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Harry Potter – Translation and analysis

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  1. Introduction
  2. Harry Potter: An English story
    1. A short summary of Harry Potter
    2. Harry as a boy with British habits
    3. Famous places that appear in the text
    4. Hogwarts: An English school
  3. Translating Harry Potter
    1. Translating the title
    2. Translating the proper nouns
    3. Translating Hogwarts' vocabulary
    4. The level of language
  4. Conclusion

Everybody has heard about Harry Potter, the famous book by J.K. Rowling and the famous wizard. It is, as everybody knows, a very popular novel everywhere in the world. It is particularly popular in the country where it was written. Not only children, but also many grown-ups actually love it.

We are going to analyze the content of the first book (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) and its translation into French.

Harry Potter is an English story; it is easy to find in it many allusions to Harry's country and civilization. Harry Potter is a wizard, but, before being a wizard, he is a young English boy. Many details show, in the text, where the story is set. Of course there are more elements that refer to the wizard's civilization; how could we find, beside them, those allusions to the British culture?

Another interesting thing is the translation of the book: how was it possible to translate such a book in French? It was probably very difficult, and it is interesting to see how the translator could avoid creating text too different from its original version. We can wonder, for instance, how he could have translated the words that J. K. Rowling had made up, referring to magic, such as Muggles, Hogwarts or Quidditch, to name just a few. We will therefore compare it to its French translation, made by Jean-François Ménard. We will see how the latter could keep the original humor from the text, and to what extend he could stay faithful to what the author had written.

[...] That is what Jean-François Ménard did in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone with most of the characters' or places' names. Harry Potter is still Harry Potter in French as it remains in every languages, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, his best friends, also keep their name, and it is the same for all the members of Harry's family (the Dursley's, Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon and Dudley) and for most of his teachers (Professor Quirrell or Professor McGonagall, to name a few). [...]

[...] The English title of the first book is Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. The French translator, Jean-François Ménard, could easily have translated it as Harry Potter et la Pierre Philosophale, which was the closest translation he could do. However, what is strange is that he chose to translate it as Harry Potter à l'Ecole des Sorciers. We can ask ourselves, then, why he decided to make such a modification to the title. A translator should remain as faithful as possible to the original text, especially with the title, which is the first element to be read. [...]

[...] One of the characters says that Charlie Weasley 'could have played [Quidditch] for England if he hadn't gone off chasing dragons', and Harry asks, chapter 14, if there are wild dragons in Britain. If we look at the story in more details, we can see that there are more evocations of that country. London, the capital, is mentioned a lot of times in the story, especially when Harry has to go shopping with Hagrid for all his school equipment. The famous London Underground appears several times; Dumbledore has a scar on his knee looking exactly like it, and Hagrid and Harry have to use it to travel around London and go shopping. [...]

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