Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Young Adult Teen Tuesday

Okay, I know I've pared down my blogging to Mondays only, but this was such a great idea (Sheri Larsen's idea) that I decided to try for one more day each week. When I run out of TeenSteam, I'll beg to be excused, but for now here I am.

One of my life passions happens to be intercultural communication, and I love how connected this passion is to another one of mine--Young Adult literature. 

How does a non-western teen from China, for example, understand the stories about Harry Potter? Translation, yes, but some things can't  just be simply translated. There are often no cognates that exist between English and Chinese and many English words have multiple translation equivalents in Chinese. That's why some  of those "EASY-TO-FOLLOW" assembly instructions leave you scratching your head.

Okay, let's say some translator manages to make the young wizard's trials and tribulations understandable. What about all those allusions, references and underlying cultural assumptions that are embedded in Rawling's books? 

Here's how the Chinese "help" their readers understand certain references to Western culture. They added some serious, scholarly footnotes. The problem is while serious and definitely scholarly in appearance, there are a few, er, errors? I've borrowed a few from a more serious and more scholarly source. If you're interested in reading more of these, here the link:Footnotes to the Mainland Chinese Translation of Harry Potter (or all you needed to know about Western culture)

1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Footnote, Chapter 1: Kent is in the south of England. Yorkshire is in the north of England. Dundee is a port in the north of England. 

Do the Scots know Dundee has been hauled over near Liverpool?

2. Harry and the Chamber of Secrets

Footnote, Chapter 6: Bandon: A port city in the southwest of Thailand. 

My source and I have a hunch that Rowling referred to Bandon in Ireland, not Thailand. This explanation needs some 'splaining. 

3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Footnote, Chapter 28: The English word 'bug' (put a listening device in) also has the meaning of 'bedbug'

This explains very clearly, why Ron asked, "Bugged?" Now we see there were fleas involved and the Brit's MI5 may be implicated. 

4. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Footnote, Chapter 15:  In English, the first letter in 'Poor' is 'P'; the first letter in 'Dreadful' is 'D', the first letter in 'Outstanding' is 'O', the first letter in 'Exceeds Expectations' (what is normally known as 'Good') is 'E', and the first letter in 'Acceptable' is 'A'.

And there you have the explanation for the West's grading system. I always wanted an E on my report card.


  1. This is really interesting. Translations are a sticky business.

  2. WHoa. Interesting!!! II imagine it would be very difficult to get a perfect translation, but it must translate good enough with the popularity in so many languages! The world adores Harry! :)

  3. Lol those are some interesting notes. But having done Mandarin, I can see where things got really sticky when it came to Harry Potter. ^_^

  4. I've wondered about 'ideal' translations before, but never researched it. It's the same idea as some American phrases just can't be properly translated into French. Their meanings end up being askew. Very interesting topic. Thanks for embracing the YATT Meme!

  5. Very funny. I just saw the play Chinglish, which was a laugh riot of brutalized lingo. Also, when I went to China last year, we laughed our faces off at many signs, such as: Please Slip Carefully!!!!!

  6. Those sorts of things make it all the more interesting. :) We probably murder their language, too.

  7. Huh. I hadn't given it much thought. Interesting post, Lee! :)

  8. Very enlightening! And pretty funny, too. :)

  9. Yikes! It's not so easy to translate, is it? Bedbugs...

  10. How interesting. And what a challenge to translate!!

  11. I remember having to explain to my own kids that "trainers" were athletic shoes when they read the Potter books. They also liked to say "tuck in" to their meals once they'd heard it. Bedbugs takes the cake though.

  12. This would be hilarious if it wasn't so sad. Those poor kids trying to read HP in translation must become so confused.

  13. Good thing I wasn't drinking anything or I would have spewed it all over the monitor and keyboard! Too funny! It's so wonder we have difficulty understanding directions that come with items made in China. However, I give them an "A" for effort. :)

  14. My school reports have taken on a whole new meaning now. Shame it took so long to realise that my teachers thought I was a genius! We do some translation and the worst, but funniests jobs are those where the client thought they could do it themselves and now need somebody to untangle it all.

  15. Hmmm, yes, Bandon is my mother's hometown, I'm reasonably confident it's where we left it in Ireland!

  16. Now I'll be dreaming about bedbugs! Coincidentally, Meryl Streep mentioned in an interview how " ma" in Chinese has three different meanings depending on the tone. They are mother, horse and an undisclosed swear word.Thanks for the informative and entertaining post! Julie

  17. Ha! Love it! I've been doing something similar with street signs (I'm in Barcelona), and it's really too funny how things get lost in translation!

  18. Thank you C.Lee. I wish you the best.

  19. Dundee being in "north England" will not go down well with the Scottish Nationalist Party.
    Take care

  20. What an interesting post! I have actually wondered about how the translations of HP (and other books) are done. I have a copy of The Sorcerer's Stone that a friend got me from Germany. I do not speak or read German- but the book looks very cool. Along with it they also got me the HP English to German Dictionary, which explains some of the English terms in it. Looks like some things got lost in translation in the Chinese versions. :)



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