Bathrobe's 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 'Wish I knew what he (Percy) was up to,' said Fred, frowning. 'He's not himself. His exam results came the day before you did; twelve OWLs and he hardly gloated at all.'

'Ordinary Wizarding Levels,' George explained, seeing Harry's puzzled look.
The first time OWLs appears. George explains the meaning. It is clear that OWLs comes from the initials of the name 'Ordinary Wizarding Levels'.
Chinese (Mainland)

O.W.Ls zhèngshū
'O.W.Ls certificates'

O.W.Ls stands for:
Pǔtōng Wūshī Děngjí Kǎoshì
'Ordinary Wizard Level Exam'

The translation gives the English acronym and the full name in Chinese.
Chinese (Taiwan)

Percy's exam results:
O.W.Ls shí-èr jí
'O.W.Ls Level 12'

O.W.Ls stands for:
Pǔtōng Wūshù Děngjí
'Ordinary Wizardry Level'

The translation gives the English acronym and the full name in Chinese.

Percy received:
jū-ni fukurō
'12 owls'

George explains that 『ふくろう』 fukurō ('owl') is:

  • A test you sit for at 15 years of age,
  • Means:
    Futsū (O) mahō (W) reberu (L) shiken
    'Ordinary (O) Wizarding/magic (W) Level (L) exam'
  • Is known as O・W・L ふくろう from the initials. (The small lettering ふくろう fukurō above 'O.W.L' indicates the pronunciation.)
The Japanese translator goes out of her way to ensure that:
(1) the name of the exam is fukurō ('owl'),
(2) the link between 'O.W.L' and fukurō ('owl') is shown, and
(3) it is clear how 'O.W.L' is derived from the initials of the English name.
In addition, she volunteers information about the age at which one sits for the exam, which is not even mentioned in the original English! This is presumably based on the actual British Ordinary Levels.
Vietnamese Percy got 12 P.T.T.Đ.

P.T.T.Đ stands for:
Phù Thủy Thường Đẳng (Vietnamese translation of 'Wizard's Ordinary Level').

The name of the exam is an accurate translation of the English and no-one could argue with the acronym. But the translation captures none of the playfulness of the English 'O.W.Ls'.


2. Book 2 Chapter 13 ('The Very Secret Diary')

English (Harry:) 'I wouldn't mind knowing how Riddle got an award for special services to Hogwarts, either.'

'Could've been anything,' said Ron. 'Maybe he got thirty OWLs or saved a teacher from the giant squid.'
No explanation is given. Readers are assumed to know what OWLs means since it has already been explained earlier.
Chinese (Mainland)

Translated as 'caught 30 owls' (i.e., the flying kind that catches rodents at night).

A mistranslation -- the translator obviously forgot what OWLs was.
Chinese (Taiwan) 巫術等級三十級鑑定考試
Wūshù Děngjí sān-shí jí jiàndìng kǎoshì
'Wizardry Levels, level 30 assessment exam'
Gives the name in Chinese, which includes an indication of what it is ('assessment exam'). '30 OWLs' becomes level 30, which seems to be a misinterpretation. No acronym.

Ron suggests that Riddle may have 'passed 30 subjects in:
O・W・L 試験
O.W.L shiken
'O.W.L exam'

The English acronym plus an indication of what it is ('exam'). This time the translator forgets to call the exam fukurō ('owl').

Riddle must have got 30 O.W.L.

Explanatory footnote:
O.W.L stands for 'Ordinary Wizarding Level', obtainable after overcoming a series of exams at the end of the 5th year. Provisionally known as Phù thủy Thường đẳng ('Wizard's Ordinary Level')

The translator uses the English acronym O.W.L without change. The footnote explains (1) the derivation of O.W.L from the name of the exam in English, (2) the nature of the exam, (3) the meaning in Vietnamese. There is no explanation of the pun ('O.W.L' = 'owl').


3. Book 3 Chapter 16 ('Professor Trelawney's Prediction'):

English Even Fred and George Weasley had been spotted working; they were about to take their O.W.Ls (Ordinary Wizarding Levels). Percy was getting ready to sit his N.E.W.Ts (Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests), the highest qualification Hogwarts offered. Both O.W.Ls and N.E.W.Ts mentioned with the meaning in parentheses. Notice that OWLs has now become O.W.Ls (with full stops inserted).
Chinese (Mainland) O.W.Ls(普通巫师等级)考试
O.W.Ls (Pǔtōng Wūshī Děngjí ) kǎoshì
'O.W.Ls (Ordinary Wizard Level) Exam'

N.E.W.Ts (终极巫师考试)
N.E.W.Ts (Zhōngjí Wūshī kǎoshì )
'N.E.W.Ts (Ultimate Wizard Examination)'

The derivation of O.W.Ls and N.E.W.Ts from their English names is not explained.
The puns in the English acronyms ('owls' and 'newts') are not explained.
The facetious tone of 'Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests' is not clearly reproduced.
Chinese (Taiwan)

'O.W.Ls' (Pǔtōng Wūshù Děngjí ) Jiàndìng kǎoshì
'"O.W.Ls" (Ordinary Wizardry Level) assessment exam'

'N.E.W.Ts' (Chāojí Píláo Hōngzhà Wūshù Cèyàn)
'"N.E.W.Ts" (Super Fatigue Bombing Wizard's Test)'

The derivation of O.W.Ls and N.E.W.Ts from their English names is again not explained.
The puns in the English acronyms ('owls' and 'newts') are not explained.
However, the humour of the N.E.W.Ts full name is reproduced.疲勞轟炸 pí-láohōng-zhà 'fatigue bombing' refers to a barrage of stress or pressure that tests one's endurance to the limit.
Japanese O・W・L ふくろう )(標準魔法レベル)試験
O.W.L (Hyōjun Mahō Reberu) Shiken
'O.W.L (Standard Magic Level) Exam'

