Bathrobe's Harry Potter in Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese Translation
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The Titles of Magical Books in Harry Potter


Olde and Forgotten Bewitchments and Charmes


Chinese (Mainland) 被遗忘的古老魔法和咒语
Bèi yìwàng de gǔlǎo mófǎ hé zhòuyǔ
bèi = passive marker
遗忘 yíwàng = 'forget' (formal).
de = connecting particle
古老 gǔlǎo = 'old'.
魔法 mófǎ = 'magic'.
= 'incident'.
咒语 zhòuyǔ = 'spell'.
Forgotten old magic and spells
Chinese (Taiwan) 古老與被遺忘的魔法符咒
Gǔlǎo yǔ bèi yìwàng de mófǎ fùzhòu
古老 gǔlǎo = 'old'.
= 'and'.
bèi = passive marker
遺忘 yíwàng = 'forget' (formal).
de = connecting particle
魔法 mófǎ = 'magic'.
符咒 fúzhòu = '(Daoist/Taoist) magic figures & incantations'.
Old and forgotten magic figures and incantations
Japanese 忘れ去られた古い魔法と呪文
Wasure-sarareta furui mahō to jumon
忘れ去られた wasure-sarareta = 'forgotten' (see below for analysis of verb construction).
古い furui = 'old'.
魔法 mahō = 'magic'.
to = 'and'.
呪文 jumon = 'spell'.
Forgotten old magic and spells
Vietnamese Những Bùa Ngải Cổ Lỗ Đã Bị Lãng Quên những = plural marker
bùa ngải = 'incantation, magic spell'.
cổ lỗ (古魯) = 'old-fashioned, very old, ancient'.
đã = 'already'.
bị () = passive marker
lãng quên = 'forget, neglect'.
Ancient forgotten spells

The structure of the Japanese verb: 忘れ去られた wasure-sarareta:

This is the past passive construction of the compound verb 忘れ去る wasure-saru 'to forget', composed of 忘れる wasureru 'to forget' and 去る saru 'to pass, elapse, be over'. The connotation of the whole is 'gone and forgotten'.

Translationese (or, the awkwardness of an attributive passive):

Putting a past participle before the noun as a modifier (as in 'forgotten magic') works fine in English but tends to result in 'translationese' in Oriental languages. These languages translate the past participle as a passive (be forgotten) .

Chinese is especially vulnerable because Classical Chinese did not deal in such complex constructions as placing long modifiers before nouns. The custom was introduced from European languages.

' bèi + verb' is the conventional Chinese translation of the English passive. (Originally, bèi was used only for actions that had an unfortunate or adverse effect on the victim. For instance, 'I was criticised by the teacher' (adverse effect) was OK but not 'I was praised by the teacher' (positive effect). However, bèi gradually came to be used mechanically to translate all occurrences of the English passive, whether adversative or not. Awkward at first, this construction gradually superseded the old usage -- although some of the old adverse meaning still clings to bèi, especially in everyday speech. For a few notes on the Passive in Chinese, see this thread and this note.)

Placing this passive construction before the noun smacks of translationese. 魔法被遗忘了 mófǎ bèi yíwàng le ('magic is forgotten') is stiff enough but 被遗忘的魔法... bèi yíwàng de mófǎ ... ('forgotten magic') is even stiffer.

The Taiwanese version is particularly awkward, using 被遺忘 bèi yìwàng ('forgotten') and 古老 gǔlǎo ('old') in parallel, linking them with 'and'. Literally, the effect is like: 'Old & Has-Been-Forgotten Magic' (or to rephrase, 'Magic Which Is Old and Has Been Forgetten').

The Mainland version tries to avoid this awkward construction. Instead of linking 'old' and 'have been forgotten' together as equals, the translator first forms the phrase 'old magic' which is then modified by 'forgotten'. The effect is something like 'Has-Been-Forgotten Old Magic' (rephrasable as 'Old Magic Which Has Been Forgotten').

Vietnamese and Japanese fare better. Vietnamese largely escapes the awkwardness of the Chinese because adjectives mostly come after the noun in Vietnamese. Instead of being forced to say 'Old and Forgotten Magic', the Vietnamese says 'Magic Old and Forgotten'. The longish phrase đã bị lãng quên 'have already been forgotten' sits much more naturally after the noun than it does before. (For an academic look at the Vietnamese passive, see this paper).

Unlike the Chinese and Vietnamese, the Japanese passive is formed with a verb ending rather than a particle. As in Chinese, the Japanese passive originally had an adversative meaning. The use of a non-adversative passive is an import from Western languages. Since Japanese has always revelled in long attributive constructions, however, the total effect of a passive preceding a noun is much less jarring than in Chinese. (For a simple note on the Japanese passive, see the Passive in Japanese).

Category: Spells and Charms (Educational and Academic)

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