Harry Potter in Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese Translation

Home > Passages >



The Treatment of 'For' Clauses (Book 2)


'For' is a rather special conjunction. First, it is used mainly in written English. It is quite uncommon to hear 'for' in speech, and if it is heard, it signals a significant shift in style, to a poetic, literary, or declamatory style. Using it tends to sound affected.

'For' looks like a fancy alternative for 'because', but while the meanings of the two overlap, to the extent that they are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference of emphasis.

There are (at least) two different ways that conjunctions like 'for' and 'because' can be used. The difference is clear in the following sentences:

The first sentence is a simple statement of the cause of the man's being wealthy -- the fact that he has worked hard all his life means that he has saved up a lot of money and is now well off.

'Because' in the second sentence gives the grounds for making the statement or judgement that he is rich. In other words, it presents an explanation for or elaboration of the speaker's assertion. This is quite different from stating the source of his wealth.

While both 'because' and 'for' can be used in either meaning, 'because' is possibly more at home with the first (stating a cause) and 'for' with the second (stating the reason for an assertion). Given that it tends to be used to explain why an assertion or judgement is made, the meaning of 'for' tends to be broader and vaguer than straight cause-and-effect. At its most extreme, 'for' can cease to have much real meaning at all.

Rowling seems to have a weakness for the conjunction 'for'. The following examples are from the Sorting Hat's Song:

In this case, the reason or explanation for telling you to 'keep your bowlers black, your top hats sleek and tall' is the fact that the speaker, the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, is better than them all. There is a clear logical thread here -- the Hogwarts Sorting Hat is better, so we don't need all those other kinds of hat. This is not the case in the next example:

There is no rhyme or reason to the statement that you're in safe hands because the Hogwarts Sorting Hat is a 'thinking cap'. In fact, one would suspect that a 'thinking cap' would be much more dangerous than an ordinary cap! The 'for' in this case is fairly empty of content, a filler used for rhetorical effect.

There are two examples of 'for' in the description of the Basilisk in Book 2, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. In the same vein as the two examples above, we will find that one quite clearly offers an explanation or reason for an assertion. The other offers a specific cause.

Examples of 'for' in the description of the Basilisk.

Example 1

The third sentence contains an occurrence of 'for', as follows:

This is a good example of the broad use of 'for'. 'For' indicates that the following is an explanation of or elaboration on the assertion that the Basilisk's 'methods of killing are most wondrous'. The sentence can be paraphrased: 'Why do I say that its methods of killing are most wondrous? The reason for making such an assertion is that, apart from its deadly and venomous fangs, the Basilisk has a murderous stare'. This is followed by a further elaboration of the effect of the murderous stare using the conjunction 'and'.

'Because' would be less appropriate here. 'Because' would be appropriate in a sentence like: 'The Basilisk is to be avoided at all costs because, aside from its deadly and venomous fangs, it has a murderous stare'. The Basilisk's deadly nature is a good objective reason for avoiding it, which is why 'because' sounds right here.

Any translation should reflect the explanatory relationship between the assertion of the wondrousness of the Basilisk's methods of killing and the description of those methods, a relationship that is broader than a straightforward cause and effect.

Mainland version:

Tā shā rén de fāngshì shífēn jīngrén, chúle tā zhìmìng de dúyá wài, Shéguài de dèngshì yě néng zhì rén sǐwáng, rènhé rén zhǐ yào bèi tā de mùguāng dīngzhù, jiù huì lìkè sàngmìng
Its method of killing people is quite amazing; besides its fatal venomous fangs, the snake-monster's stare can also cause people to die; any person simply needs to be fixed by its eyebeam, he/she will immediately die.

This version does not try to draw an explicit connection. Instead, the translator simply follows one statement with another. In all there are three statements, each independent in nature, in which the second and third statements act as an elaboration on the preceding statement:

This translation reflects an accurate grasp of the function of the conjunction 'for'.

The Taiwanese version is very similar to the Mainland version:

Tā zuì bù kě sīyì de tèdiǎn shì tā shālù de fāngfǎ, chúle tā nà zhìmìng de dúyá zhī wài, Shéyāo hái yōngyǒu yìzhǒng shārén de níngshì, ér suǒyǒu yǔ tā shìxiàn xiāngjiē de rén dōu huì lìkè sǐqù
Its most curious feature is its method of killing; apart from its fatal venomous fangs, the snake-monster also possesses a kind of murderous stare, and all people who come into contact with its eyebeam will immediately die.

The Taiwanese translator splits the sentence into two separate parts:

The second sentence uses the written form ér to join the two parts together, a direct equivalent of the word 'and' in the original English.

Japanese version:

Koroshi no hōhō wa hijō ni mezurashiku, dokuga ni yoru sasshō to wa betsu ni, Bajirisuku no hitonirami wa chimeiteki de aru. Sono me kara no kōsen ni torawareta mono wa sokushi suru.
The method of killing is extremely rare; apart from killing by means of venomous fangs, one stare from the Basilisk is fatal. A person who is caught in the beam from its eyes will die instantly.

