Harry Potter lost in translation?

By Felicia Bratu

These days everybody is talking about Harry Potter: the books, movies and games. Harry Potter covers all online and offline media. And the most interesting fact about this phenomenon is that actually, before the movies and the games, people, specifically children, loved the book.

Doctors from an Oxford hospital reported that on the weekends when two of the books were released in 2003 and 2005, the number of children who needed emergency medical attention was reduced by about 50%, compared with other weekend averages.

The books were translated into 67 languages, and Latin and Ancient Greek are two of them. They were also translated from British English to American English.

The first volume title, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was changed when translated into American English to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as the translator and the author felt that readers might confuse the word Philosopher. However, some of the readers weren’t very happy with these translations.
“Are any books immune from this kind of devolution from English to “American” English? Would we sit back and let publishers rewrite Charles Dickens or Shakespeare? I can see it now: “A Christmas Song,” “A Story of Two Cities,” “The Salesman of Venice.”
By protecting our children from an occasional misunderstanding or trip to the dictionary, we are pretending that other cultures are, or should be, the same as ours.” Peter H. Gleick, The New York Times.
A few other words which were translated into American English:

cooker – stove
roundabout – carousel
cine-camera – video camera
mummy – mommy
video recorder – VCR
jumper – sweater
comprehensive – public school
letter-box – mail slot
motorway – highway
multi-storey car park – multilevel parking garage
packet of crisps – bag of chips
trolley – cart
trainers – sneakers
jacket potato – baked potato
crumpets – English muffins
changing room – locker room
revision timetables – study schedules

Some argue that by translating into American English, we lose part of the essence of these books. I’ve seen the movies and enjoyed them very much even I am not a child anymore – personages’ British English accent is absolutely delightful and adds extra charm to the entire action.
So, whether or not we should translate from British English to American English, it seems that the general public isn’t too fond of the idea, or at least when it comes to novels.

Felicia Bratu

Felicia Bratu is the operations manager of wintranslation, in charge of quality delivery and client satisfaction. As a veteran who has worked in many roles at the company since 2003, Felicia oversees almost every aspect of the company operations from recruitment to project management to localization engineering. She recently received certification as a Localization Project Manager as well as Post-Editing Certification for Machine Translation. Felicia holds a BSc. in Industrial Robotics from the University of Craiova, Romania.