 1 Translation process
- 2 Number of official translations
- 3 List of translations by language
- 4 Unauthorised translations
- 5 Fake translations
- 6 Regional adaptations
- 7 Issues in translation
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
For an authorised translation, the publisher must first negotiate and sign a contract with the author's agents, The Blair Partnership. A list of authorised publishers can be read on J. K. Rowling’s website. The publishers select translators locally.
Translators were not granted access to the books before their official release date in English; hence, translation could start only after the English editions had been published, creating a lag of several months before the translations were made available. This necessary delay has boosted the sales of English language editions of the books to impatient fans, in countries where English is not the first language. Such was the clamour to read the fifth book that its English edition became the first English-language book ever to top the bookseller list in France. In Italy, impatient Potter fans organised "Operation Feather", deluging the publisher Salani with feathers (reminiscent of Hogwarts' messenger owls) to demand expedited publication for the Italian translation of the seventh and final book in the series. This has also caused unauthorised translations and fake versions of the books to appear in many countries.
The high profile and demand for a high-quality local translation means that a great deal of care is often taken in the task. In some countries, such as Italy, the first book was revised by the publishers and issued in an updated edition in response to readers who complained about the quality of the first translation. In countries such as China and Portugal, the translation is conducted by a group of translators working together to save time. Some of the translators hired to work on the books were quite well known before their work on Harry Potter, such as Viktor Golyshev, who oversaw the Russian translation of the series' fifth book. Golyshev was previously best known for having translated William Faulkner and George Orwell, and was known to snub the Harry Potter books in interviews and refer to them as inferior literature. The Turkish translation of books two to five was undertaken by Sevin Okyay, a popular literary critic and cultural commentator.
Number of official translations
Oddly enough, it has been difficult to accurately determine with any degree of certainty exactly how many languages Harry Potter has been translated into. As best as can be determined (as of 2017), The Philosopher's Stone has been officially translated from the original English into 74 other languages, the most recent being, Scots,[note 1] which was released on 23 November 2017. Both Bloomsbury's and J.K. Rowling's sites have recently stated that the books have been translated into 79 languages (their count would now likely be 81 with the subsequent 2017 release of Scots and a new Mongolian translation); however, it has been argued that number actually represents the number of authorized translations (of The Philosopher's Stone) plus the original English. The number of authorized translations is not equal to the number of languages because there have been multiple authorized translations into the same language. Specifically, there have been two separate translations into each of: Mandarin Chinese, Mongolian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian and Turkish (6 languages). English is often included in the list of translations even though technically it should not be. Thus: 81 − 1 English − 6 double-translations = 74. It is also worthwhile to emphasize that not all seven books have been translated into these 74 languages.
The 81 total does not include other linguistically interesting language editions: there have been many regional adaptations of the books to accommodate regional dialects, for example the American English edition or the Valencian adaptation of Catalan. There have been transliterations of translations into different scripts (English Braille, Serbian Cyrillic), there have been major revisions of the Spanish and Italian translations and there have been any number of unauthorized translations.
The government of Kazakhstan has ordered a Kazakh translation of the Harry Potter novels to be made and the Government of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have also ordered a Tajik, Uzbek and Kyrgyz translation. Thus far translations into these languages have not appeared.
Some translations, such as those to the dead Latin and Ancient Greek languages, were done as academic exercises, to stimulate interest in the languages and to provide students of those languages with modern reading texts. The Ancient Greek version, according to the translator, is the longest text written in Ancient Greek since the novels of Heliodorus of Emesa in the 3rd century AD, and took about a year to complete.
Note that in some countries, such as Spain and India, the book has been translated into several local languages (see section on publishers); sometimes the book has been translated into two dialects of the same language in two countries (for example, separate Portuguese versions for Brazil and for Portugal).
