Harry Potter in Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese Translation

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Treatment of Puns and Word Play in Translating Harry Potter
(Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese)

 

Once or twice a minute all summer

 

In Chapter 5 of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Fred and George rag their elder brother Percy for continually harping on his new status as Prefect:

The humour lies in the gradual unfolding of the phrase 'once - or twice - a minute - all summer'. Initially it sounds as though Percy only mentioned it once, but each additional word or phrase increases the frequency until Percy is accused of mentioning it constantly right through the summer holidays.

Once
Once or twice
Once or twice a minute
Once or twice a minute all summer

The technical problem in translating this phrase is the fact that other languages don't necessarily follow the same word order as English. That somewhat spoils the humorous effect of one word being added at a time. For instance, Japanese in its most neutral word order would be:

一夏中一分間に一、二回
hitonatsu-jū ippunkan ni ichi ni kai
'whole summer one minute once or twice'

Naturally, there would be no joke if this order was followed. The stickiest part is 'once or twice a minute', which must usually be expressed as 'a minute once or twice' in these languages.

So the translators have had to improvise a little.

Chinese (Mainland)

“哎呀,珀西,你原来是长呀?”孪生兄弟中的一个用非常吃惊的口吻说。“你早该告诉我们,我一点都不知道呢。”
“慢着,我想,我记得他说过,”孪生兄弟中的另外一个说,“说过一次——”
“说不定是两次——”
“等一会儿——”
“说了整整一个夏天呢——”
“哎呀,住嘴。”级长珀西说。

“Āiyā, Pòxī, nǐ yuánlái shì zhǎng ya?" luánshēng xiōngdì-zhōng de yíge yòng fēicháng chījīng de kǒuwěn shuō, "Nǐ zǎo gà gàosu wǒmen, wǒ yìdiǎn dōu bù zhīdào ne."
"Màn-zhe, wǒ xiǎng, wǒ jìde tā shuō-guo," luánshēng xiōngdì-zhōng de lìngwài yíge shuō, "Shuō-guo yícì --"
"Shuōbudìng shì liǎngcì --"
"Děng yìhuǐr --"
"Shuō le zhěngzhěng yíge xiàtian ne --"
“Āiyā, zhù zuǐ," Jízhǎng Pòxī shuō.

"Oh, Percy, you were a prefect?" One of the twin brothers said with a very surprised tone, "You should have told us earlier, I didn't know at all."
"Wait a minute, let me think, I remember you spoke of it," said the other of the twin brothers, "Spoke of it once --"
"Maybe twice--"
"Wait a minute--"
"Spoke of it the entire summer--"
"Oh, shut up," said Prefect Percy.

Glossary of Chinese words (Mainland edition) -- opens in small window

While this retains the actual sequence of the English, the meaning is changed.

English sequence
Once
or twice
a minute
all summer
Chinese sequence
Once
or twice
wait a minute!
all summer

The key sequence 'once / or twice / a minute' is converted into 'once / or twice / wait a minute...' and then leaps directly to 'the entire summer'. The effect is to break the momentum for a moment before going on to the final blow.

(It should be kept in mind that the Mainland translator of Book 1 appears to have actively referred to the Taiwanese version (below) when doing her translation.)

Chinese (Taiwan)

『喔,原來你是級長啊,派西?』其中一個雙胞胎說,語氣和神情都顯得非常驚訝,『你為什麼提都不提一聲,我們完全不知道呢。』
『慢著,我好像記得,他跟我們談過這件事,』另一個雙胞胎說,『大概說過一次——』
『或是兩次——』
『說了一分鐘 ——』
『說了一整個夏天——』
『喔,住口。』 派西級長說。
"Wō, yuánlái nǐ shì jízhǎng a, Pàixī?" qízhōng yíge shuāngbāotāi shuō, yǔqì hé shénqíng dōu xiǎnde fēicháng jīngyà, "Nǐ wèishńme tí dōu bù tí yì shēng, wǒmen wánquán bù zhīdào ne."
"Màn-zhe, wǒ hǎo xiàng jìde, tā gēn wǒmen tán-guo zhè jiàn shì," lìng yíge shuāngbāotāi shuō, "Dàgài shuō-guo yícì --"
"Huòshì liǎngcì --"
"Shuō le yìfēn zhōng --"
"Shuō le yì zhěngge xiàtian --"
"Wō, zhù kǒu." Pàixī jízhǎng shuō.
"Oh, you were a prefect, Percy?" One of the twins said, his tone and air both seeming very surprised, "Why didn't you mention it even once, we didn't know at all."
"Wait, I seem to remember, He talked about this matter to us," said the other twin, "he spoke of it roughly once --"
"Or twice--"
"Spoke of it for a minute--"
"Spoke of it the whole summer--"
"Oh, shut up." Percy Prefect said.

