biuro tłumaczeń

Literature translation

Translating literature on an example of Harry Potter book series

Do you wonder how translating books looks like? Or maybe you want to become translator? Literature translation is very complex field, noneless translating such text may bring a lot of satisfaction. Thanks to translators of literature, authors may get to the audience on a whole world. As a readers, very rarely we think about process of creating them. It seems that, work of book translator is not so easy and we don’t even realise, what challanges they are facing. Here, you will learn what literature translator have to pay attention to, during his work. You will understand, that professional literatury translation is not piece of cake.

Who can become book translator?

In translator job perfect knowledge of foreign language is simply not enough. Aside from that you have to know very well language you will translate to, Polish in this case. What are other must-have skills for translator? The rules of spelling, grammar and correct style are necessery to create worthy translation. Additionaly very useful aspect is knowledge of language culture from what we will translate. Of course there are many types of literature translations and each one is vastly different from another. That’s why every single of translators have to show some other skills. Good news are, that to become book translator you don’t need to have finished specific studies or have certificates. World got to know many brilliant translators, which got diplomas from many fields not related to their job of translator. What counts the most is talent to literature. 

What is, and on how do you translate literature text?

Types of translations are many, but we can divide them on two main types: written and spoken translations. The former focus on faithful representation of source text. Of course there is great number of methods of work, but author of translation goal is to make such literature translation, that will look and sound same as the original.  First of all translation must give feeling of original, but it can’t be too different from author version.

Who is author of Polish translation of Harry Potter books?

Who took the challange of translating to Polish Harry Potter books? On J. K. Rowling‘s series about Harry Potter, were translated by Andrzej Polkowski, one of the most brilliant literature translators in Poland. Talented Polish translator, who we can thank that Harry Potter books became bestsellers in Poland. His name you can also remember from Polish translation of “The Chronicles Of Narnia”. Author of translation did excellent job with all challanges that could appear during translation. Additionally on the end of first book “Harry Potter and Philosopher Stone” Polkowski added small dictionary, in which, he explains why he decided for certain translations. His work is the exemplary work of literatury translator. 

What are challanges in translating Harry Potter from English language?

Harry Potter series represents fantasy genre, which is one of the most complex literacy texts, with which translators works. Fantasy shows imaginary world created by author, that means we will see new characters, places or phenomens. That’s the reason why literature translations takes much more work and creativity. Additionaly, during process of translation there is need to pay big attention to few aspects that affects quality of literture translation. So, to what translator have to pay more attention? 

1. Cultural elements

When it comes to translating cultural nuances, there are only two choices. Exoticisation, which brings to target text elements from other culture and adding footnote. Second choice is domestication, that is replacing element from different culture with equivalent of target language culture. In Harry Potter there was many references to magical world, and task of translator, was to pick best technique. In fifth tome “Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix” right before end of the school year, students had to take exams called OWLs (Ordinary Wizarding Levels), those Polkowski in Polish version translated to SUMy (Standardowe Umiejętności Magiczne). Another great example, which perfectly shows problems of translating cultural aspects is game quidditch. Translator decided to leave name as it is in original. He was explaining his decision that this game was already huge interest in Poland and that most sports in this country have names that are borrowings from foreign culture.

2. Wordplay

One of the bigger challanges was  translating wordplay. Finding equivalent in target language, and at the same time keeping humour that was in original, does not come easy. Great example is real name of Voldemort. In second tome “Harry Potter and Chamber of Secrets” readers learn that “I am Lord Voldemort” is anagram to his real name, Tom Marvolo Riddle. In Polish version we got to see “Jestem Lord  Voldemort” (same meaning but it is no longer a anagram to his real name) but it was warmly welcomed by readers. Of course all of it is one big decision of translator. Reason is very simple, Polkowski wished to keep original name, at the same time resigning from humour aspect of wordplays or because translation of certain wordplays was simply impossible. Good example is famous street Diagon Alley (“diagonally”) that was translated to Ulica Pokątna. 

3. Proper names

Proper names are one of the most curious elements in whole series. Did you wonder where did  Rowling got ideas for all names of characters, places and animals? Probably yes, but not everyone realise that she thought about every single name through and through. Most of them have roots in Latin or from modification of already existing words in the English dictionary. Analising literacy translation of this series, we can see usage of different types of translation techniques. Even while most of the important names from original stayed the same, there is a astounding number of proper names that were modified.

Syrius Black (pl: Syriusz Black) in first tome was translated for “Syriusz Czarny”, but readers were displeased by it so later name was returned to its original form.

Dobby (pl: Zgredek – “zdziecinniały staruszek”), polish form comes from word “zgred” which is negative term for older man, usually grumpy one, but adding a diminutive suffix form “-ek” makes it sound nicer and gets rid of negative meaning of word.

4. Neologisms

Neologism, meaning newly created words are, to some degree, connected with previous cathegory. All proper names in Harry Potter books are neologisms, but not only those. Names of spells and elixirs as well fits here.

Horcrux (pl: horkruks) was simply polished. Because word horcrux don’t have any specific meaning and won’t tell reader much, Polkowski could decide for this kind of technique.

Interesting is translation of names of balls from quidditch. Quaffle snitch were as well simply translated by polishing them to kafel and znicz which follows the phonetic format, but bludger was replaced with tłuczek(sort of bludge weapon, bat) because bludgeon is word for a weapon.

How does translation of Harry's looks in the other languages?

If you wonder how literacy translation of Harry Potter books looks in Italian, Finnish, German lub Spanish you should check our other publications about this series.

Are you interested in book translator job?

If job of literature translator is your big dream, and lingusitic studies are not in your possibilities, you can always take part in courses preparing for job of literature translator. There you will get answers for questions like: how to become good book translator? How much usually book translator earns? What are the most popular languages to translate literature. Don’t be afraid of new challange. Literature translating is very challanging, but advantages of job of book translator will absolutely make it worth it. Not only, name of translator will always be on one of first pages of the book, additionaly author of translators usually gets to read original much earlier than other readers. It’s hard to tell number of literature translators in Poland, so you can give it a shot! Maybe professional translation of books is your road to success.

Author: Weronika Dao

Share on
Most-read articles