Harry Potter in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese & Mongolian Translation
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Chapter 9: The Writing on the Wall

 

Chinese (Mainland)
墙上的字
Qiáng-shang de zì
墙上 qiáng-shang = 'on the wall'.
de = connecting particle
= 'letters'.
Letters on the Wall
Chinese (Taiwan)
牆上的字跡
Qiáng-shang de zìjì
牆上 qiáng-shang = 'on the wall'.
de = connecting particle
字跡 zìjì = 'handwriting'.
Handwriting on the Wall
Japanese
壁に書かれた文字
Kabe ni kakareta moji
kabe = 'wall'.
ni = 'in, on' (particle of location).
書く kaku 'write' (Passive + past kakareta = 'was written', modifies the following word.)
文字 moji = 'letters'.
Letters Written on the Wall
Vietnamese (Chinese characters show etymology)
Thông điệp trên tường thông điệp (通牒) = 'message, note'.
trên = 'on'.
tường () = 'wall'.
The Message on the Wall
Mongolian (previous)
Ханан дээрх бичиг
Khanan deerkh bichig
хана khana = 'wall'.
-n = 'hidden н' (quasi-genitive).
дээр deer = 'on (top of)'.
-kh converts дээр to a verbal ('which is on').
бичиг bichig = 'writing'.
Writing on the Wall
Mongolian (new)
Ханан дээрх бичиг
Khanan deerkh bichig
хана khana = 'wall'.
-n = 'hidden н' (quasi-genitive).
дээр deer = 'on (top of)'.
-kh converts дээр to a verbal ('which is on').
бичиг bichig = 'writing'.
Writing on the Wall

The writing on the wall refers to two messages that appeared on the wall in the corridor: The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir... beware, and Her skeleton will lie in the Chamber forever.

In English, 'writing on the wall' usually evokes the biblical episode in Daniel 5:25, where a ghostly hand writes on the wall at Belshazzar's feast foretelling the fall of Babylon. The expression refers to an ominous portent.

The chapter titles are all translated directly, but because Christianity traditionally hasn't played a large role in the mainstream culture of the Orient, most readers in these languages will probably not pick up any Biblical undertones.

Writing

'Writing' refers to what has been written by someone, in this case, what was written on the wall by Ginny.

    'Writing' in the Japanese and Chinese versions is referred to as characters or letters ( or 文字 moji). The Taiwanese translation uses 字跡 zìjì (Simplified 字迹 zìjì), referring to the traces of letters, which I've rendered as 'handwriting'.

    The Vietnamese uses thông điệp 'note, message'. Note: The chapter title given here is based on the original instalments. When the single-volume Vietnamese edition appeared, this chapter title was omitted altogether and the content of 'The Writing on the Wall' incorporated into 'The Deathday Party'. As a result, the single-volume edition jumps directly from Chapter 8 to Chapter 10.

    Both Mongolian translations use the ordinary word for writing or letters, бичиг bichig.

On the Wall

Prepositional phrases after nouns (on the pattern 'Noun + preposition + Noun') are taken for granted in English but not necessarily found in other languages.

In English, 'on the wall' can follow a verb as an adjunct:

She wroteon the wall

It can also follow a noun, in which case, it can be understood as the abbreviation of a relative clause:

the writing on the wall
writing (which is) on the wall

While many languages are happy to use prepositional phrases as adjuncts to a verb, they are not necessarily happy to attach them directly to a noun. In translating English constructions like 'the writing on the wall', they must come up with alternative structures.

In Chinese, 'to write on the wall' is actually a double-verb construction. This is because so-called 'prepositions' in Chinese are basically reduced verbs. In this case, the preposition / verb zài 'to be, exist' pairs up with xiě 'to write'. A concrete indicator of place (上 shàng 'top') follows the noun:

(zài) qiáng-shang xiě zì
(be) wall-on write letters

For 'letters which are written on the wall', the sequence 'on wall write' must, like most adjectives, be connected to the following noun with the connecting particle de:

(zài) qiáng-shang xiě de
(be) wall-on write connector letters

This can be simplified to 'wall-on's letters':

qiáng-shang de
wall-on connector letters

The Japanese version follows a similar logic. First, following a verb in a full sentence:

kabe no ue ni moji o kaku
wall connector on locative particleletters object particle write

Unlike Chinese, Japanese can have a verb directly modify a following noun (no need for a particle like de):

kabe no ue ni kakareta moji
wall 's on locative particle be written letters

The verb 書かれた kakareta is the past tense, passive form of 書く kaku 'to write'. The meaning is 'letters which were written on the wall'.

This can also be expressed as 'letters which are on the wall':

kabe no ue ni aru moji
wall 's on locative particle are letters

Like Chinese, Japanese can go one step further and use a simple connecting particle ( no) in the absence of a verb, that is, 'wall's on letters':

kabe no ue no moji
wall 's on connector letters

However, in this translation the translator chooses to retain the verb 'be written' rather than have a verbless phrase (の上の no ue no or no) directly modify 'letters' (文字 moji).

In Mongolian, the form using a verb is roughly the same as Japanese:

khanan deer bichig bichikh
wall-on letters write

Like the Japanese, this can be converted into the equivalent of a relative clause, 'letters which were written on the wall:

khanan deer bichsen bichig
wall-on wrote letters

This can be further reduced to 'letters which are on the wall' using the attributive form of the verb байна bain 'to be' (i.e. байгаа baigaa):

khanan deer baigaa bichig
wall-on are letters

But unlike Japanese, Mongolian has an alternative up its sleeve: the suffix , which can attach to words of location:

khanan deer-kh bichig
wall-on being letters

This special form helps make Mongolian more flexible than Japanese in handling 'preposition + noun' combinations.

Only Vietnamese is able to retain the same structure as English:

Thông điệp trên tường
Message on wall

Similar structures are found at the following chapters:

The Letters from No One, The Journey from Platform Nine and Three Quarters, The Man with Two Faces The Boggart in the Wardrobe, Mayhem at the Ministry, Christmas on the Closed Ward, The Ghoul in Pyjamas, The Flaw in the Plan.

(A summary of this chapter can be found at Harry Potter Facts. Detailed notes on the chapter can be found at Harry Potter Lexicon)

Chapter 8
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