Harry Potter in Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese Translation
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Harry Potter:
Mistranslations in the Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese versions

 

Is a cupboard a place for putting cups in? (Taiwanese and Chinese versions)

 

When he was growing up with the Dursleys, we all know that poor Harry had to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs, along with lots of spiders. The two Chinese versions translate Harry's cupboard as 碗橱 wǎnchú and 碗柜 wǎnguì, both meaning 'bowl cabinet', strongly suggestive of a piece of furniture for keeping crockery in.

The image that is conjured up is one of Harry squeezed tightly among shelves designed for cups and plates. It's hard to imagine Uncle Vernon pushing through the door to visit Harry in a cupboard this small, as he does in the third chapter of Book 1.

Actually, a crockery cupboard is probably not quite what the author meant. In fact, although it's written 'cup + board', which suggests a place for putting cups in, 'cupboard' is pronounced something like 'kubbid'. In British English, at least, a cupboard often refers to a recess or piece of furniture with a door - what the Americans would call a 'closet'. It generally has shelves in it, but they're not necessarily the cramped shelves that you'd expect to keep crockery on.

But since the world that Harry lives in is a little larger than life, perhaps it's understandable that the Chinese translators didn't bat an eyelid at stuffing a little boy into a crockery cupboard. After all, anything's possible in a place where cars can fly and trains leave from platform 9 and three quarters!

(To convey the meaning of 'cupboard', the Japanese translation uses the term 物置 mono-oki meaning 'store room' or 'lumber closet' and the Vietnamese uses phòng xép meaning 'side room, closet'.)

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