Fred or farīd, bacon or bayḍun (‘egg’)? Proper Names and Cultural-specific Items in the Arabic Translation of Harry Potter

  • Erika Mussche et
  • Klaas Willems

…plus d’informations

Corps de l’article

1. Introduction

In this paper we investigate how proper names and references to food are conveyed in the Arabic translation of the first three volumes of the Harry Potter series. Proper names and references to food are traditionally categorised as culture-specific items or cultural markers, although certain scholars maintain that proper names should not be regarded as culture-specific items. For example, according to Davies (2003: 72), there are “many problems concerning the translation of proper names which may not plausibly be subsumed within a discussion of culture-specific references” (see also Aixelá 1996). It is true that culture-specific items are intimately tied to specific relations between source and target language and pose a major challenge to translators because they reflect the material and intellectual culture from which a source text emerges, whereas names are first and foremost a universal, functionally highly complex part of speech (Willems 1996; 2000). However, one of the most striking properties of names usually assumed in the literature, namely, their lack of dictionary meaning, only holds for prototypical names, and from the point of view of translation studies specific problems arise when it comes to so-called telling names. Moreover, fictional proper names conventionally serve as cultural markers in certain cultures (Nord 2003: 184).

Over the past few decades much research has been devoted to children’s literature as well as to the translation of the genre. Not surprisingly, the popular Harry Potter series has been the subject of extensive investigation, and the same is increasingly true of its growing number of translations. However, in the Arab world the study of children’s literature and its translations is still in its infancy. Not only does children’s literature have a low cultural status, but there is also a gap between the peremptory norms of written language, which ultimately depend on Koran-based religious literacy (Goody 1987) and the Arabic vernaculars. Arabic authors are generally hesitant to write children’s literature in the everyday spoken language. Moreover, children are taught to read using texts written in classical Arabic, including the Koran. The reading of secular literature is often restricted or discouraged (Pellowski 1996: 672). Abu-Nasr (1996: 789) senses a certain “unwillingness to appreciate children’s needs and interest,” but she points out that, since 1987, there have been efforts to promote both the production and translation of children’s books in a number of Arabic-speaking countries, especially in Egypt and Lebanon.

Mdallel (2003) and Faiq (2000) are very critical of the quality of most present-day Arabic translations, especially when compared with the great Muslim tradition of translation from back in the Middle Ages (Faiq 2000; Baccouche 2000). Mdallel (2003: 300-301) in particular points out that one of the key aims of Arabic children’s literature is to communicate Islamic moral values. As a consequence, strict criteria must be met if children’s books, animated cartoons etc. are to be translated into Arabic.[1] According to Athamneh and Zitawi:

In addition to excluding children’s animated pictures that contain overt love scenes and scenes of violence, horror and crime, any children’s animated pictures that include reference to betting or gambling, alcoholic drinks, derogatory references to Islam, indecently dressed characters, monarchy, spirits, ghosts and magic should also be excluded.

Athamneh and Zitawi 1999: 130

The word pig, for instance, is translated as harūf (sheep),[2] even if what is seen in the cartoon is a piglet:

Obviously, this is due to religious reasons; for, in Islamic culture, ‘pigs’ are viewed as filthy, unclean, and prohibited animals. But the translator has not taken into consideration that the child who watches this scene and listens to the dialogue realizes that what he/she sees is not a sheep.

Athamneh and Zitawi 1999: 144

Another example is the translation of magic carpet as bisāṭun ṭā’irun (flying carpet) (Athamneh and Zitawi 1999: 135). However, the Arabic translation of the Harry Potter series, which is rife with magic, shows that there are different degrees of acceptability in terms of translational freedom throughout the Arab world. Also, the (occasionally conflicting) translational norms (see Toury 1998) governing children’s literature are not confined to just this genre, and children’s books, while being clearly directed towards children, are also directed towards an adult audience (see Oittinen 2006: 35 on “dual audience”).

Aside from names, culture-specific items considered to be highly indicative of the cultural identity of a source text include the following: references to food (which are particularly prominent in the first volume of the Harry Potter series), expressions related to schooling and education, kinship and family ties, the use of dialect and slang, and so on. Such culture-specific items significantly contribute to the overall outlook of a text and therefore constitute a particularly interesting object of analysis within the field of translation studies. Because it is not possible to investigate all of the relevant categories within the confines of a single article, the present study focuses on the transfer of proper names and on references to food, both of which are particularly instructive categories. The translation of other culture-specific items will only be touched upon briefly. In our investigation, we focus on two questions:

  1. are there specific aspects that can be identified in the source text that motivate the adoption of certain transfer procedures with reference to the encountered culture-specific items; and

  2. what are the effects of the employed procedures on the target text as a whole in comparison to the original?