List of translations by language
The original British English versions of the book were published in the United Kingdom by Bloomsbury. There is no complete official list of authorised translations currently available. Editions exist in the following languages (including the original):
|Language||CountryPor||Publisher(s) and distributor(s)||Translator(s)||Title(s)|
|English (original version)||
|1.||Afrikaans||South Africa||Human & Rousseau (pty) Ltd.||
|2.||Albanian||Albania||Publishing House Dituria||Amik Kasoruho||
|3.||Arabic|| Arab world
(Translation origin: Egypt)
|5.||Asturian||Spain ( Asturias)||Trabe||Xesús González Rato||
|7.||Basque||Spain ( Basque Country)||Elkarlanean||Iñaki Mendiguren (I-VII)||
|9.||Bosnian||Bosnia and Herzegovina||Buybook||Mirjana Evtov |
|10.||Breton||France ( Brittany)||An Amzer||
People's Literature Publishing House (人民文学出版社);
|Chinese (Traditional)||Crown Publishing Company Ltd (皇冠出版社)||
|17.||Dutch||Standaard / Uitgeverij De Harmonie||Wiebe Buddingh'||
|19.||Faroese||Faroe Islands||Bókadeild Føroya Lærarafelags||
|20.||Filipino||Philippines||Lampara Books||Becky Bravo||
|22.||French||Éditions Gallimard||Jean-François Ménard (plus the school books)||
|23.||West Frisian||Netherlands ( Friesland)||Uitgeverij Bornmeer||Jetske Bilker||
|24.||Galician||Spain ( Galicia)||Editorial Galaxia||
|25.||Georgian||Georgia||Bakur Sulakauri Publishing||
|26.||German||Carlsen Verlag||Klaus Fritz||
|27.||Low German||Germany||Verlag Michael Jung||
|28.||Ancient Greek||Bloomsbury||Andrew Wilson (I)||
|29.||Modern Greek||Psichogios Publications||
|30.||Greenlandic||Greenland||Atuakkiorfik Greenland Publishers||Stephen Hammeken||
|31.||Gujarati||India (Gujarat)||Manjul Publishing House Pvt. Ltd. ||
|32.||Hebrew||Israel||Miskal Ltd. (Yedioth Ahronoth and Sifrey Hemed) / Books in the Attic Ltd.||Gili Bar-Hillel||
|33.||Hindi||India||Manjul Publishing House Pvt. Ltd.||Sudhir Dixit (I-VII)||
|34.||Hungarian||Hungary||Animus Publishing||Tóth Tamás Boldizsár||
|36.||Indonesian||Indonesia||Penerbit PT Gramedia Pustaka Utama||Listiana Srisanti (I-VII)||
|37.||Irish||Bloomsbury||Máire Nic Mhaoláin (I)||
|38.||Italian||Adriano Salani Editore||
Illustrated by Serena Riglietti
|39.||Japanese||Japan||Say-zan-sha Publications Ltd.||Yuko Matsuoka (松岡 佑子 Matsuoka Yūko)||
|40.||Khmer||Cambodia||Cambodia Daily Press||Un Tim||
|41.||Korean||South Korea||Moonhak Soochup Publishing Co.||
|42.||Latin||Bloomsbury||Peter Needham (I-II)||
|44.||Lithuanian||Lithuania||Alma Littera Company Limited||Zita Marienė||
|45.||Luxembourgish||Luxembourg||Kairos Edition||Florence Berg (I-II)
Guy Berg (II)
|46.||Macedonian||Republic of Macedonia||Publishing House Kultura (I-V)
Mladinska kniga Skopje (VI-VII)
|48.||Malayalam||India (Kerala)||Manjul Publishing House Pvt. Ltd.||Radhika C. Nair||
|49.||Marathi||India||Manjul Publishing House Pvt. Ltd.||
Nepko Publishing (first translation)
Д.Аюуш & Д.Батбаяр
|Monsudar (second translation)||Н. Энхнаран|
|51.||Nepali||Nepal||Sunbird Publishing House ||
|52.||Norwegian||Norway||N.W. Damm & Søn A.S.||Torstein Bugge Høverstad||
|53.||Occitan||France ( Occitania)||Per Noste Edicions||
|54.||Persian||Iran||Tandis Books||Vida Eslamiyeh||
|55.||Polish||Poland||Media Rodzina||Andrzej Polkowski||
|Brazilian Portuguese||Brazil||Editora Rocco Ltda.||
|57.||Romanian||Egmont Romania (first translation)||
|Arthur (second translation)|
|58.||Russian||Russia||Rosman Publishing (first translation)||
|Azbooka-Atticus: Machaon (second, originally unofficial, translation) ||Maria Spivak (I-VII)|
|61.||Sinhala||Sri Lanka||Sarasavi Publishers (Pvt) Ltd ||
|65.||Swedish||Tiden Young Books / Raben & Sjögren||Lena Fries-Gedin||
|66.||Tamil||India||Manjul Publishing House Pvt. Ltd.||PSV Kumarasamy (I-II)||
|67.||Telugu||India||Manjul Publishing House Pvt. Ltd.||M. S. B. P. N. V. Rama Sundari||
|69.||Tibetan||People's Republic of China (Tibet Autonomous Region)||Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang||
|Yapı Kredi Kültür Sanat Yayıncılık|
|72.||Urdu||Pakistan||Oxford University Press||Darakhshanda Asghar Khokhar (I-IV)||
|73.||Vietnamese||Vietnam||Youth Publishing House||Lý Lan||
|74.||Welsh||United Kingdom ( Wales)||Bloomsbury||Emily Huws (I)||
