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Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Zbyněk Vintr, 2003
Author: J. K. Rowling
Translator: Vladimír Medek
General Assessment
The translator succeeds in transferring the English text into Czech in two aspects: text dramatically flows and
is easily understandable to a young reader. Generally, the translation is accurate and of a good quality.
However, the translator sometimes exaggerates the adjusting of his voice for children and then the original
rough and sometimes ironic language loses the distance which it has in the source version. In my essay I will
try to elaborate on some facets (leaving apart the translation of names discussed in the seminar) of the
tendencies the translator uses.
General Tendencies
Does irony fit into children's books?
....and how Dudley had learned a new word ("Won't!")
... a že se Dudley naučil říkat „Ne a ne!“
It often seems that the translator tries to get rid of any use of irony (only a few of many uses of irony in the
original were translated). In the original book, the author uses it rather often to ease the atmosphere of the
dramatic text. On the other hand, the translator, by disposing of irony, darkens the personal characteristics of
the characters. In the example above, Dursleys are suggested not only to be cruel, but also stupid and rather
funny (Dudley learns won't and his parents are defenceless against him), in the translated sentence they seem
to be decisively evil (as if they taught their son saying won't). It is a general question whether children are fit
for irony (since in the children's world everything is real and there are usually no double meanings), but if not
for attempting whether irony works in the book the translator should have left it in place to remain faithful to
the original.
Do children understand only uncomplicated syntactic constructions?
Syntactic structures in the literature for children are not usually very elaborate. Probably because of
the development of language and the children's inability to grasp difficult logical constructions children
writers avoid using long structured sentences typical for art fiction. Therefore the translator's aim to easy the
more difficult parts is understandable. But even though he uses other means to increase the dynamism of the
text, the changes of syntax were not always necessary. Apart from the book in general, I tried to analyse the
first chapter in detail and prepare some statistics. In these it is seen that all non-verbal sentences (His mind
back on drills.) were changed in verbal structures (Myslel už zase na vrtačky.). Also the short sentences used
to make the text more dynamic are often combined in one with more clearly established logical dependencies.
(The cat didn't move. It just gave him a stern look. > Kočka se ani nepohnula, jenom se na něj přísně
Some parts are over-conformed for a child
I've already mentioned this topic which seems to me to be the weakest point of the translated book. Too often
the translator adds features to a translated reality: most often he adds new attributes (They had coats. > Měli
dlouhé pláště.) or changes pragmatic values (Thank you very much. > Děkuji za optání.). Although such a text
is pleasant to read, a different tone or voice is unnecessarily added to the source text. Only seldom these added
words conform the tone of narrative voice (happy, happy day > šťastný, přešťastný den). Sometimes the
degree of the intensity of the word is incorrectly lowered (He stared back. > Ohlédl se.) Very often the
translator adds adverbs (opravdu, hned) which give the sentence its exact temporal or modal designation but
which is not present in the English version–where, in my view, these sentences are intentionally indistinct.
Although the features mentioned above can by no means be considered mistakes and although their use in
translation is fully justified now and then, this translation does not benefit from their excessive use and the
voice of the whole translated book is slightly altered because of them (use of diminutives and inaccurate
phrases mainly). One of the worst examples of a fully wrong modification of the image of the particular scene
is when the old wizard turns back and goes away. The original phrase He turned back and walked off. is
translated Otočil se a zmizel. Since it is no problem for a wizard to vanish, the image presented by such a
translation completely alters the whole imagery of the scene. Another example is a sentence He saw a group
of them. translated as Uviděl jich celý houf.
As for a book earning rather huge amounts of money, the investment into the correct translation should not be
restricted and the translation should be proof-read. In my opinion, this book was not proof-read in detail, since
an experienced proof-reader would not have left some very obvious mistakes in the text. I suggest again that
their number is appropriate for a translator who cannot see all the flaws in the text with which he is connected
but such errors cannot endure reading by another person. (...there was nothing about the cloudy sky outside to
suggest... > ...snad jenom zamračená obloha venku se zdála naznačovat... or most boring tie translated as
nejošklivější kravata). On the other hand, the spell-checking of the Czech text is rather well done (an
interesting exception may be ty báby instead of ty háby).
Positive feature: contextual dependency
One of the very positive features of the translation is translator's thinking in context which sometimes overlaps
many pages. He often remembers details which are not explicitly stated in the original and which are later
only hinted at. Such an example is the translastion of a sentence He hurried up to his office. which could be
translated as Vyběhl do kanceláře. but which is nicely translated as Kvapně vyjel do kanceláře. because the
office is on floor 9 (which is mentioned only once and, furthermore, five pages earlier).
Some specific linguistic traits of individual modyfications
As I already mentioned before, apart from assessing the whole book I read over the first chapter again in more
detail and noted all the modifications in meaning between the original and translated texts. My primary aim
was to know where the modification of meaning takes place because I felt that there was a general difference
in tone of the narrative in both languages but was unable to demonstrate its exact reason. After close reading
and comparison of both first chapters I can establish some groups in which I think the translator tends to be
not very precise. I would also like to note that I will not mention again the points already made in this essay
because many of them in this chapter repeat.
This category is most often affected by (even sometimes very slight) changes of meaning. English verbs are
less differentiated and their various aspects are usually expressed by adverbials. Therefore the translator
should very often select from the wide range of Czech equivalents. However, he should carefully read the
pragmatic meaning and adapt his translation. An example is an undertranslated he stared back as ohlédl se
mentioned above or a similar case of knock to the ground translated as porazit instead of at least stronger
This is the second category causing problems. Problems with translating nouns are most commonly caused by
overlooking (e.g. morning translated as den) and the overall number of incorrectly translated nouns is much
smaller than of verbs. Other word categories are mistaken only rarely (mainly adjectives and adverbs).
One of the strongest shortcomings of the translation. The translator seems to like adding some evaluative
statements (ano, že, opravdu, hned, nijak, etc.) which are not included in the original text and add to it an extra
quality. This problem may be interconnected with the general tendency to make the work accessible to
children. The translator uses too many words and explanations, which helps the book read easy but which
overshadows some of the qualities of the original text.
Verbal aspect, mode and tense
It very often happens that the translator changes one of the three features mentioned in the heading of this
section. It brings inconsistencies and imprecision to the text as general (It seemed to be... > To je...; That
would be it. > To je jasné.)
Although I pointed out some inaccuracies, they were only exceptions in a well translated book. Some of them
were more serious but their frequency was not prominent. I value the translator's work and I wish that more
"bestseller books" were translated in such a quality.
Literature: J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Electronic version.
J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter a kámen mudrců. Translation Vladimír Medek. Electronic version.