To answer these questions, 18 chapters[3] taken from the first three Harry Potter volumes[4] were analysed. Volumes 1 and 2 have been translated by a different translator than volume 3. However, no detailed references will be made to the volumes at hand, and we will not be concerned with differences in translation that have arisen due to the switching of translators.

The structure of the paper is as follows. Section 2 gives an overview of the transfer of proper names after first briefly discussing their various forms and text functions. Section 3 deals with references to food in much the same way. Both sections are organised according to the transfer procedures emerging from the corpus. Section 4 provides converging evidence from other culture-specific domains (references to school and education, kinship and family ties, and the use of dialect and slang) supporting the main findings reached in the previous two sections. Section 5 rounds off the paper with a general conclusion.

2. Proper names

2.1. Text functions and transfer procedures

The translation of proper names (henceforth names) is a frequently debated issue within the domain of empirical translation studies because of the intricacies translators usually have to take into consideration. The general term name is used here to refer to the category of proper names broadly construed, including personal, animal, place and brand names, names of spells, names of school houses etc.[5] As it is customary to distinguish two general classes of names in the literature, we will make the same distinction: names are said to be either conventional or telling (loaded). Conventional names such as Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Ted, James, Tom, Hedwig, London, Kent, etc. are usually morphologically non-transparent and generally correspond to prototypical names, even though conventional names, too, “may arouse certain expectations” about their bearers (Bertills 2002: 74). Telling names, on the other hand, are suggestive of certain meanings. They present properties that can be interpreted as descriptive features, recalling other words or conferring additional discourse functions. While the distinction is theoretically practical, there is no strict boundary between the two classes (see below for examples from Harry Potter).

Hermans (1988: 13-14) distinguishes several ways of transferring proper names from one language into another (compare also with Van Coillie 2006):

  1. proper names can be copied, i.e., reproduced in the target text exactly as they were in the source text;

  2. they can be transcribed, i.e., transliterated or adapted on the level of spelling, phonology etc.;

  3. a formally unrelated name can be substituted in the target text for any given name in the source text;

  4. and insofar as a proper name in a source text is enmeshed in the lexicon of that language and acquires meaning, it can be translated;

  5. non-translation, i.e., the deletion of a source-text proper name in the target text;

  6. the replacement of a proper noun by a common noun (usually denoting a structurally functional attribute of the character in question);

  7. the insertion of a proper name in the target text where there is none in the source text;

  8. the replacement of a source-text common noun by a proper noun in the target text.

Hermans 1988: 13-14

Out of these procedures, 2, 4, 5, and 6 are employed in the Arabic translation of Harry Potter, as will be illustrated below. Before examining any examples in detail, however, we will first clarify the category names and assess its importance for the present study.

Many scholars argue that names ought not to be translated, neither in adult nor in children’s literature. Aixelá (1996: 59-60) observes that “in the case of conventional names, there is nowadays a clear tendency to repeat, transcribe or transliterate them in primary genres”; loaded names, on the other hand, “seem to display a tendency toward the linguistic (denotative or non-cultural) translation of their components”; see also O’Sullivan (2000: 230), who states that the current tendency is to leave proper names untranslated. As far as children’s literature is concerned, the argument generally goes that the foreignising effect of names that are left untouched in translation does not bother the children who are concentrating on the book’s story line. Other scholars, however point out that foreign proper names may impinge on the child’s reception of the text. According to Jentsch (2002: 295), who has investigated the German, French and Spanish translations of the first two Harry Potter volumes, important connotations associated with names, in particular telling names, may be lost if they are not translated adequately (see also Valero Garcés 2003: 133). This observation not only applies to proper names of people but also to toponyms, theronyms, etc.

