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)

 

Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley

 

The names of these alleys carry a whimsical play on 'alley' (meaning narrow side-street) and '-ally' (the adverbial ending, e.g., 'typically', 'formally', 'magically', 'verbally').

'Diagon Alley' can thus be read 'diagonally'. Diagon Alley may have been named because it runs 'diagonally' to Muggle life in London.

Knockturn Alley is a little more complicated because there is a further little trick: 'Knockturn Alley' is not 'knockturnally'; rather it's a pun on 'nocturnally'. The name may have been chosen because Knockturn Ally is a place where creatures of the night ('nocturnal creatures') hold sway. The word 'Knockturn' itself is a made-up word suggesting the action of being 'knocked' (hit) and 'turned' (bent, sent round a corner, or swivelled around).

(It has also been pointed out to me by a reader that 'ley' is a term referring to unseen magical force lines that run across the landscape, a place where magic and magical powers are partically strong. Thus, Diagonal Alley becomes Diagonal Ley and Knockturn Alley becomes Nocturnal Ley. I thank the person who pointed this out. Unfortunately I lost their e-mail in a disc crash.)

Below we'll look at the names of the two alleys as found in the Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese translations of Books 1 and 2.

 

Chinese (Mainland version)

对角巷
Duì-jiǎo Xiàng
对角 duì-jiǎo means 'diagonal', xiàng means 'alley' There is no pun, but the meaning is captured.
翻倒巷
Fān-dǎo Xiàng
翻倒 fān-dǎo means 'knock down' or 'knock over', xiàng means 'alley' The translation ignores the pun on 'nocturnally'.

Note: There several words for 'alley' in Chinese. In Beijing they are called 胡同 hútong, in Shanghai they are called 弄堂 lòngtáng. The translation opts for the regionally unmarked xiàng.

 

Chinese (Taiwanese version)

斜角巷
Xié-jiǎo Xiàng
'oblique angle alley' (斜角 xié-jiǎo means 'oblique angle', xiàng means 'alley') There is no pun involved, but the meaning 'diagonally' is captured
夜行巷
Yèxíng Xiàng
'nocturnal alley' (夜行 yèxíng means 'going in the night' or 'nocturnal', xiàng means 'alley') The translation captures the meaning 'nocturnal' but makes no attempt to render the word 'knockturn'.

 

Japanese version

ダイアゴン横丁
Daiagon Yokochō
'Diagon Alley' (横丁 yokochōmeans 'side street' or 'alley') The meaning 'diagonal' is lost;ダイアゴン daiagon is meaningless in Japanese, even more than 'diagon' is in English.
夜の闇 ノクターン 横丁
Yoru no yami (Nokutān) Yokochō
'Darkness-of-the-Night Alley' (夜の闇 yoru no yami means 'darkness of the night', 横丁 yokochō means 'side street' or 'alley'. For ノクターン Nokutān, see below) This name suggests that Knockturn Alley is a place of literal and figurative darkness.

The katakana lettering above 夜の闇 is ノクターン nokutān. (In all browsers except IE, this will appear in parentheses after 夜の闇). This is where the Japanese translation gets interesting. The effect of these letters for the Japanese reader is to show that 夜の闇 ('darkness of the night') should actually be read ノクターン nokutān. Since it is written in katakana, the assumption will be that nokutān is an English word.

In fact, ノクターン nokutān already exists in Japanese; it's a borrowing of the English word 'nocturne' meaning 'a musical piece dealing with the evening or night'. Most adult Japanese are therefore likely to connect nokutān with the loanword 'nocturne'. If they are not familiar with the word nokutān, they will simply assume it's an English word, even though they may not know exactly what it means.

To sum up, when reading this name, a Japanese reader will see the following:

    1. the meaning of the name in Japanese ('darkness of the night');
    2. the fact that this name should be read with the pronunciation nokutān, not yoru no yami;
    3. in deciphering the meaning of nokutān, many literate Japanese will make an association with the loanword 'nocturne' meaning 'musical piece dealing with the evening or night'.
    4. if the reader is not familiar with the word 'nocturne', it will be assumed that nokutān is an English word. However, very few are unlikely to deduce that the original English is 'Knockturn'.

 

Vietnamese version

Hẻm xéo Hẻm means 'alley', xéo means 'oblique, slanting' Like the Chinese and Taiwanese versions, this captures the meaning but not the pun.
Hẻm Knockturn Hẻm means 'alley', Knockturn is 'Knockturn' (needless to say, no meaning in Vietnamese).
A footnote gives the pronunciation of 'Knockturn' as Cờ-nốc-tơn. Notice that the 'k' is supposed to be pronounced according to this transliteration!

 

Comment: Since there is no way of rendering the pun on 'Alley' and '-ally' in any of the three languages, the translators settle for 'Alley'.

For Diagon Alley, the Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese translations are all because they convey the meaning and flavour of the name, although losing the pun. The Japanese solution, adopting the English name without change, is rather poor and must be awarded a

For Knockturn Alley, the Taiwanese and Mainland versions are all . The Japanese version must be described as The Vietnamese version, adopting the English name without change (and with an incorrect pronunciation) does not handle the word play effectively and must be awarded a

 

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