clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Harry Potter and the translator's nightmare

Translating the British wizarding world of Harry Potter was not for the faint of heart — or vocabulary.

The Harry Potter books have sold more than 400 million copies worldwide and been translated into more than 60 languages. The books are filled with a tricky mix of wordplay, invented words, songs, allusions, British cultural references, and more. Translators were tasked with adapting J.K. Rowling's devices to fit the language and culture of their target audience.

Translators weren't given a head-start — they had to wait until the English editions came out to begin the difficult and lengthy task of adapting the books. Working day and night, translators were racing against intense deadlines. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the longest book in the series at 870 pages for the US edition, was originally published on June 21, 2003. Its first official translation appeared in Vietnamese on July 21, 2003. Not long after, the Serbian edition was released in early September 2003.

Still, groups of eager fans around the world, unwilling to wait for the official translations, took matters into their own hands and translated the book themselves. And there are also complete rip-offs of the Harry Potter books, including Harry Potter and the Half Blooded Relative Prince, Harry Potter and the Filler of Big, and Tanya Grotter and the Magical Double Bass, to name a few.

But how were translators able to bridge the gap between the English editions and their target readers? How do you translate Quidditch into Dutch?

Check out the video above to see some of the choices translators made while adapting this beloved series for readers around the world. You can listen to snippets of the Harry Potter and Philosopher's Stone in various languages from the University of Calgary's collection.