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)


O.W.Ls and N.E.W.Ts


Students of wizardry have exams like everyone else. In Hogwarts, there are two levels that students must pass. The first is O.W.Ls, which stands for 'Ordinary Wizarding Levels'. Then there is N.E.W.Ts, the 'Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests', the highest level that Hogarts offers.

O.W.Ls and/or N.E.W.Ts are mentioned in a number of places, and the treatment is subtly different at each mention. Here I cover six separate mentions (Note: because each mention is analysed separately, this example of word play is rather long).

Ideally, the translator should come up with names that can be abbreviated to the Chinese, Japanese, or Vietnamese word for 'owl', 'newt', or some other creature (yeti, maybe?) of the wizarding world.

Barring this, the translation should at least try to convey the English pun by explaining (1) how the letters O.W.Ls and N.E.W.Ts are derived from the full names of the exams and (2) the fact that 'O.W.Ls' and 'N.E.W.Ts' are actually a pun on the English words 'owls' and 'newts'.

In addition, the translation should attempt to convey the comical tone of the N.E.W.Ts official name, 'Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests'.

How is this treated in the CJV translations?

None of the four translations tries to reproduce the pun in the target language (Chinese, Japanese, or Vietnamese). Only the Japanese translator actually tries to explain the pun involved in calling the exams O.W.Ls and N.E.W.Ts.

1. Book 2 Chapter 4 ('Flourish and Blotts'):


English 'You are now entering a most important phase of your magical education,' she (Professor McGonagall) told them, her eyes glinting dangerously behind her square spectacles. 'Your Ordinary Wizarding Levels are drawing closer -'

'We don't take O.W.Ls 'til fifth year!' said Dean Thomas indignantly.
A subtle touch: Professor McGonagall uses the full name, and Dean Thomas abbreviates it in his protest.
Chinese (Mainland)

Prof. McGonagall uses the English abbreviation:
O.W.Ls kǎoshì
'O.W.Ls exam'.

Dean Thomas uses the explanatory:
jíbié kǎoshì
'ranking/levels exam'

The Chinese translator here decides not to worry about the derivation of the name or the pun. This is an improvement because it gives a simple and natural explanation of the exam rather than directly translate from the English.
Chinese (Taiwan)

Professor Macgonagall uses:
'Pǔtōng Wūshù Děngjí' Cèyàn
'Ordinary Wizard Level' Test

Dean Thomas uses:
'O.W.Ls' Cèyàn
'O.W.Ls' Test

Professor Macgonagall uses the full name in Chinese with an explanatory 'test' cèyàn added to the name.

By using the English acronym, Dean Thomas equates the Chinese name back to the English acronym 'O.W.Ls'. There is no explanation of the derivation or the pun.


Professor Macgonagall uses:
"O.W.L", ippan ni "fukurō" to yobareru "Futsū Mahō Reberu Shiken"
"O.W.L", usually called the "Ordinary Magic Level Exam"..

Dean Thomas uses:

The translator has Prof Macgonagall give the abbreviation plus an explanation of 『O・W・L』, resulting in an unnatural, verbose style of speech. Needless to say, Prof. Macgonagall is explaining "O.W.L" to the reader, not to the students.

Prof. McGonagall and Dean Thomas both use the unabbreviated Vietnamese form.

McGonagall uses:
kỳ thi Phù thủy Thường đẳng
'Wizard's Ordinary Level Exam'

Dean Thomas uses:
bằng Phù thủy Thường đẳng
'Wizard's Ordinary Level Diploma'

Just the Vietnamese names in full.

Summing up:

The Japanese translator is most effective at demonstrating the pun in English. The origins of the initials are conveyed at the first mention and some connection is also drawn at later mentions. The fact that 'O.W.Ls' is a pun on 'owls' and 'N.E.W.Ts' is a pun on 'newts' is conveyed fairly consistently by using furigana, i.e, lettering above the English acronyms. This assumes at least a passing acquaintance with English in understanding the initials. Rating:

The Chinese (Mainland) and Taiwanese translators give the meaning of the full English forms on which the abbreviations 'O.W.Ls' and 'N.E.W.Ts' are based, but do not at any place give either the original English name on which the acronym is based or the Chinese words for 'owl' or 'newt', which would explain the pun. Rating:

Leaving aside extremely poor consistency, the Vietnamese translator does try to explain the derivation from the English by giving both the original English expression and the meaning in Vietnamese in at least two places. However, no attempt is made to relate the abbreviations 'O.W.Ls' and 'N.E.W.Ts' to English or Vietnamese 'owls' and 'newts'. Rating:


Other mentions (to be updated):

Book 4 Chapter 6 ('The Portkey')


Book 4 Chapter 20 ('The First Task'):


O.W.Ls and N.E.W.Ts


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