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)


'A peck, I mean, a pack of owls...'


English has various quaint ways of talking about a collection of animals, e.g., a herd of cattle, a flock of sheep, a school of fish, a gaggle of geese, etc. 'A peck of owls' was a slip of the tongue by Uncle Vernon in Chapter 2 of Book 5:

Uncle Vernon's mistake supplies the title of the chapter, 'A Peck of Owls'. In fact, 'peck' is perfect, conjuring up the image of a pecking flock of owls harrassing a hapless Uncle Vernon. (A peck also happens to be a unit for measuring the volume of grain -- a quarter of a bushel or approx. 8.8 - 9 litres, depending if you come from England or America -- and can be used to mean 'lots of'.)

The concept of using words like 'peck', 'herd', 'flock' is not alien to the CJV languages, which treat them as a separate part of speech, no less, known variously in English as 'measure words', 'classifiers', and 'counters' (see counters/classifiers under Word Order). But this part of speech is severely functional and is usually required grammatically with numerals. It is not as easily made an object of play as words like 'pack'. And of course, the problem in this case is coming up with a pair of words like 'peck' and 'pack' that have similar pronunciations and just the right meaning.

This is how the four translators tackle this little bit of word play:

Chinese (Mainland)

... ...yīdūi, wǒ de yìsi shì, yīqún māotóuyīng zài wǒ de jiā-li fēi chū fēi jìn. Wǒ bù yǔnxǔ, xiǎozi wǒ bù --
...... a heap, my meaning is, a group/flock of owls flying in flying out in my house. I don't allow it, boy I don't--

The Mainland translation has Uncle Vernon starting out with a 'pile/heap' of owls, which he quickly corrects to 'flock'. The word 一堆 yīdūi means 'a heap' or 'a pile' and is quite commonly used in colloquial Chinese to mean 'a lot of', exactly like 'heap' and 'pile' in English.

The Mainland translation thus deals with the wordplay by first using a colloquial expression and then correcting it to the more standard form. This must be regarded as

The chapter title is 一群猫头鹰 Yīqún māotóuyīng, which is the formally correct term for 'a flock of owls'.

Chinese (Taiwan)

... ...yīdūi, wǒ shì shūo, yīdūi māotóuyīng zài wǒ de wūzi-li chōng jìn chōng chū. Wǒ jué bù róngxǔ, xiǎozi wǒ jué bù --
...... a heap, I say, a heap of owls rushing in and out in my room. I absolutely won't allow, boy I absolutely won't--

This translation does not even have Uncle Vernon correct himself. All he does is repeat the phrase 一堆 'a pile/heap' for emphasis. It is not even clear why the translator bothers to have Uncle Vernon repeat himself given that the whole point was to indulge in some word play. This must be awarded a

The title of the chapter in the Taiwanese version is different again. The translator uses 貓頭鷹大隊 māotóuyīng dàduì, a 'squadron of owls'.


......fukurō ga tuttsuki, motoi, fukurō ga tsugi-tsugi, washi no ie o detari haittari. Yurusan zo, kozoo, washi wa zettai--
......owls pecking, I mean, owls one after another going out of and coming into my house. I won't stand for it, boy, I absolutely --

In the Japanese version, Uncle Vernon first mistakenly uses the word つっつき tsuttsuki, which is a form of つっつく tsuttsuku meaning 'to peck'. He quickly corrects this to つぎつぎ tsugi-tsugi 'one after another'. Through this similarity of pronunciation a strong semblance of the original pun is retained -- including the reference to 'pecking' in Uncle Vernon's slip of the tongue. The Japanese translator has given a lot of thought to this and the result must be described as

In the chapter title, the Japanese translator uses a completely different expression from Vernon's slip: ふくろうのつぶて fukurō no tsubute, meaning owls that are like rocks thrown, in other words, 'pelted with owls'.


- Một lũ - ý tao nói là một bầy cú, cứ xẹt ra xẹt vô nhà tao, tao hết chịu nổi rồi, thằng kia, tao sé không ...'
A band/gang -- my meaning is to say a flock of owls, zooming out and zooming into my house, I'm beyond standing it, boy, I will...

The Vietnamese has Uncle Vernon refer to a of owls, where means a 'band, gang, horde', but colloquially simply means a 'crowd, bunch, or cluster'. Uncle Vernon then corrects himself to the more neutral bầy meaning 'flock, herd, or pack'. This is similar to the effect of the Mainland Chinese version, but is if anything even better. The translation definitely deserves a

The Vietnamese chapter title is Một bầy cú, which is the neutral term for a 'flock of owls'.


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