Telling names are particularly frequent in HarryPotter, although many names cannot straightforwardly be assigned the conventional or telling label. Consider, e.g., AlbusDumbledore and SeverusSnape. In Antiquity, Severus was a common first name, Lat. severus can signify /severe, serious/ or /cruel, heartless/, Lat. albus signifies /(matt) white/; dumbledore is the designation of a bumblebee in Old-English. Obviously, such names are transparent to a certain degree only, in particular to a younger public, unless additional explanations are conveyed. While these names can become transparent upon closer investigation, matters are even more complicated with names (or parts of names) such as Snape and Quirrell. Quirrell is often associated with querulous or squirrel, possibly in view of the character’s nervous inclination. Snape has been associated with the word snake, but this association has met with considerable resistance. Brøndsted and Dollerup (2004: 69), for instance, argue that “[t]he Italian translator […] appears to have misread the English ‘snape’ for ‘snake,’” having translated Snape as It. Piton, and they give as a reason that Rowling herself has claimed that Snape is the name of a small town in Suffolk. However, there is a difference between an author’s intentions and the associations and connotations that emerge from the name and which may vary among readers. Davies (2003: 79) observes that the consonant cluster sn- suggests “vaguely unpleasant connotations.” This is an important observation because the actual form of the name is taken into account. The consonant cluster sn- is a so-called phonestheme, a term introduced by Householder (1946: 83) to designate a recurrent submorphemic sound-meaning association in a language, or, as Householder puts it, “a phoneme or cluster of phonemes shared by a group of words which also have in common some element of meaning or function, though the words may be etymologically unrelated” (e.g., snail, snake, snare, sneak, sneer, snipe). Other prominent examples of names having such a submorphemic sound-meaning association in the HarryPotter series are Peeves, collective names such as Muggles and Squib, etc.

Another phonosemantic class of words relevant to our discussion is formed by so-called ideophones. Ideophones are highly expressive linguistic elements with a strong tendency for iconicity, created to simulate a sensory perception, emotion or event. Not restricted to the realm of auditory perception and aptly referred to as vocal gestures by Voeltz and Kilian-Hatz (2001: 2-3), the iconicity of ideophones is to be understood in a much broader sense. A telling example in the HarryPotter series is the name WhompingWillow, which is suggestive of the ability of the tree to strike people hard with its strong branches.

The reference to phonesthetic and ideophonic names is particularly relevant for our purposes because, as we will show in the next sections, the (admittedly sometimes elusive or vague) connotative or associative values of more or less telling names in the English original of HarryPotter are most often conveyed by means of precise lexical meanings in the Arabic translation, e.g., WhompingWillow > aš-šajaratu l-‘imlāqatu (the gigantic tree). In doing so, the original telling name is being simplified to an unambiguous name (Davies 2003: 79 and House 2004: 696).

Aside from the use of names to arouse certain expectations, names are also sometimes used to convey humour (Wyler 2003: 9), in children’s literature in particular. In the famous Astérix comics, for instance, much of the humour derives from the names used (Embleton 1991: 176). Both the expression and meaning of a name may give rise to humour. An age-old and still popular formal technique is alliteration (Aschenberg 1991: 63), of which many examples can be found in Rowling’s books, e.g., SeverusSnape, MoaningMyrtle, MaraudingMap, Time-Turner, BertieBott’sEveryFlavourBeans, etc. Because of their language-specific make-up, these names often pose considerable challenges to translators. It should also be noted that it is not always easy for a translator to decide whether a name is actually a telling or a conventional name. Moreover, there is always the possibility that a name is coincidentally suggestive. This may partly explain some of the occasional inconsistencies found in translation. In our corpus, for instance, the first occurrence of the name SiriusBlack, in the first chapter of the first HarryPotter volume, is rendered as sīryūs (or sīrīs) al-’aswadu (the Black Sirius or Sirius the Black) in translation, i.e., partly as a name and partly as a common noun (procedure 6 in Hermans’ taxonomy referred to above), testifying to the translator’s doubt as to whether the surname Black is to be rendered as a telling name or not. From the third volume, HarryPotterandthePrisoner of Azkaban, onwards, it is consistently rendered as blāk, i.e., as a conventional name.

In the following sections we survey the four procedures adopted for the translation of names in the first three HarryPotter volumes, namely transliteration (2.2), translation proper (2.3), the replacement of the name by a common noun or paraphrase (2.4), and non-translation (omission) (2.5), and we describe the effects they produce on the target text as when compared to the English original.

