Celebrating “Harry Potter” in Asian Languages for AAPI Heritage Month
We have all laughed and cried over the original Harry Potter books since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997. Over the years, fans have also had the opportunity to explore Potter in different languages. From France launching its first official translation of Harry Potter in 1998 to Germans celebrating 20 years of Harry Potter in 2018, we have enjoyed reading our favorite Harry Potter books in translation for the past 23 years. To honor Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month this May, we are delving into the translations of Harry Potter into Asian languages and learning more about fandom events in Asia.
Harry Potter books have been translated into 79 languages worldwide, including 23 Asian languages across more than 18 countries.
Potter Translated into Asian Languages
Among Asian countries, India has Harry Potter translated into seven languages, which is the highest number of translated editions in one country. The languages include Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil, and Telugu. Indian Potterheads are very passionate, with reports indicating that 170,000 original copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were sold on the day of its release.
These translations weren’t just sold in India. For example, Bengali translations of Harry Potter books were distributed not only in West Bengal (India) but also across Bangladesh.
The books have also been translated into Chinese, with simplified Chinese editions distributed largely in China, along with sets in traditional Chinese language, which are distributed in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. Three of the Harry Potter books are translated into Tibetan and distributed in Tibet. According to one Potter fan in Beijing, the publishers of the Chinese editions revealed new covers for the 20th anniversary of the translations in 2020.
Thailand has also recently published new cover editions of Harry Potter to celebrate the 20th anniversary. The cover illustrator, Apolar, described his experience of working on the covers as “dreams come true” on his Instagram page.
But what about the other 13 Asian languages that have Potter translations? According to the Potter Collector, the other translated Asian languages are Arabic (Saudi Arabia), Armenian (Armenia), Indonesian (Indonesia), Japanese (Japan), Korean (South Korea), Malaysian (Malaysia), Mongolian (Mongolia), Nepali (Nepal), Persian (Iran), Sinhala (Sri Lanka), Tagalog (Philippines), Urdu (Pakistan), and Vietnamese (Vietnam).
Magic of Translation
Fans have taken to the question-and-answer site Quora to share their experiences regarding the translated editions of Harry Potter and how the magic of the series has been conveyed in their language. In response to a question about whether it is better to read Potter in English or Hindi, one fan responded that the translation does not take away from the charm of the books:
They’re better read in the language which you consider yourself to be native in.
English is naturally what it was written in, so the content is naturally suited, but the translations were more than capable of maintaining the charm of the original.
When asked how Harry Potter-specific words like “Mudblood” and “Muggle-born” or the names of spells were translated into Chinese (Mandarin), one fan from Malaysia provided some insight into one important character name:
The Chinese name for Voldemort, Fudimo (伏地魔), has became synonymous with a difficult person in normal usage. It’s used to describe a person who is easily angry and wicked in nature. The meaning of the three characters are:
伏 Fu – hide
地 Di – floor/earth
魔 Mo – monster/devil
He also broke down some of the few other wizarding world words that were translated into Chinese:
Muggle is translated as Magua (麻瓜) – the meaning of the first character is numb or flax, and the second character means melon. The translation is a direct translation of the sound of Muggle and has nothing to do with [the] actual meaning of the characters used.
Mudblood is translated as Nibazhong (泥巴种）- the meaning of the first two characters combined is mud or mud sludge; and the meaning of the third character is species. This translation is a literal translation of the term Mudblood. The actual Chinese word for blood is xue (血); but the blood here means bloodline, so the character for species is used instead.
Also on Quora, someone asked if there are any mistranslations of Harry Potter, and the thread is savage! The answer section looks like a reunion of Asian and European Potterheads. One Bangladeshi fan responded with some literal translations of certain words:
They had tried idiotic translation of magical terms.
wand – (জাদুদণ্ড [jadudondo]) magic stick
goblin – (দুষ্ট জাদুকর [dushto jadukor]) naughty magician
He also mentioned how the translator translated Ron’s saying of Hagrid losing his mind as “he’s lost his marbles.” He said that this translation left him perplexed, wondering where the marbles went and why it was important. Speaking of importance, he mentioned how the translators skipped a lot of parts to keep the book small:
What did they leave out?
Why, Ron’s epic chess match. Yeah, totally unimportant. Easily discardable.
