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.: Chinese footnotes :.


In March's edition of "Harry Potter around the World" I told you about the books in Taiwan, the disgustful leak that the Taiwanese newspapers committed, and the curiosities of translating the series into Chinese Traditional Characters. This time I'm going to keep the Chinese talking up, but we'll switch it to the mainland. First of all, we need to understand the language scenario better in China. There, the official language (the one that you may find in your atlas) is the Standard Mandarin, also known as Putonghua in the mainland, Guoyu in Taiwan, Huayu in Singapore and Malaysia, or simply Mandarin (that can be used to describe a category of dialects, too). That�s the one the Harry Potter books are translated into.

"Okay, so everybody speaks it", you may think. "No", is the answer. There are plenty of dialects and language subdivisions in China. Most of them are mutually unintelligible. Standard Mandarin, on the other hand, is a language based on the particular Mandarin dialect spoken in Beijing (although clearly different from it). It is something like a lingua franca, that is, a common language that two people who don't understand each other can use to communicate between them, despite the fact it is not their first language. English is a lingua franca in international business and other affairs nowadays (otherwise, how could I that speak Portuguese talk to you?). Nevertheless, this doesn't mean everyone speaks English in the world, which is similar to the Standard Mandarin in China. Only those people who need to do business with others around the mainland know and use it. The result is that diglossia is quite often in China. This means that a Chinese person speaks his/her own dialect at home, but if he/she wants to have any kind of public work, then he/she needs to speak the prestige language, Standard Mandarin, and in some places even a third language, such as Cantonese, for example. Obviously, there's a great mix of accents and different language patterns in the everyday conversation.

"What about the written Chinese?", you must be thinking. That's what really matters to us. As we have lots of different dialects (most of them non-written, it's important to point out), we can deduce that their orthography is very diverse. And it's right, although some words can be written with the same character. The only problem is that when one writes colloquially, the characters of the dialects can quite differ. However, the literary vocabulary is often shared among all dialects, which means that a literate Chinese can easily read in Standard Mandarin. If one would read it aloud, in contrast, then this would be hard to understand by all people.

Now that we are aware of Chinese language peculiarities, let's talk about how Harry Potter ties in. First of all, let's put ourselves in the position of a regular Chinese inhabitant, who lives in a city not as big as Beijing and not as godforsaken as the ones from the West part of China. He/she probably knows very little of the Occident culture, just like we know little of the Chinese culture. If he/she gets hold of a book called "Harry Potter", whose leading character is a wizard that lives in England, he/she'd probably come across a lot of oddities while reading it. This is a natural situation when it comes to facing others' background. To solve such a problem, the translators came up with a great idea: adding footnotes to every puzzling word, bewildering excerpt or wordplay done by our cherished J.K. Rowling. The result was awesome! I've selected some of the most remarkable ones for you. I got them from an astonishing website called Cjvlang that besides a lot of interesting information, have brought the footnotes together. All rights reserved to them. Thanks a lot, guys!

Let's start with the footnotes on places. Every single city that has been mentioned in the books deserves a brief explanation, except those huge and well-known ones, such as London. Most of the times, it is a succinct elucidation, such as: "Majorca, in the western Mediterranean, belongs to Spain" , in Chapter Two of the first book. But sometimes, they don't get it right. The first footnote of the Chapter One of "The Philosopher/Sorcerer's Stone" reads: "Kent is in the south of England. Yorkshire is in the north of England. Dundee is a port in the north of England. " However, if you're Scottish, you may know since you were born there, that Dundee is a port in the North of Scotland, not England. Wrong! After then, in Chapter 3 of the third book, they might have been confused about where Abergavenny would be, since they just wrote: "A place name in Britain" . Luckily, because if they had said "England" they would make the Welsh people angry! There are also footnotes to give explanations about Aberdeen, Dijon, Assyria, Transylvania (!), Liechtenstein, Bristol and many more.