2.2. Transliteration

The procedure called transliteration consists of the replacement of source language “graphological units” by target language “graphological units” (Catford 1965: 66), so as to obtain a copy of the unit to be transferred. The basis of transliteration is “the phonetic substance, in that it is the sound and not the shape of the letter which is translated” (Aziz 2003: 70). However, this procedure faces certain problems when used in Arabic translations. First of all, transliterating English names into Arabic necessarily implies a certain amount of approximation, because the two languages differ considerably in their phonological and orthographic systems. For example, in the Arabic phonological system there are no counterparts for English consonants such as /v/ and /ŋ/, vowels such as /e/ and /o/, and certain diphthongs. Alternative letters have to be used in the Arabic script to approximately convey these English sounds (Aziz 2003: 74-75). Secondly, Arabic orthography lacks capitalisation, one of the primary orthographic features of names in many languages, including English. In Arabic, names are generally marked by double inverted commas, underscoring or brackets. Aziz (2003: 76) observes that “as the foreign proper noun is gradually adopted into the language and becomes part of it, these distinguishing marks are left out” in written texts. As far as the Arabic translation (and editing) of Harry Potter is concerned, the standards are not uniform. For instance, throughout the first and third volume, conventional names, transliterated names and telling names are usually marked with double inverted commas (occasionally brackets), whereas translated names or replacements by common nouns are only marked as names upon their first occurrences in the text, i.e., once or twice, with the exception of the newspaper name the Daily Prophet, which is translated as al-mutanabbi’u l-yawmiyyu (the daily prophet) and consistently marked as a name throughout the corpus. In the second volume, on the other hand, the orthographic marks of names tend to be used with conventional and transliterated names only when they are introduced for the first time in the text. After that, orthographic marks are virtually always absent.

In the Arabic translation of HarryPotter, English place names are usually transliterated. The transliteration of London as landan (Wehr 1980: 879) is a conventional exonym, but the procedure of transliteration is also used for less well-known place names, e.g., King’sCross > kīnjiz krūs, Kent > kīnt, Yorkshire > yūrkšāyir, Dundee > dūndī. This is remarkable given that the target audience may be familiar neither with the names nor with the places to which they refer. Incidentally, this is the reason why, in the Brazilian translation of HarryPotterandthePhilosopher’sStone, the names of the three U.K. cities Kent, Yorkshire and Dundee in the first chapter are omitted (Wyler 2003: 11). In our corpus, the name of the street where Harry Potter lives, PrivetDrive, is initially partially transliterated, partially translated: šāri‘u brīfit (the street Privet), but from the third volume onwards, it is transliterated as brīfit drīf. Other toponyms such as the name of the magical bank Gringotts or the magical prison Azkaban are invariably transliterated: jrinjūts and azkābān.

Conventional proper names for people and animals are also transliterated: HarryPotter > hārī būtr, LeeJordan > lī jūrdān, HermioneGranger > hirmiyūn jrīnjir, VernonDursley > fīrnūn durslī, MinervaMcGonagall > minīrfā mākjūnjāl, Errol > ’īrūl, Hermes > hīrmiz. Because standard Arabic does not have the vowel /e/, phonological adaptation may occasionally be carried out along with the transliteration. For instance, transliterating the name Fred as frīd yields the possible reading farīd in Arabic, which happens to be a common Arabic first name. In this (admittedly exceptional) case, transliteration coincides with the substitution procedure (procedure 3 in Hermans’ list), but this may be purely coincidental.[6]

Most of the names that are not straightforwardly analysable as either conventional or semantically loaded names are also transliterated. Remarkably, the same holds true of many telling names that are readily transparent. The latter group is comprised of names of spells derived from Latin or Pseudo-Latin words. Below is a non-exhaustive list of such names and their transliterations, ordered according to increasing transparency:

  1. Personal names

    • Voldemort > fūldumūrt

    • Draco Malfoy > drākū mālfūy

  2. Names of spells

    • Expecto patronum > ’iksbiktū bātrūnām

    • Lumos > līmūs, lāmūs

    • Obliviate > ’awblīfiyit

    • Petrificus Totalus > bitrifīkās tūtālās

    • Caput Draconis > kābūt drākūnīs

    • Expelliarmus > ’ikslārmūs (clearly erroneous) and iksbiliyārmūs

  3. Place names

    • Gryffindor > jrīfindūr, jrīnfidūr

    • Hufflepuff > hāfalbā

    • Slytherin > sīldirīn, slīdirīn

    • Ravenclaw > rāfanklū

    • Hogwarts > hūjwūrts

    • Hogsmeade > hūjsmīd

    • Shrieking Shack > šrīkinj šāk

  4. Brand names of brooms

    • Cleansweep Seven > klīnswīb ٧

    • Nimbus Two Thousand > nīmbūs ٢٠٠٠ (with the numbers in Arabic).

Occasionally, capitalised common nouns are also transliterated, e.g., the plant name Mandrakes > al-māndraks, the words uttered by Dumbledore on the occasion of a banquet: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! > nītwīt, balābar, ’awdmīnt, twīk!, and the first part of Hagrid’s exclamation gallopin’Gorgons > jālūbīn jūrjūn. Again, this is rather exceptional.

