Harry Potter in Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese Translation


Magical Hieroglyphs and Logograms



Simplified Chinese (China)
Mófǎ túfú-jí
魔法 mófǎ = 'magic'.
图符 túfú = 'pictures and symbols, picture symbols'.
= 'collection'.
Collection of magical picture symbols
Traditional Chinese (Taiwan)
Shénmì xiàngxíng wénzì yǔ fúhào tú'àn
神秘 shénmì = 'mysterious'.
象形 xiàngxíng = 'pictographic, logographic'.
文字 wénzì = 'letters'
= 'and'.
符號 fúhào = 'symbol'.
圖案 tú'àn = 'pattern, design'.
Mysterious pictographic letters and symbolic designs
Mahō shōkei-moji to kigō-moji
魔法 mahō = 'magical'.
象形 shōkei = 'pictographic'.
文字 moji = 'character, letter'.
to = 'and'.
記号 kigō = 'sign, symbol'.
文字 moji = 'character, letter'.
Magical pictographic characters and symbolic characters
Những Ký Hiệu Tốc Ký và Chữ Tượng Hình Pháp Thuật những = plural marker
ký hiệu (記號) = 'symbol, sign'.
tốc ký (速記) = 'stenography, shorthand'.
= 'and'.
chữ () = 'letter, character, word'.
tượng hình (象形) = 'pictographic'.
pháp thuật (法術) = 'magic'.
Stenographic symbols and magical pictographic letters

The main intent of this title is to convey a forbidding and mysterious impression. Most people, after all, are not experts on exotic writing systems. The actual meanings of the terms are:


    Hieroglyphics are the oldest system of Egyptian writing. By the end of ancient Egyptian civilisation, when Egypt became part of the Roman Empire, hieroglyphics had ceased to be used for anything but formal religious purposes. Eventually all knowledge of them died out and they came to be regarded by later generations as symbols imbued with secret meaning, a notion that continues until this day. (The mystery of hieroglyphics was actually dispelled when they were deciphered in the 19th century, the story of which can be found at Hieroglyphics and its Decipherment and The Decipherment of Egyptian Hieroglyphics Text). 'Hieroglyphics' is also applied to the script used by the Ancient Maya of Central America.

    Egyptian hieroglyphics were a mixed system, employing both ideograms (sense-signs, often pictographic in nature) and phonograms (roughly alphabetic in nature). In fact, the phonograms were actually ideograms used for their sound value — the same symbol might be used as an ideogram in one place and as a phonogram in another. Moreover, although phonograms quite adequately spelt out the pronunciation of words, ideographic signs (known as 'determinatives') were also added beside sets of phonograms to indicate meaning. Had the ideograms and determinatives been omitted, hieroglyphics would have been almost alphabetic. (For an introduction to reading Hieroglyphics, see Hieroglyph Lessons). Mayan hieroglyphics were also phonetic in nature — try this site to see the Mayan alphabet.

    Interestingly, Egyptian hieroglyphics bear some similarities to Chinese writing: both systems spell out both meaning and pronunciation. Moreover, Chinese characters historically went along a similar road to hieroglyphics, towards indicating sound rather than meaning. However, at a certain stage the Chinese fell in love with the idea of adding an indicator of meaning (or 'radical') to each character, especially those that had started to function phonetically. As a result, the majority of Chinese characters nowadays carry within themselves an indication of both meaning and sound, although not in a very systematic or predictable way.


    A logogram is a symbol standing for a complete word ('logos' = word).

    Within ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, the ideograms can be considered logograms. They were simple graphic representations of objects; as such, each ideogram stood for a single word. By contrast, the phonograms represented individual sounds and had to be strung together to spell out words.

    The name 'logogram' is also often applied to Chinese characters, which are said to represent whole words. In fact, Chinese characters in the modern language must be seen as something smaller than a word . They represent morphemes, the building blocks from which words are created. Morphemes may themselves be complete words in some cases; in others they are the mere components of words. (For more information, see the Chinese Writing System).

Leaving aside the strict meaning of 'hieroglyph' and 'logogram', the paramount notion contained in the title 'Magical Hieroglyphs and Logograms' is one of a mysterious magical writing system consisting of pictorial symbols with a hidden meaning. This, and not the literally accurate meaning, is what a translation must strive to convey.

    The Mainland translation takes a spartan approach, lumping the two terms together as 图符 túfú, 'pictures and symbols' or 'pictorial symbols'. This term is relatively abstract (indeed, it is used to translate the word 'Symbol' in Flash manuals in Chinese) and does not convey the feeling of mystery residing in words like 'hieroglyph' or 'logogram'.

    The Taiwanese translator follows the English more closely. First there is 象形文字 xiàngxíng wénzì ('resemble-shape writing'), the Chinese term for pictographic writing. These are characters that graphically represent objects directly. Examples include yuè and , which graphically represent 'the moon' and 'a tree' respectively. True pictograms are only one small category of Chinese character.

    Secondly, the Taiwanese translator uses 符號圖案 fúhào tú'àn, meaning 'symbol' and 'pattern, design' — together meaning 'symbolic design'. Symbolic designs are in keeping with the concept of magical symbols.

    For 'hieroglyphic', the Japanese translator uses the same term as the Taiwanese translator: 象形文字 shōkei-moji, i.e. 'pictographic symbols'. For 'logogram', however, the Japanese uses 記号文字 kigō-moji, meaning 'symbolic letters'.

    The Vietnamese translation refers to 'pictographic letters' or chữ tượng hình, in exactly the same way as the Taiwanese and Japanese translations. Somewhat mysteriously, however, it also refers to những ký hiệu tốc ký, 'shorthand symbols'!

Category: Language

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