The Japanese version splits the sentence somewhat differently. Formally, there are two sentences in the Japanese:

The first sentence is composed of two parts, i.e., the assertion that its killing methods are extremely rare and the explanation that, apart from killing with its venomous fangs, the Basilisk can kill with one glance. The two parts are joined by the word 珍しく mezurashiku, which is the sentence-linking form of the adjective 珍しい mezurashii, 'to be rare, strange'. As we have seen elsewhere (see the treatment of the relative clause), this form, known as the ren'yokei, suspends the sentence without completing it. The sentence then continues with the explanation of the Basilisk's killing methods. The ren'yokei can be seen as empty of any specific function -- its function is simply to link -- but is often used to imply a causal link. This non-specific form is a good rendition of the broad meaning of explanation or elaboration conveyed by 'for' in the original English.

The Japanese translator does not bother with the 'and' of the original English, putting the mechanics of the 'murderous beam' in a separate sentence.

Vietnamese version:

Phương cách giết người của nó thật kỳ lạ: ngoài những chiếc răng nanh có nọc độc chết người, Tử Xà còn có một cái nhìn giết người, tất cả những ai bắt gặp ánh mắt của Tử Xà, thì chỉ một cái nhìn cũng đủ chết ngay lập tức.
Its method of killing people is most strange: apart from the fangs which possess poison and kill people, the Death Snake has a murderous stare, all who meet the eye of the Death Snake will die instantly from just one glance.

The Vietnamese translator renders the word 'for' as a colon (:). The function, as in English, is to indicate that what follows is the content or explanation of what went before.

The Vietnamese thus also grasps and renders correctly the function of 'for' in this sentence.


Example 2

The second example is a more straightforward causal connection:

The fleeing of the spiders is a direct result of the fact that the Basilisk is their mortal enemy. This could be just as well expressed with 'because': 'Spiders flee before the Basilisk because it is their mortal enemy'.

In this case the causal connection can be made explicit in translation.

Mainland version:

Zhīzhū kàn dào Shéguài jiù hùi táopǎo, yīnwèi shéguài shì zhīzhū de sǐdí.
Spiders will flee if they see the snake monster, because the snake monster is the deadly enemy of spiders.

The Mainland translator makes the causal relationship explicit using the conjunction 因为 yīnwèi 'because'.

The Taiwanese version:

Zhīzhū jiàndào Shéyāo jiù huì luòhuāng ér tào, yīnwèi tā shì tāmen de tiāndí,
Spiders will flee in confusion if they see the snake monster, because it is their fatal enemy.

The Taiwanese translator also uses the conjunction 因為 yīnwèi 'because'.

Japanese version:

Kumo ga nigedasu no wa Bajirisuku ga kuru maebure de aru. Naze nara Bajirisuku wa kumo no shukumei no tenteki da kara de aru.
The escaping of the spiders is a harbinger of the coming of the Basilisk. This is because the Basilisk is the mortal natural enemy of the spiders.

The Japanese also makes the causal relationship explicit. Normally, a sentence like this would be expressed in Japanese as バジリスクは蜘蛛の宿命の天敵だから蜘蛛は(バジリスクから)逃げ出す (Bajirisuku wa kumo no shukumei no tenteki da kara kumo wa (Bajirisuku kara ) nigedasu, 'Because the Basilisk is the mortal natural enemy of the spiders, spiders flee (from the Basilisk)'. In this sentence the 'because' clause comes first.

However, the translator chooses to preserve the English order, which dictates a little rearranging. The main clause is transformed into the more elaborate 'The escaping of the spiders is a harbinger of the coming of the Basilisk'. This makes good sense in the context of the story as it explains why multitudes of spiders were seen scurrying out of Hogwarts. The 'because' clause then uses a special construction: 'because' is transformed into the short phrase なぜなら naze nara, literally meaning 'if why', i.e., 'If you ask why', and the sentence is ended with だからである da kara de aru, 'it is because....' In other words, the sentence means, 'If you ask why, it is because the Basilisk is the mortal natural enemy of the spiders'. This peculiar construction appears to have arisen in response to the demands of translating from English into Japanese, possibly in language-learning situations. Its main virtue is that it allows the original order of the English to be preserved.

Vietnamese version:

Nhền nhện thường trốn chạy trước khi Tử Xà xuất hiện, bởi vì đó là kẻ tử thù của chúng.
Spiders always flee before the Death Snake appears, because it is their deadly enemy.

Like the Chinese translators, the Vietnamese translator chooses to make the causal connection explicit with the conjunction bởi vì 'because'.

One very interesting point about this sentence is the fact that it goes on to say that the Basilisk is afraid of the crowing of the cock because this is fatal to it. However, the expression of cause is achieved using a relative clause rather than a conjunction. See The Treatment of Relative Clauses in the Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese Translations of the Description of the Basilisk in Harry Potter (Book 2) for an analysis of this.


Summing up

The two examples above represent somewhat different uses of the conjunction 'for' in English. The first is broader in function, indicating that what follows is an explanation of the previous clause, giving a basis for making that particular statement ('Its methods of killing are wondrous'). In none of the four translations is the conjunction 'for' expressed as explicitly as in the English original. All four to varying degrees use juxtaposition -- one statement simply following the other -- to express the idea of an elaboration or explanation of the first statement.

The second example is a narrower usage indicating the reason for the spiders' behaviour. It is correctly interpreted as equivalent to 'because'. All four translators have grasped this correctly.

Although 'for' is not as broad and thus not as versatile as the relative clause construction, it leaves room for different applications, depending on the intention of the author. It is possible for a writer to use 'for' frequently and for different purposes, to the extent that it can become a mannerism.

arrow up