Translating Harry Potter

Check out this great article from Entertainment Weekly about the challenges of translating the wordplay of Harry Potter, How Harry Potter translators made magic in every language.

A large part of this article is an interview with German translator Klaus Fritz. He talks about creating words in German that don’t necessarily translate to the English counterparts, but encapsulate the ideas of the objects they describe. For example, “Denkarium” (“denken” + “aquarium”) for “Pensieve”.

He also says that sometimes there’s a ready term in the target language that is almost too apt for the situation:

Sometimes the new language provides opportunities for humor that don’t exist in English. “There is an unhappy wizard in the Goblet of Fire who sadly is unable to attend the Triwizard Tournament, suffering from a condition named “lumbago.” For this medical term we have the common expression ‘Hexenschuss’ – witches’ shot. Of course I used this funny coincidence with gusto. There was no pun intended in the original, but sometimes it is legitimate to use a pun in our own language to make up for puns that we possibly lost in other parts of the translation.”

Klaus Fritz, How Harry Potter translators made magic in every language

Translators also have to pay attention to how sound- or spelling-based wordplay will work in their respective languages as well.

In one case, ‘escalator’ becomes ‘escapator.’ Trying and re-trying, I came up with ‘Rolltreppen’ (escalators) – ‘Trolltreppen’ (stairs for trolls).

Klaus Fritz, How Harry Potter translators made magic in every language

There are plenty of other languages and translators mentioned in this article, so check it out!