In contrast to many other translations (e.g., to Romance or to other Germanic languages), in which the telling names are, as a rule, rendered as such in the target text, the Arabic translators do not seem to have paid much attention to the descriptive dimension of the names, the majority being treated as conventional names. Since transliteration is carried out without short vowel diacritics, Arab readers without knowledge of the original English text are likely to face serious difficulties in pairing the names with a correct expression. As a consequence, the many associations, connotations, and the occasional humour of a number of names in HarryPotter are lost to Arabic readers, especially those who have little or no access to extra information about the book series (e.g., through the Internet). Jentsch (2002: 299) has pointed out that the Spanish translation of HarryPotter “is hampered mostly by the appearance of so many words in English (sometimes in italics),” and that semantically loaded names in particular cannot be satisfactorily interpreted if copied (the first procedure in Hermans’ list), although in Jentsch’ corpus, explanations of names are occasionally inserted by the translator (Jentsch 2002: 295). In the Arabic translation, no additional explanations are provided. The conclusion must be that the numerous transliterations of names in the Arabic translation of HarryPotter have a considerable foreignising effect on the target text.

2.3. Translation proper

If a telling name consists either entirely or just partially of one or more English common nouns, the appellative part of the name is usually treated as a transparent designation and translated accordingly, e.g.:

  1. Names of spells

    • Leg-Locker Curse > la‘natu rabṭi l-’arjuli (the binding of the legs curse)

    • MemoryCharm > ta‘wīdatu n-nisyāni (the forgetfulness charm), ta‘wīdatun li-faqdi d-dākirati (the loss of memory charm)

    • Anti-Cheatingspell > ta‘wīdatun ḍidda ġ-ġašši (anti-deceit charm)

    • Flame-FreezingCharm > siḥrun bi-tabrīdi ḥarārati n-nīrāni (a charm to cool the heat of the fires)

  2. Names of magical objects

    • PocketSneakoscope > jihāzu stiš‘ārin li-l-jaybi (the pocket equipment of awareness), jihāzu tajassusin (the spy equipment)

    • SortingHat > qubba‘atu t-tansīqi (the arranging hat)

    • ElixirofLife > ’iksīru l-ḥayāti (elixir of life)

  3. Names of magical plants

    • Devil’sSnare > mahālibu š-šayṭāni (Devil’s claws)

  4. Place names

    • theForbiddenForest > al-ġābatu l-muḥarramu (theforbiddenforest)

  5. Brand names

    • the name of the broom Firebolt > as-sahmu n-nāriyyu (the fire arrow)

  6. Names of sweets, pastries, etc.

    • ChocolateFrogs > šīkūlātatu ḍ-ḍafādi‘ (chocolate of frogs)

    • PumpkinPastries > faṭā’iru l-qar‘i (pumpkin pastries)

    • CauldronCakes > ka‘ku l-kūldrūn (Cauldron cake, with the component Cauldron transliterated; note that Cauldron is translated in al-mirjalu r-rāšiḥu [LeakyCauldron])

    • Drooble’sBestBlowingGum > al-labānu l-mutafajjiru (the explosive gum, with non-translation of the component Drooble’sBest)

    • BertieBott’sEvery-FlavourBeans > fūlualwā “bartī būt” bi-kulli n-nakhāti (Bertie Bott’s every-fragrance candy beans, with only the transliterated part in inverted commas).

Other examples include the blend Remembrall (the name of a crystal ball), translated as kuratu t-tadkīri (the reminding ball), and the name of the newspaper theDailyProphet > al-mutanabbi’u l-yawmiyyu. Interestingly, the latter translation derives from the verb tanabba’a (to predict; to claim to be a prophet, to pose as a prophet, Wehr 1980: 937), not from nabīyun, the religiously loaded Arabic noun for prophet (Wehr 1980: 941).

Combinations of transliteration and translation proper also occur, for example, when names are only partially descriptive, as in Eeylops Owl Emporium > sūqu ’aylūbs li-l-būmi (the Eeylops market for owls), DiagonAlley > āratu diyājūn (the Diagon quarter or side street, without the lexical association in the original), HogwartsExpress > qiṭāru hūjwūrts as-sarī‘u (the Hogwarts express train).

