Harry Potter in Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese Translation


The Golden Egg's Clue (Book 4)


The hint for the second task in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was contained in the golden egg that Harry took from the Hungarian Horntail in the first task. When he first opened the egg, all Harry heard was a loud and screechy wailing. Thanks to help from Cedric Diggory and Moaning Myrtle, Harry finally managed to listen to what the egg said, by opening it under the water in the Prefect's bathroom (Book 4 Chapter 25). The egg's hint came as a chorus of eerie voices, the song of the Merpeople, singing the words below.

When Harry went into the lake in order to rescue Ron, he had the opportunity to hear a reprise of the clue as the Merpeople warned that time was passing quickly (see below):


Come seek us where our voices sound,
We cannot sing above the ground,
And while you're searching, ponder this:
We've taken what you'll sorely miss,
An hour long you'll have to look,
And to recover what we took,
But past an hour - the prospect's black
Too late, it's gone, it won't come back.

(Mer-song in the lake):

An hour long you'll have to look,
And to recover what we took...,
... your time's half-gone, so tarry not
Lest what you seek stays here to rot....

The English is in rhymed, metered verse. The two Chinese translators actually make the lines rhyme -- the Taiwanese translator uses the same rhyme throughout. But reproducing the sing-song meter of the English proves an insurmountable challenge: even in the Chinese versions, the lines are of widely varying lengths.

As a point of translation, the main difficulty is the rendition of the 'what' construction in 'what you'll sorely miss' and 'what we took'. This relative clause construction can be paraphrased as 'that which'. However, this is a vague construction that doesn't actually spell a noun out. It could be interpreted as meaning 'the thing that we took', but in fact it is vaguer than that because 'thing' is not spelt out. Rowling takes advantage of this vagueness to surprise us when we find that what the Merpeople took was not things but people.

The problem of translation is how to be equally vague in a foreign language. See the notes below to find out how the translators deal with this problem.

Simplified Chinese (China)


(Mer-song in the lake):


Xúnzhǎo wǒmen ba, zài wǒmen shēngyīn xiǎngqǐ de dìfang,
Wǒmen zài dìmiàn-shàng wúfǎ gēchàng.
Dāng nǐ xúnzhǎo shí, qǐng zǐxì sīliang:
Wǒmen qiǎng zǒu le nǐ zuì xīn'ài de bǎobèi,
Nǐ zhǐ yǒu yī-ge zhōngtóu de shíjiān,
Yào xúnzhǎo hé duóhuí wǒmen ná zǒu de wùjiàn,
Guò le yī xiǎoshí biàn xīwàng quánwú,
Tā yǐ chèdǐ xiāoshì, yǒng bù chūxiàn.

Zhǐ yǒu yī-ge zhōngtóu de shíjiān,
Yào xúnzhǎo hé duóhuí wǒmen ná zǒu de wùjiàn...
Bié zài tuōyán, shíjiān yǐ guòqù yībàn,
Yǐ miǎn nǐ xúnzhǎo de dōngxi zài zhèli fǔlán...

The Mainland Chinese translator translates the 'what' construction as follows:

  • 'What you'll sorely miss': 你最心爱的宝贝 nǐ zuì xīn'ài de bǎobèi -- 'the treasure that you love most'. This works because 宝贝 bǎobèi 'treasure' refers to a treasured object, but can also be applied to people with a meaning something like 'darling' (such as a baby or loved one).
  • 'What we took': 我们拿走的物件 wǒmen ná zǒu de wùjiàn -- 'the object that we took'. This is a much less successful rendering. It appears to represent a desperate but feeble attempt to avoid using the word 东西 dōngxi 'thing', which is an insult when applied to people in Chinese.

Traditional Chinese (Taiwan)


(Mer-song in the lake):


Qiánlái xúnzhǎo wǒmen, dào wǒmen sǎngyīn qīngxī de dìfang,
Wǒmen wúfǎ zài lùdì shàngmiàn gēchàng,
Dāng nǐ sǎoxún shí, qǐng zǐxì sīliang:
Wǒmen duó zǒu nǐ zuì bú shě de zhēncáng,
Nǐ bìxū zài yī-ge zhōngtóu nèi sìchù xúnhuàng,
Bìng ràng wǒmen duóqù de shìwù chóngfǎn gùxiāng,
Dàn guò le yī-ge zhōngtóu -- qiántú jiāng àndàn wúguāng,
Shíjī yǐwǎn, tā jiāng yuǎn qù, yǒng bú zài huídào nǐ de shēnpáng.

