Harry Potter in Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese Translation


Broken Balls: When Fortunes Turn Foul



Chinese (Mainland)
Pòsuì de qiú: mìngyùn bù jí de shíhou
破碎 pòsuì = 'break'.
de = connecting particle
qiú = 'ball'.
命运 mìngyùn = 'fate'.
= 'not'.
= 'auspicious'.
de = connecting particle
时候 shíhou = 'time'.
Broken ball — When Fate is Inauspicious
Chinese (Taiwan)
Omitted from the Taiwanese version
球が割れる ー ツキが落ちはじめたとき
Tama ga wareru — tsuki ga ochi-hajimeta toki
tama 'ball'
割れる wareru = 'to crack, break' (intransitive).
ツキ tsuki = 'luck'
落ちはじめる ochi-hajimeru 'begin to fall'.
とき toki = 'time'.
Ball breaks — when luck has begun to fall
Vietnamese (Chinese characters show etymology)
Những Trái Cầu Bể: Khi Vận May Hóa Trò Xỏ Lá những = plural marker
trái = quantifier (classifier)
cầu = 'ball' (cầu = ).
bể = 'broken'.
khi = 'when'.
vận may = 'good luck' (vận = ).
hóa = 'to become' (hóa = ).
trò = 'to play trick'.
xỏ lá = 'rogue, rude, impolite'.
Broken balls: when good luck turns to roguish tricks

The Taiwanese translation fails to include the title at all.

The title 'Broken Balls' is one of the author's more wicked little jokes. Contrary to what might be expected it refers to the crystal ball of fortune-tellers.

This title contains a little grammar. It's pretty easy but some explanation might help.

Broken Balls

The English uses the noun (plural) 'balls', referring to crystal balls in a general sense. This is modified by the past participle of 'break'. The English verb 'break' could be transitive ('someone broke the ball') or intransitive ('the ball broke (naturally)'), but 'broken' here clearly represents the resulting state. Thus:

    broken* balls
    * past participle of broken

The Chinese translates this literally. 破碎 pòsuì = 'to break into pieces, shatter' is followed by the particle de, which links it to the following noun qiú = 'ball'. Thus:

    pòsuì de qiú
    break link ball

The meaning is 'broken ball'. Like English, the modifier comes before the noun.

破碎 pòsuì 'break into pieces' is a loose compound verb made up of 'to break' + suì 'break into pieces'. suì is understood as a resultative, that is, 'into pieces'. 破碎 pòsuì, like 'broken', can refer to a state.

As is common with Chinese verbs, it's not at all clear whether 破碎 pòsuì is transitive or intransitive (i.e., 'someone broke the crystal ball into pieces' or 'the crystal ball broke (naturally) into pieces'). Chinese is relatively fluid and is often happy to put the object of the verb in topic position, meaning that 破碎的 pòsuì de could mean 'that which broke something' or 'that which broke'. Unless it was important to make it clear that 'the ball was broken by someone', Chinese would not normally use a passive here (被破碎 bèi pòsuì).

The Vietnamese can be interpreted in a similar way ('broken ball'), but the modifier comes after the noun. Note that 'ball' (cầu) in Vietnamese is marked with a classifier trái (for round things) and a plural marker.

    những trái cầu bể
    plural + classifier ball break

However, the Vietnamese can also be understood as a simple sentence:

    những trái cầu bể
    plural + classifier balls break

That is, the meaning can be understood as 'The balls break'.

The Japanese translator, on the other hand, clearly translates the sentence as 'balls break'. The verb is in non-past (present) time, here indicating an action that is currently occurring, about to occur, or is 'out of time' in an abstract sense of 'breaking'. The noun tama 'ball' is the subject and thus takes the subject particle ga.

    tama ga wareru
    ball subject particle breaks

The verb 割れる wareru is intransitive, indicating that the ball probably broke naturally. The transitive form of the verb is 割る waru 'to break (something)'. 球を割った tama o watta would mean '(I/he/you) broke the ball'. 球が割られた tama ga warareta (using passive voice) would mean 'the ball was broken (by someone)'.

The Japanese word for 'ball' is tama, written with the Chinese character (in Chinese read qiú). Tama can also be written , in which case it has a slightly different meaning, such as jewel, marble, or eyeball.

When fortunes turn foul

All translations use a term roughly equivalent to 'luck'.

    Chinese uses 命运 mìngyùn, which means 'fate'.
    Vietnamese uses vận, which is a borrowing from Chinese (simplified , as seen in the Chinese title).
    The Japanese translator could have used the equivalent word un, but instead chose the more colloquial term ツキ tsuki, related to the broad all-purpose verb つく tsuku (ついている tsuite iru 'be lucky'). Note that ツキ is written in katakana as a method of emphasising that the word has particular semantic connotations, in this case 'luck'.

The English uses the verb 'turn' to indicate a change of state (from good to 'foul'). This is not rendered uniformly in translation.

The Chinese translator avoids using a verb indicating change. Instead she uses an adjective in the negative form 不吉 bù jí 'inauspicious, adverse'. The Chinese literally means 'fate is inauspicious / adverse'.

The Vietnamese retains the sense of change with the verb hóa 'to become'. Instead of 'luck turning foul', the translator uses the concept of 'good luck' (vận may) turning into 'roguish tricks' (trò xỏ lá).

Japanese refers to luck 'falling off' or 'going down' (ツキが落ちる tsuki ga ochiru). The translation uses the compound verb 落ちはじめる ochi-hajimeru = 'to begin to fall', composed of 落ちる ochiru 'to fall' and はじめる hajimeru 'to begin'.

Grammatically, the 'when' clause of the English is echoed in all the translations.

Vietnamese resembles English in using an interrogative pronoun (khi 'when') for 'when' clauses and in having a similar word order to English.

    khi vận may hóa trò xỏ lá
    'when good luck turns to roguish tricks'

Chinese and Japanese both use words meaning 'time'. In purely grammatical terms, the 'when' clause modifies the noun 'time':


    mìngyùn bù jí de shíhou
    'luck not auspicious link time'

The use of de is the same construction as that used for 'broken balls'.


    tsuki ga ochi-hajimeta toki
    'luck began to fall time'

Unlike Chinese, which always requires the small linking particle de, in Japanese the verb comes immediately before the noun. The verb here is in the past tense (落ちはじめた ochi-hajimeta), indicating that the action is in past time — luck has already started falling.

Category: Divination

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