Glossary of Chinese words (Taiwanese edition) -- opens in small window

Like the Mainland version above, the Taiwanese translation follows the sequence of the English exactly.

English sequence
Once
or twice
a minute
all summer
Chinese sequence
Once
or twice
for a minute
for the whole summer

Once / or twice / a minute / all summer is split into two separate sequences: a frequency sequence (once / or twice) and a period of time sequence (for a minute / for the whole summer).

This approach manages to retain the humorous buildup from small units to large.

Japanese

「おお、パーシー、君、監督生になったのかい?」
双子の一人がわざと驚いたように言った。
「そう言ってくれればいいのに。知らなかったじゃないか」
「まてよ、そういえば、なんか以前に一回、そんなことを言ってたな」ともう一人の双子。
「二回かな.....」
「一分間に一、二回かな.....」
「夏中言ってたような.....」
「だまれ」と監督生パーシーが言った。
"Ō, Pāshii, kimi, kantokusei ni natta no kai?"
Futago no hitori ga waza-to odoroita yō ni itta.
"Sō itte kurereba ii no ni. Shiranakatta ja nai ka"
"Mate yo, sō ieba, nanka izen ni ikkai, sonna koto o itte-ta na" to mō hitori no futago.
"Nikai ka na ....."
"Ippun-kan ni ichi, nikai ka na ....."
"Natsu-jū itte-ta yō na ....."
"Damare" to kantokusei Pāshii ga itta.
"Oh, Percy, you've become a prefect?"
One of the twins said in a deliberately surprised way.
"You should have told us. We didn't know!"
"Wait, now that you mention it, he did say something about something like that once before" (said) the other twin.
"Maybe twice..... "
"Maybe once or twice a minute....."
"I seem to remember he talked about it all summer....."
"Shut up" said Prefect Percy.

Glossary of Japanese words -- opens in small window

The Japanese version follows both the sequence of units and the meaning exactly.

English sequence
Once
or twice
a minute
all summer
Japanese sequence
Once
or twice
once or twice a minute
all summer

The sticking point posed by 'once or twice a minute' is overcome by repeating 'once / or twice' after 一分間に ippun-kan ni ('per minute'). Thus, the sequence becomes 'once / or twice / once or twice a minute / all summer '. While not as smooth-flowing and humorous as the English, the Japanese does convey both the correct meaning and the correct impression.

Vietnamese

Một trong hai đứa sinh đôi tỏ vẻ ngạc nhiên:
"ủa? Anh là huynh trưởng hả anh Percy? Lẽ ra anh phải nói chớ! Tụi em chẳng biết gì cả."
"Có má," đứa sinh đôi thứ hai nói chen. "Khoan, tao nhớ có lần ảnh có nói gì đó về vụ huynh trưởng. Hình như có một lần..."
"Hổng chừng hai lần..."
"Để nhớ coi..."
"Hình như nói suốt mùa hè..."
Anh Percy huynh trưởng bảo:
"Thôi im nào!"
One of the twins seemed surprised:
"Oh, You are a Prefect, Percy? You should have told us! We didn't know this at all. "
"Yes he did!" the second twin interrupted, "Wait, I remember some times you mentioned something about the matter of a prefect. Seems liike there was one time..."
"Maybe twice..."
"Let me try to remember..."
"Seems like (he) said it all summer..."
Percy Prefect said:
"Shut up!"

Glossary of Vietnamese words -- opens in small window

The Vietnamese struggles with the translation of the sequence and changes 'a minute' to the expression 'try to remember'. This is similar in effect to the Mainland Chinese translation.

English sequence
Once
or twice
a minute
all summer
Vietnamese sequence
Once
or twice
let me try to remember
all summer

(Thanks to Quyen Ta Thi Phuong of ESP Vietnamese school in Hanoi for help with the Vietnamese).

 

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