The impatience of the international Harry Potter fan community for translations of the books has led to the proliferation of unauthorised or pirate translations that are often hastily translated and posted on the internet chapter-by-chapter, or printed by small presses and sold illegally. The work may be done by multiple translators to speed the process. Such translations are often poorly written and filled with errors. Cases have occurred in many areas of the world, but China is one of the most common areas of the world for unauthorised translations and pirated editions to be sold.
One notable case involved a French 16-year-old who published serialised translations of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows online. He was arrested and his site was later shut down; however, the wife of the official translator noted that these works do not necessarily hurt the official translation.
Another example occurred in Venezuela in 2003, when an illegal translation of the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, appeared soon after the release of the English version and five months before the scheduled release of the Spanish translation. The pirate translation was apparently so bad that the translator added messages, including "Here comes something that I'm unable to translate, sorry," and "I'm sorry, I didn't understand what that meant" in some sections. Two people were arrested in connection with the pirated version.
Another case involved the internet fan translation community, Harry auf Deutsch, formed to translate the Harry Potter books into German more rapidly. The German publisher of the Harry Potter books, Carlsen Verlag, filed a cease and desist against the fan translators; they complied, taking down the translations.
In some countries, when there were no authorised translations into the local language, translations not sanctioned by J. K. Rowling were prepared and published. Such was the case, for example, in Sri Lanka, where the books have been unofficially translated into Sinhala and possibly into Tamil. However, there have been more recent translations into both Sinhala and Tamil published by Sarasavi Bookshop and Manjul Press respectively that are authorised by J. K. Rowling.
In Iran, several unauthorised translations of the Harry Potter books exist side by side. According to one source, there may be as many as 16 Persian translations in existence concurrently. Iran is not a member of the Universal Copyright Convention, so publishers are not prosecuted for publishing foreign books without respecting copyright or paying royalties.
A team consisting of seven Esperantist volunteers completed the translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone into Esperanto (under the title Hari Poter kaj la ŝtono de la saĝuloj) in 2004. Rowling's representatives did not respond to offers from Esperanto-USA to make the translation available for publication. An on-line petition aimed at raising interest in the Esperanto translation has obtained support from approximately 800 individuals.
Agents representing J. K. Rowling have stated in the past that they cannot and do not intend to prevent individuals from translating Rowling's books for their own personal enjoyment, as long as the results are not made available to the general public.
Whereas "pirate translations" are unauthorised translations of true Harry Potter books, "fake translations" have also appeared, which are published pastiches or fanfics that a foreign publisher has tried to pass off as the translation of the real book by Rowling. There have been several such books, the most famous of which is probably Harry Potter and Bao Zoulong which was written and published in China in 2002, before the release of the fifth book in Rowling's series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Other fake Harry Potter books written in Chinese include Harry Potter and the Porcelain Doll (哈利・波特与瓷娃娃 or Hālì Bōtè yǔ Cíwáwa), Harry Potter and the Golden Turtle, and Harry Potter and the Crystal Vase. In August 2007, The New York Times noted that the publication of Rowling's Deathly Hallows had inspired "a surge of peculiarly Chinese imitations," and included plot synopses and excerpts from a number of derivative works, among them Harry Potter and the Chinese Overseas Students at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and Harry Potter and the Big Funnel.  In 2003, legal pressure from the licensors of Harry Potter led an Indian publisher to stop publication of Harry Potter in Calcutta, a work in which Harry meets figures from Bengali literature.
