Parseltongue, Gobbledegook, and Troll: Translating Harry Potter
When we read the Harry Potter series, we notice them all. Those clever wordplays, alliterations, rich accents and meaningful last names Jo Rowling conjured up from the tip of her pen. Yet, while we sometimes pause to analyze the second or third meanings of Dumbledore’s name or marvel over how all those Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes inventions just seem to roll off your tongue (Canary Cream, Ton Tongue Toffee, etc.), most of us never think about the amount of work involved to translate it all into another language. In the case of alliterations, when the words don’t match in the target language, what should be translated: the sounds (Wimbourne Wasps) or the meaning? How do you translate Hagrid or Seamus’ accent? How about Fleur Delacour’s or Madame Maxime’s accents in French? And what about wordplays that can’t be translated literally; what should be done about those?
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Nearly-Headless-Nick said: “That’s the mark of a good house-elf, isn’t it, that you don’t know it’s there?” In a way, that quote can also be associated to translators, who work tirelessly behind the scene, and often against the clock and the illegal translations, to ensure that millions of readers who don’t speak English can lose themselves in the world of Harry Potter in their own languages, or in second or third languages they are learning.
Join French Canadian professional translator Josée Leblanc and and Brazilian translation student Amanda Pavani as they discuss various aspects and heartbreaking choices translators sometimes have to face when translating a series like Harry Potter. Please note that you do not need to be fluent in Parseltong, Gobbledegook, Troll or any other common language (other than English, that is) to be able to follow this podcast, as examples are back translated into English to ease listeners’ comprehension.