Places are definitely an issue that even we sometimes may be tricked, and it's always nice to have a bit of information on it. However, when we look at the footnotes on such common things of our daily life, we realize how peculiar some things might be. In the third Chapter of the first book, they characterize "cornflakes" as: "Commonly immersed in milk for breakfast" ! (If you go to China, bring your own cornflakes!) Then, in book 4, Chapter 12, there's a definition of "yo-yo": "A kind of toy. Thrown on a string, it goes up and down" . This one is particularly funny, because there's a kind of yo-yo (The Chinese Yo-yo) that was invented in China thousands of years ago (much before than our western version, then). The famous "diabolos" evolved from it. The Chinese people might know what a yo-yo is, I suppose! And to top it off, my favorite one comes, straight from the fourth chapter of the fourth book: "Ferrari: A famous Italian car" . Splendid! And I have always thought that a Ferrari was famous world-wide... We can also find explanations of a Frisbee, a boomerang, Hangman (yes, the game!), and even dreadlocks!

There are also some very particular elements of foreign culture that are completely out of the Chinese reality (some even from my Brazilian reality, too!). Food is a great example of it. Chinese people don't eat baked beans everyday, I reckon (neither do the Brazilians!). So, there was a footnote on it: "made from beans with the addition of bacon, syrup, and tomato sauce" . What's funny about it is that Cjvlang comments it: "I've personally never encountered bacon in my baked beans, but Jewel Faulkner informs me that meat is added to some varieties of baked beans in the U.S., especially in the South. However, this is not likely to be the type that Harry ate." The translators might have found the information on an American website, or asked a guy from the U.S. When it comes to food, we can also find footnotes on a "rock cake" and a "Yorkshire pudding" (!). Moreover, some animals can sound completely exotic, too! A "sloth" deserved a footnote, just like the "tarantula" that got not only one, but two footnotes! Nonetheless, the spider's habitat is surprisingly depicted once as being South Africa, having suddenly changed to Southern Europe in the other one. I guess they got a bit befuddled about where the animal does come from"

Everything that I've mentioned so far is cool. However, the most overwhelming fact about all these footnotes is when two completely unlike cultures meet each other. That can happen in very specific points, such as "Bonfire night" in the first Chapter of the first book; or in deeper aspects of the British culture, such as the mention of "druids" in Chapter 6 of the former book, explained as "a group of learned people among the ancient Celts who served as priests, judges, wizards, and fortune-tellers, etc." The most appealing ones, on the other hand, are those that try to explain some normal reactions and superstitions of the Western culture. When Hermione crosses her fingers for Harry in Chapter 13 of "The Philosopher/Sorcerer's Stone", there are two footnotes: "Hermione had all her fingers crossed: This indicates that Hermione was praying for Harry" and "Hermione stood up, her crossed fingers in her mouth: This indicates that Hermione was praying for Harry" . There was also another one in Chapter 22 of the fourth book: "Europeans cross their index fingers and middle fingers as a sign of praying or blessing" . It's nice to add that not only in Europe people do it, but here in Brazil we do it too! We also "knock on wood", but I guess the Chinese don't! The first footnote of the "Half-blood Prince" is: "Knock on wood: This is a custom found in many ethnic groups of the world: If you mention or think of something inauspicious, you knock on a wooden object nearby to prevent it from happening" . And finally, it's evident that the Chineses aren't Christians and thus don't celebrate Easter. So, better explain it: "Easter: Christianity commemorates the festival of the 'resurrection of Jesus', generally referring to the first Sunday after the full moon of Spring Equinox each year" , from Chapter 27 of book 5.

There's much more interesting stuff to be found out from the Chinese footnotes. I strongly recommend the way they solve the wordplay dilemmas, such as the ones with Voldemort's name and the "Prince" one; or the witty puns made on Slughorn, Percy, Wood, and some more. The translators have also been very meticulous about mistakes and contradictions Jo has done, just like when Harry says, in the eighteenth chapter of "Order of The Phoenix", "Dumbledore knows about it, too, he mentioned it to me at the Yule Ball" , and they add: "In fact, Dumbledore mentioned it to Karkaroff, but Harry was listening alongside" . However, the translators have committed a lot of mistakes, mistranslations and misleading passages, too. Cjvlang have brought some of them together, so just check them out.

This edition of "Harry Potter around the World" ends here. I once more want to thank the guys from Cjvlang for the amazing website. Thank you all for reading it, too. In addition, just to reinforce it, if you've got a nice story about Harry Potter in your country, if you want to comment on an editorial, or just want to pay me a compliment or swear at me, do send me an e-mail. The address is bruno at thesnitch dot co dot uk. I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Bye,

Bruno Miquelino

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