It is a common practice within the publishing industry to make minor changes in the text of books written in one region for publication in other regions. For example, there are a number of differences in American and UK English spelling conventions; generally publishers change the spellings to conform to the expectations of their target market. Adaptation may also extend to vocabulary or grammatical choices that might impair legibility or impart some cognitive dissonance. Readers usually wouldn't be aware of the adaptations, but the choice to change the title of the American edition of the first Harry Potter book from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone highlighted the practice and drew considerable attention.
The book's title was changed due to the American publisher's concern that children would be confused by a reference to philosophy. Other translations have also changed the first book's title, for instance, the French translation which changed Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to Harry Potter at the School of Wizards for the same reason as the American translation, citing that the reference to the Philosopher's Stone legend was "too obscure for a book aimed at the youth."
Other translations also have regional adaptations that have largely gone without much notice. The Spanish translation has been adapted to three regions: Europe, Latin America and Southern Cone. Others translations have adaptations that were published seemingly to enhance the identity of minority communities of speakers: Montenegrin (an adaptation of Serbian) and Valencian (an adaptation of Catalan). It is worth noting that some translations were completed when adaptations possibly would have been sufficient; for example, any of the Serbian, Croatian or Bosnian translations could have been adapted for each region; however, the complexities political and linguistic identity in the region probably precluded that choice.
The American English adaptations have by far received the most attention. A comprehensive list of differences between the American and British editions of the books is collected at the Harry Potter Lexicon web site. The changes are mostly simple lexical switches to reflect the different dialects and prevent American readers from stumbling over unfamiliar Briticisms. Although it is common to adapt any text from British to American editions, in the case of the Harry Potter books, this standard practice has drawn criticism from readers who feel that the British English adds flavour to the series. Rowling herself expressed regret after changing the first book's title, as the Philosopher's Stone is a legendary alchemical substance.
In an Associated Press interview, Rowling described how the alterations to the American editions came about:
Rowling pretended to bang her head against the sofa in mock frustration. "SO much has been made of that," she groans, noting that it was only done where words had been used that really meant something very different to Americans. Her American editor pointed out that the word jumper – British for pullover sweater – means a kind of dress in American. She had had no idea. "He asked, 'Can we change it to sweater,' which is just as British?" That was fine with Rowling.
I wasn't trying to, quote, "Americanize" them... What I was trying to do is translate, which I think is different. I wanted to make sure that an American kid reading the book would have the same literary experience that a British kid would have."
The same article, however, points out that some British dialect was retained in the books, and in some cases certain phrases were replaced with more stereotypical British phrases, such as "spanking good" for "cracking."
Regional adaptations have sometimes—incorrectly—been referred to as "translations" (as in the quote above); however, the changes in the text of an adaptation do not nearly encompass the scope of a translation. A native speaker generally would not be able to tell the difference between two adaptations without careful reading. A translation requires a translator who will be credited for the work—notably, an adaptation will by performed by an editor probably with the assistance of software and the original translator will remain credited as such.
Issues in translation
The Harry Potter series presents many challenges to translators, such as rhymes, acronyms, dialects, culture, riddles, jokes, invented words, and plot points that revolve around spellings or initials. These have been dealt with by various translators with different degrees of modification to the meaning of the original text.