N・E・W・T いもり )(めちゃくちゃ疲れる魔法テスト)
N.E.W.T (Mecha-kucha Tsukareru Mahō Test)
'N.E.W.T (Incredibly Tiring Magic Test)'
  • The small lettering (known as furigana) above the name of each exam is ふくろう fukurō ('owl') for the O.W.L exam and いもり imori ('newt') for the N.E.W.T test.
The Japanese version tries to capture both:
(1) The pun on 'owl' and 'newt' and
(2) The humour of the official name for N.E.W.T is captured with the slang expression めちゃくちゃ mecha-kucha(originally meaning 'incoherently, absurdly, preposterously', now meaning just 'incredibly' or 'very'.

Note: the full Japanese name for the O.W.L exam has changed:
futsū ('ordinary') has become hyōjun ('standard').
Vietnamese bằng B.P.T.T.Đ (Bằng Phù thủy Thường đẳng)
'B.P.T.T.D diploma (Wizard's Ordinary Level diploma)'

K.T.P.T.T.S. (Kiểm tra Pháp thuật Tận Sức)
'K.T.P.T.T.S (Strength-exhausting Magic Test/inspection)'

Vietnamese acronyms, with the full Vietnamese name given in parentheses. The acronyms have nothing to do with owls or newts.
Also, a superfluous 'B' for 'diploma' has been added to the Vietnamese acronym for 'O.W.Ls'.
'Nastily exhausting' is rendered, although rather lamely.



4. Book 3 Chapter 22 ('Owl Post Again'):

English Percy had got his top-grade N.E.W.Ts; Fred and George had scraped a handful of O.W.Ls each. No explanation given.
Chinese (Mainland) N.E.W.Ts
O.W.Ls zhèngshū
'O.W.Ls certificates'
Gives the English acronym only, no explanation. For O.W.Ls, an explanatory 'certificate' is added.
Chinese (Taiwan)

'O.W.Ls' zhèngmíng
'"O.W.Ls" certificates'

English acronym only, no explanation. For O.W.Ls only an explanatory 'certificate' is added.

N・E・W・T いもり )テスト
N.E.W.T (imori) tesuto
'N.E.W.T (newt) test'

O・W・L ふくろう )テスト
O.W.L (fukurō) tesuto
'O.W.L (owl) test'

English acronyms only, plus the word 'test'. The Japanese meaning is given in hiragana above the acronyms ('O.W.L' = fukurō 'owl', 'N.E.W.T' = imori 'newt'), which manages to capture the pun.

bằng O.W.L
'O.W.L. diploma'

The footnotes say:

(1) Abbreviation of:Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Test: Kiểm tra Pháp thuật Nhừ tử ('Beaten-into-unconsciousness Magic Test/inspection')

(2) Abbreviation of:Ordinary Wizarding Levels -- Bằng Phù Thủy Hạng Tầm Thường ('Ordinary Grade Wizard's Diploma') -- Phù Thủy Thường Đẳng ('Wizard's Ordinary Level').

English acronyms. The meaning is explained in footnotes, with the original English provided for reference.

When translating this section, the translator appears to have hit on a better way of rendering 'Nastily Exhausting', namely, 'beaten into unconsciousness'. Strangely, two alternative translations are given for 'Ordinary Wizarding Levels'.


5. Book 4 Chapter 5 ('Weasley's Wizard Wheezes'):

English Ginny: '... [Mum's] furious at them (Fred and George) anyway. They didn't get as many O.W.Ls as she expected.'

O.W.Ls were Ordinary Wizarding Levels, the examinations Hogwarts students took at the age of fifteen
The author herself inserts a word of explanation.
Chinese (Mainland)

Fred and George's mum is furious about their O.W.Ls results:
O.W.Ls chéngjī
'O.W.Ls results'.

The explanatory sentence:
Pǔtōng Wūshī Děngjí kǎoshì
'Ordinary Wizard Level Exam'

The relationship of 'O.W.Ls' to Pǔtōng Wūshī Děngjí kǎoshì is not explained.
Chinese (Taiwan)

Fred and George failed to get:
O.W.Ls (Pǔtōng Wūshù Děngjí )
'OWLs (Ordinary Wizardry Level')

The explanatory sentence:
zīgé jiǎndìng cèyàn
'qualification approval test'

The explanation uses slightly different wording from before, with O.W.Ls described as a cèyàn (test).


O・W・L ふくろう )試験
O.W.L (fukurō) shiken
'O.W.L. (owl) exam'

The explanation:

'Futsū Mahō-zukai Reberu' shiken

'Ordinary Wizard Level' exam.

The full name of the exam has been changed again. 'Wizarding' is translated Mahō-zukai ('Wizard') rather than the earlier Mahō ('Magic').
Vietnamese nhiều Chứng chỉ Phù thủy Thường đẳng (O.W.L)
'results (plural) of the Wizard's Ordinary Level (O.W.L)'

nhiều Chứng chỉ Phù thủy Thường đẳng (O.W.L) is described as loại bằng (' kind of diploma').
The name is given in Vietnamese first with the English acronym in parentheses.


6. Book 4 Chapter 15 ('Beauxbatons and Durmstrang'):


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')

'Oh, a fine way to spend six months!', [Mrs Weasley] shrieked. 'No wonder you didn't get more O.W.Ls!'


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

Hermione: '.... But they're not simple spells, I mean, we haven't done any of those in class, I only know about them because I've been doing O.W.L. practice papers...'


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


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