Nǐ bìxū zài yī-ge zhōngtóu nèi sìchù xúnhuàng,
Bìng ràng wǒmen duóqù de shìwù chóngfǎn gùxiāng...
Nǐ de shí yǐ qùdiào yībàn, bié zài tuōyán yóudàng
Yǐ miǎn nǐ xúnzhǎo de dōngxi zài zhèli fǔlàn shēnwáng ...

The Taiwanese translator's rendition of the 'what' clauses has been rather badly affected by the attempt to create a rhyme scheme. The need to find words ending in ang results in a couple of very broad translations.

  • 'What you'll sorely miss': 你最不捨的珍藏 nǐ zuì bú shě de zhēncáng -- 'collection most grudgingly parted with'. The word 珍藏 zhēncáng refers to rare and valuable items that have been collected and treasured. It is a fairly broad interpretation (although perhaps not overly so in the case of a riddle) to apply this to friends or girlfriends.
  • 'What we took': 我們奪去的事物 wǒmen duóqù de shìwù -- 'the thing/object that we took'. The Taiwanese translator has also been unable to come up with a better word than 事物 shìwù, meaning 'thing, object, reality'.


探しにおいで 声を頼りに
地上じゃ歌は 歌えない
探しながらも 考えよう
われらが捕らえし 大切なもの
探す時間は 一時間
取り返すべし 大切なもの
遅すぎたなら そのものは もはや二度とは戻らない

(Mer-song in the lake):

探す時間は 一時間
取り返すべし 大切なもの…
…時間は半分 ぐずぐずするな
求めるものが 朽ち果てぬよう…

Sagashi ni oide   koe o tayori ni
Chijō ja uta wa   utaenai
Sagashi-nagara mo   kangaeyō
Warera ga toraeshi   taisetsu na mono
Sagasu jikan wa   ichi-jikan
Torikaesu beshi   taisetsu na mono
Ichi-jikan sono nochi wa -- mohaya nozomi wa arienai
Ososugita nara   sono mono wa   mohaya nido to wa modoranai

Sagasu jikan wa   ichi-jikan
Torikaesu beshi   taisetsu na mono
...Jikan wa hanbun   guzuguzu suru na
Motomeru mono ga   kuchihatenu yō...

The Japanese translator is somewhat more successful in translating the 'what' clause thanks to the existence in Japanese of a reasonably vague and appropriate word. The key expression that is used is:

  • 大切なもの taisetsu na mono -- 'important thing'. 大切 taisetsu is used to refer to something that is held dear. The word もの mono means 'thing, object, substance, matter, reason', etc. It can also mean 'person'. In the first sense it is usually written with the character , in the second with the character . Here it will normally be interpreted as a 'thing', but the word もの mono is broad and vague enough in its meaning to encompass people without too much strain.


Tìm chúng tôi ở nơi nghe được tiếng chúng tôi
Chúng tôi không thể hát lên trên mặt đất
Và khi tìm kiếm, các bạn hãy cân nhắc điều này:
Chúng tôi lấy đi cái mà bạn sẽ nhớ ghê lắm
Một tiếng đồng hồ dài bạn sẽ phải tìm
Và phục hồi cái mà chúng tôi đã lấy
Nhưng nếu quá một tiếng đồng hồ - viễn cảnh sẽ đen tối
Quá trễ, nó sẽ mất, nó sẽ không trở lại.

(Mer-song in the lake)

Một tiếng đồng hồ dài bạn sẽ phải tìm
Và phục hồi cái mà chúng tôi đã lấy…
…đã hết một nửa thời gian của bạn rồi, cho nên đừng nấn ná
…kẻo cái mà bạn tìm kiếm sẽ mục rữa ở nơi đây

To translate the 'what' construction, the Vietnamese translator uses a word meaning 'thing':

  • cái mà bạn sẽ nhớ ghê lắm 'thing that you will miss terribly'.
  • cái mà chúng tôi đã lấy 'thing that we took'.

While it has connotations of being a 'thing' as in English, cái is somewhat more abstract than the English noun 'thing' and is also used in expressions approximating to 'that which'.

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