The books carried a number of words that are considered loaded names by linguists and translators, meaning that they carry a semantic load, and that their morphology (structure) and phonology (sound) need to be adapted when translating them to a foreign language, for example the house names (Ravenclaw = raven + claw), or Voldemort's name ("flight of death" or "theft of death" in French). These words were translated in different countries using several translation strategies, such as copying the names with no attempt to transmit the original English meaning, transliterating even if the name lost its original meaning, replacing the name with another given name from the target language, or translating the name using native words that conveyed the same meaning. For example, in the Russian first book the transliterating strategy was used for some names because the "th" sound does not exist in Russian, so "Slytherin" was transliterated as "Slizerin". The translator of the second book chose the translating strategy instead, and she renamed the houses, "Hufflepuff" becoming "Puffendui" and "Ravenclaw" becoming "Kogtevran" (from the Russian word for claw, "kogot'").
Culture and language
Many of the nuances of British culture and language will be unfamiliar to international readers. Such things require careful and creative translating. Nonstandard English present in the book also had to be given careful consideration. The character Rubeus Hagrid's West Country dialect, for example, needed to be rendered in other languages to reflect the fact that he speaks with an accent and uses particular types of slang. In the Japanese translation, he speaks in the Tōhoku dialect, which to a Japanese reader conveys a similar provincial feel. The same was done in Ukrainian translation where Hagrid speaks Western Ukrainian dialect. For the Hebrew translation, some of the Christian references were changed, because Israelis have less familiarity with cultural Christianity than readers elsewhere: a scene in which Sirius Black sings a parody of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" replaced the song with a parody of "Mi Y'malel," a Chanukah song. In the French translation, explanations of certain features of British schools unfamiliar to French students were inserted in the dialogues (e.g., "Prefect" and "Head Boy"), but they were not distinguished from explanations in the original text of differences between ordinary British schools and wizarding schools. This could mislead readers into thinking that these features of the house and boarding systems didn't exist in real-world British schools.
Rhymes, anagrams, and acronyms
The series involves many songs, poems, and rhymes, some of which proved difficult to translators. One rhyme, a riddle told by a sphinx in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, posed a particular problem.[note 2] The riddle involves taking words from a poem and using them to form a longer word, "spider," in answer to the riddle. In the Taiwanese translation, the English words are simply put in parentheses. In other translations, the riddle is changed to provide different words that can be put together to make up the translated version of "spider".
Some acronyms also proved difficult; the abbreviations "O.W.L.s" (Ordinary Wizarding Levels) and "N.E.W.T.s" (Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests) needed to be translated to reflect the fact that their abbreviations spelled out the names of animals associated with the wizarding world, which did not always work in other languages. "N.E.W.T.s" was translated into Swedish as "F.U.T.T." (Fruktansvärt Utmattande Trollkarls-Test, Terribly Exhausting Wizard's Test). "Futt" means "measly" in Swedish.
Another issue was the translation of "The Mirror of Erised". since "Erised" is created by reading English "desire" backwards. In German the word desire is spelled "Begehren", so the mirror was called "Der Spiegel Nerhegeb". The Finnish translation also follows this formula of reversing a word; the mirror is called "Iseeviot-peili" "iseeviot" being "toiveesi" ("your wish") written backwards. In Polish the mirror is called "Zwierciadło Ain Eingarp" ("zwierciadło" = "mirror"; "pragnienia" = "desire" (in genitive case)). In Indonesian, The Mirror of Erised is called "Cermin Tarsah" (cermin" = "mirror"; "hasrat" = "desire"). In Spanish it is called "El Espejo de Oesed" ("Espejo" = "Mirror"; "Deseo" = "desire"). In the early Italian editions and in the movie, the mirror is called "Specchio delle Brame" ("Mirror of Desires"; Italian name for the Magic Mirror from Snow White), later, it was renamed "Specchio delle Emarb" ("Emarb" is "Brame" read backwards), a name based on the English one.
Areas in which anagrams are present do not make the transition easily into other languages. The name "Tom Marvolo Riddle", first mentioned in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, is rearranged to spell "I am Lord Voldemort". This has required translators to alter Riddle's name to make the anagram work. Sometimes translators manage to alter only one part of the name. For example, Tom Riddle's middle name of Marvolo was changed to Marvolodemus in the Serbian second edition; the first edition had lacked the anagram and the original name Tom Marvolo Riddle had simply been copied. In the Bulgarian translation his middle name becomes "Mersvoluko" so the whole name forms an anagram for "And here I am, Lord Voldemort" (instead of "I am Lord Voldemort" as in the original English). Analogous alterations of the middle name Marvolo have been made in several other languages; for example; it became Servolo in Brazilian Portuguese, Vandrolo in Hebrew, Marvoldo in Turkish, Vorlost in German, Narvolo in Russian, Sorvolo in Spanish, Rojvol in Czech, Marvoloso in Slovak, and Orvoloson in Italian. (Note: the original Italian version kept the English name, having Riddle translate the anagram in his speech that immediately follows. The change to Orvoloson was made in later editions.)