A fan from India said some of the Hindi translated words are quite funny. She mentioned the literal translations of spells or names, such as “Slytherin” being Nagshakti (“power of cobra”) and “Expecto Patronum” being Pitridev Sanrakshanam (“father’s protection”). She also revealed that “Sorting Hat” was translated as Bolti Topi (“talking hat”), and “Muggle” became Magloo, which apparently makes little sense.
Another fan from India said even though the Tamil editions are not mistranslated, some interpretations of words might sound a bit strange.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – Harry Potterum Maaya theekkoppaiyum (Harry Potter and the magical cup of Fire)
During the first [T]riwizard task, Hermione shouts [at] Harry to use his wand, which when translated to Tamil became manthirakkol (magic stick).
To that Harry uses [A]ccio [F]irebolt (this is the golden one) – Parakkum thodappam varattum (let the flying broom come)…
A fan from Jakarta revealed a completely different approach taken by the Indonesian translations.
The translator is actually really good [at] translating the idiom and wordplays.
However, the Indonesian version [keeps] a lot of English wordplays such as spells, names and places. Apparently, this action left a problem for Indonesians, which is English pronunciation.
They explained that although Indonesian uses a Roman alphabet, like English, the pronunciation is Dutch-influenced rather than British-influenced. This led to some confusion around the pronunciation of names and spells for Indonesian fans.
As many Indonesians aren’t really fluent in English, this prompted Indonesian readers to mispronounce the names horribly and created a sort of broken Indonesian-English pronunciation. Most of us got the correct pronunciation from either the films or English-fluent friends.
All in all, fans have been extremely intrigued and involved in experiencing the best of magic, both in English and in translation.
Asian Potterheads and Events
Magic and magical events are an escape for Potterheads to take a break from their Muggle life, and Asian Potterheads truly give us examples of how to celebrate the best of magic amid our daily life hustles.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Bloomsbury publishing Philosopher’s Stone, the British Council hosted Harry Potter Festival for Potterheads across Bangladesh in 2017. The event was hosted in collaboration with Libraries Unlimited, which is a British Council project in partnership with the Ministry of Cultural Affairs in Bangladesh. The event took place not only in the public library of Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, but also in the public libraries of Chittagong, Sylhet, Khulna, and Rajshahi as a part of the collaboration.
The event included various activities like an art competition, a treasure hunt, quizzes & games, a magic show, a magic potion classroom, Diagon Alley (an exhibition of Harry Potter props), and a panel discussion on “Snape was the worst kind of nice guy ever.” Around 2,000 Potterheads of all ages celebrated the magical festival.
Another event, named Expecto Patronum, was hosted in 2019 by a Bangladeshi-based book club, Litmosphere. The event included Hogwarts class-themed magical seminars along with various magical games and sessions. One of the seminars was Defense Against the Dark Arts, which focused on the importance of compassion and the role of hobbies in mental health awareness. Another was the Care and Conservation of Magical Creatures, which focused on a lecture on animal care by animal rights activists from an organization named Care for Paws.
The event included tarot card reading, crystal ball reading, table Quidditch, and a photo booth session with Cousin Kai. Here all the attendees took a photo with Kai (Sirius Black’s cousin, Sirius was unable to attend!) for a small fee. All the proceeds that were collected from the photo session were donated to Care for Paws.
In 2017, Vietnam also celebrated the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter. Along with the support of Tre Publishing House and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Vietnam’s largest Harry Potter fan club, the British Council hosted numerous events, including interactive games, trivia, and drawing contests in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Since 2016, Indonesia has been hosting Harry Potter Book Night parties, the event that is celebrated globally on the first Thursday of every February. In 2020, an event at a Kinokuniya bookstore in Senayan, Central Jakarta, had a Triwizard Tournament theme and was well received by fans, some of whom cosplayed as their favorite characters for the occasion. The magical party has always attracted around 100 Indonesians to attend the event, making it successful every year, not just for the fans but also for the stores, since the events result in blooming the sales of Harry Potter merchandise or new editions of Harry Potter books.
It has been a fun ride for us to take glimpses of Asian wizarding world fandoms, their languages, and extraordinary events that help us improve our Muggle life, giving us new meaning and making us love Harry Potter even more. Did we miss anything that you would like to share with your fellow witches and wizards? Comment down below, and let us know!