So, what was the biggest challenge for translator Monsignor Daniel Gallagher? It wasn’t finding a phrase for “cheese touch”. In fact, it was making the text fit in the speech bubbles in the illustrations, which cannot be altered in any translation of the book. Latin is quite a concise language so in places he needed to expand the paragraphs to make them fit.
Monsignor Gallagher’s day job is in the Vatican’s Office of Latin Letters. He took on the translation of this bestselling children’s book in his own time, because he’s passionate about breaking down Latin’s image as being only for the ‘elite’ or for smart kids. He enjoys the book’s themes:
“Greg Heffley is naughty, he doesn’t do the right thing all the time, but he learns from his mistakes. For a tale that’s fairly simple and funny, there’s a lot of depth there, and in the end that’s why I decided to do it. It’s a popular book because of the illustrations and the humor, but in the end we have to believe that the kids are going to read something that connects with their lives, and I’m a true believer that we’re attracted to the things that make us look at ourselves. And all classics do that.” (Publisher’s Weekly)
Harry Potter was also famously translated into Latin, by Peter Needham, who taught Latin and Greek at Eton College for more than 30 years (and also translated Paddington Bear and Beatrix Potter). He worked on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone at the rate of about a page a day, and the intention was to make studying classical languages more fun for young students.
“This is going to be a wonderful thing for children. It has got very witty dialogue. At the school I taught at we didn’t have modern translations of this sort. But I also think its going to be a fun thing for intelligent people to have – the sort of thing you give your father for Christmas.” (The Telegraph)
While Needham said he didn’t have too much trouble finding ‘equivalent’ words for most Harry Potter concepts, there was the big decision about what to call the lead character: should the word ‘Potter’ be translated literally? Ultimately the decision was made to stick with Harrius Potter, Needham’s preference..
But translating universal favourites like Harry Potter can actually be even more challenging when working in modern languages. The made-up words, magic spells and invented creatures have posed all sorts of challenges, as have some of the character’s accents (how to translate Hagrid’s particular way of speaking?). So, for example, an English sherbert lemon became an Israeli chocolate sweet. And in the Swedish edition, Hogwarts itself was moved to Sweden.
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Story sources: Publisher’s Weekly, The Telegraph (UK), bytelevel.com