In other languages, translators replaced the entire name to preserve the anagram. In French, Riddle's full name becomes Tom Elvis Jedusor (i.e. phonetically "game of fate" for the French "Jeu du sort", wordplay with a phonetically identical "Jet du sort", which means "Casting spell") which forms an anagram for "Je suis Voldemort" ("I am Voldemort"). In Norwegian, his name is Tom Dredolo Venster, an anagram of "Voldemort den store", which means "Voldemort the Great". In Greek, his name is "Anton Marvolo Hurt" (Άντον Μαρβόλο Χέρτ), anagram of "Άρχον Βόλντεμορτ" which means "Lord Voldemort". In Icelandic, his name is Trevor Delgome, which becomes "(Ég)Eg er Voldemort" ("I am Voldemort"), but his middle name is not used for the anagram and stays as Marvolo. In Finnish his name is "Tom Lomen Valedro"; the corresponding anagram is "Ma(ä) olen Voldemort", "I am Voldemort". In Dutch, his name is "Marten Asmodom Vilijn", an anagram of "Mijn naam is Voldemort", or "My name is Voldemort", "Vilijn" being a pseudohomophone of vilein, "evil". In Swedish, his name is "Tom Gus Mervolo Dolder", an anagram of "Ego sum Lord Voldemort", where "ego sum" is Latin, not Swedish, for "I am".
In Slovenian, both names are completely changed. Tom Marvolo Riddle is Mark Neelstin and Lord Voldemort is translated as Lord Mrlakenstein. When the name Mark Neelstin is rearranged in the scene, it spells Mrlakenstein. Because the books in Slovenia were released with a three-year delay, the translation of Voldemort is consistent throughout the series. The film series corresponds with the book translation. The Danish translation uses abbreviation and suffix to make the name work. The translation is Romeo G. Detlev Jr an anagram of "Jeg er Voldemort" ("I am Voldemort").
In Hungarian, Voldemort's name becomes "Tom Rowle Denem", which is an anagram of "Nevem Voldemort" ("My name is Voldemort"), with the "w" in the name becoming two "v"s. This caused a name collision with the character Thorfinn Rowle, who first appears in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but who is not related to Voldemort. Because of this collision, in the Hungarian translation his family name was altered to Rovel. The Arabic version avoids the issue entirely by having Riddle directly write out, "I am Lord Voldemort" (أنا لورد فولدمورت). These changes to the name created problems in later books however; in the English edition, a line of dialogue mentions that Tom Riddle shares his given name with the bartender of the Leaky Cauldron, and this becomes a plot point. However, this is not the case in all translations. In the Latin version his name is Tom Musvox Ruddle, which is an anagram of "Sum Dux Voldemort", or "I am the leader Voldemort".
Invented words, proper nouns, and names
Rowling invented a great number of words and phrases for the books such as spells, incantations, magical words, items, and place names. Many of these words involve wordplay, rhyming, and historical references that are difficult to translate. A large number of spells are drawn from or inspired by Latin, and have a certain resonance with English speakers due to its relatively large proportion of Latinate-derived vocabulary. For example, priori incantatem (a spell which causes the last spells performed by a wand to be reproduced in reverse order) would be familiar to many English-speaking readers as the words prior (previous) and incantation (spell, charm). To create a similar effect in the Hindi version, the Sanskrit, typical in mantras, has been used for the spells. Some translators have created new words themselves; others have resorted to transliteration.
Names that involve wordplay, such as Knockturn Alley and Pensieve are also difficult to translate. The former, an unsavoury area in London's magical market, is semi-homophonous with "nocturnally," suggesting darkness and evil. The latter is a magical bowl into which memories and thoughts can be placed and examined, and is a portmanteau of two words: pensive, meaning "musingly or dreamily thoughtful," and sieve, a type of bowl with perforations through which fine particles of a substance (such as flour) may be passed to separate them from coarser ones. Translators must creatively render such names. If the words are simply transliterated, the shades of meaning are lost; but, when new word-games are invented, they can end up sounding quite different from the original, and often reflect the translator's personal interpretation and preferences. For instance, the Turkish version of Pensieve is Düşünseli, which is a portmanteau of the words Düşünmek (to think, to imagine) and sel (a flood of water). The German version of Pensieve is Denkarium, from denken, meaning to think, and the suffix -arium. The Swedish version of Pensieve is Minnessåll which means memory's sieve. The Norwegian translation of Pensieve is tanketank which translates to Thought-tank. The Hebrew version achieves a similar effect to the English in its translation of Pensieve; Pensieve is הגיגית (Hagigit), which is a combination of the word הגיג (hagig) meaning thought, and the word גיגית (gigit) meaning tub. In the Czech translation, Pensieve is "Myslánka" (from "myslet" – think) and Knockturn Alley is Obrtlá ulice, a rather complex neologism with many meanings and associations, but based on the word "obrtlík" (swivel) and the phrase "otočit se na obrtlíku" (run away suddenly). The "Nocturnal" wordplay is not used in the Czech translation. The Vietnamese version of "Pensieve" is "Tưởng Ký", which is a combination word of "tư tưởng" ("thought" or "mind") and "ký" (literally means something to keep thoughts, like a diary.)
Often, names in Harry Potter have historical or linguistic significance in English, which may create problems if the translator does not recognise or misjudges it. Rowling commented on this phenomenon in Conversations with J.K. Rowling, in which she complained that the Italian translation of Professor Dumbledore's last name was "Silente"; rather than recognizing that "Dumbledore" was an old Devon word for "bumblebee," the translator took the word "dumb" and translated it as "silent". In contrast, the Czech translator used the Old Czech word for bumblebee – Brumbál (in modern Czech čmelák).
In some cases, English-speaking fans have sought clues to the story's mysteries by examining the way certain parts of the books have been translated in foreign editions. A case in point is the identity of a character mentioned by initials only in the book Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The English initials R.A.B. could have belonged to several minor characters from the books, but variations on the initials in other languages gave evidence to the true identity of the mystery character: in the Dutch edition of the book R.A.B. was translated into R.A.Z., 'zwart' being Dutch for 'black'; in the Norwegian edition, R.A.B. translates to 'R.A.S.', svart being Norwegian for 'black'; and in the Finnish edition the initials were R.A.M., 'musta' being Finnish for 'black'. Fans took this to mean that the character was Regulus Black, the brother of Sirius Black; when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published, this was revealed to be the case.
Similarly, the title for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix did not make it obvious whether the word "Order" referred to a group of people or to a directive. The information that it was a group of people was then determined by viewing the title in other languages. The Vietnamese translation, which was originally published in instalments, originally interpreted "Order" as a directive and translated it as "Harry Potter và Mệnh lệnh Phượng hoàng"; when it became clear that "Order" referred to a group of people, the title was changed to "Harry Potter và Hội Phượng hoàng".
Rowling released an alternative title for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for use by translators finding difficulty translating its meaning. The alternative title (in English) is Harry Potter and the Relics of Death. In Italy the title has been translated as Harry Potter e i doni della morte replacing "hallows" with "presents" because the word "relic" is often used in reference to the remains or personal effects of a saint. This variation was proposed and then approved by J.K. Rowling. 
A few characters in the series are identified with a title and last name, or with a gender-neutral name. In some languages—for example, those where adjectives are gendered—it was necessary for the translator to guess the character's gender. The Hebrew translation initially made Blaise Zabini a girl, though the character was revealed to be a boy in later books. To avoid this problem, Isabel Nunes, the Portuguese translator, asked Rowling about the gender of some of the characters—Zabini, Professor Sinistra, and "R.A.B."—while working on her translations.
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