The examples of translation proper provided so far bear out Davies’ (2003: 75) observation that “where a name contains clearly recognizable descriptive elements, translators often opt to preserve the descriptive meaning of a name rather than its form, and go for a literal translation: thus Wormtail becomes Wurmschwanz” in the German translation of HarryPotter. In our source material, translation proper occasionally goes hand in hand with shifts in denotation. For instance, while names such as the Leaky Cauldron > al-mirjalu r-rāšiḥu, the ChamberofSecrets > ujratu l-’asrāri or al-ġurfati s-sirriyyati (the secret chamber), the BloodyBaron > al-bārūnu d-dāmiyyu, and the FatLady > as-sayyidatu l-badīnatu are translated literally, other translations introduce additional denotative clarifications, e.g., NearlyHeadlessNick > nīk šibhu maqṭū‘i r-ra’si([with a] head that is almost cut off), or display subtle shifts in denotation, e.g.: InvisibilityCloak > ‘abā’atu l-’ihfā’i (the concealment cloak), MoaningMyrtle > mīrtil al-bākiyyatu (weeping Myrtle), Devil’sSnare > mahālibu š-šayṭān (Devil’s claws), Godric’sHollow > kahfu jūdrīk (Godric’s cave). Occasionally, different translations of one and the same name are given, e.g., HogwartsSchoolof Witchcraft and Wizardry and DarkWizard. The latter name is either translated as sāḥirun šarīrun (bad magician) or as sāḥirun ’aswadu (black magician).

Finally, translation proper is also a common procedure with telling names containing additional phonosemantic or similarly connotative properties (see section 2.1):

  • Floo Powder > al-būdratu ṭ-ṭā’iratu (the flying powder)

  • WhompingWillow > šajaratu ṣ-ṣafṣāfi (the willow tree) or aš-šajaratu l-‘imlāqatu (the gigantic tree)

  • Parselmouth(s) > alladāni yatakallamāni luġata l-’afā‘ī (the two who speak the language of the snakes)

  • Parseltongue > luġatu l-’afā‘ī (the language of the snakes), al-luġatu t-tu‘bāniyyatu (the snaky / snakelike language).

As can be seen from these examples, the phonosemantic or connotative properties are lost in the target text.

The effect of the translation procedure is arguably contrary to the foreignising effect of the transliteration procedure discussed in the previous section, without, for that matter, being straightforwardly domesticating since conventional components of many names are preserved in the translations. As a rule, the translation procedure draws on the denotative value of the lexical components that make up the telling names, occasionally employing near-synonyms. Moreover, the focus on meaning is at the expense of a focus on form. Instances of alliteration, iconicity, punning and other forms of wordplay, e.g., the allusion to the word diagonally in the street name DiagonAlley, are not preserved in the translation, which may cause a loss of humour. Likewise, certain nuances in style or register are lost in translation, for instance, when Emporium is translated as sūq, the plain Arabic word for market.

2.4. Replacement of a name by a common noun or paraphrase

The replacement of a name by a common noun generally implies that the target structure is not marked by inverted commas and that its original proper name status in the source text is ignored in the target text. Replacing a conventional name by a common noun is rather exceptional in the Arabic translation of Harry Potter. One of the few examples is the theronym Fawkes which is rendered as al-‘anqā’u (the griffon) or ā’iru l-‘anqā’i (the griffon bird). The replacement procedure is more common with non-conventional names, e.g., Put-Outer > walā‘atun (lighter), Muggle(s) > al-‘āmmatu (the common people). In particular, Latin and Pseudo-Latin based names for certain living beings and creatures are often replaced by common nouns. An Animagus is a witch or wizard who can turn into an animal at will (see Lat. animal and magus), and a Dementor is an evil creature that causes people to feel depressed and despaired or makes them lose their minds (see Lat. mens). Not only are the referents of these names very prominent in HarryPotterand the Prisoner of Azkaban, but it is also imperative for readers to fully understand the meaning of the names. The replacement of Animagus by lahu l-qudratu‘ala t-taḥawwuli (he has the power to transform) or mutaḥawwilun (the transforming one)[7] puts stress on the quality of transformation but says nothing about the change into an animal. Likewise, replacing Dementor by āris (guard, keeper) leaves no room for alluding to the Dementors’ uncanny ability to destroy feelings of happiness and hope in human beings with a single kiss. Moreover, the common noun āris not only serves as a translation of Dementor, but the same word also denotes Hagrid’s function as a gamekeeper and the function of a simple goalkeeper in the Quidditch game. Similarly, replacing both the name of the spell Patronus Charm and the conjured Patronus by ta‘wīdatun (charm, spell) makes no reference to the fact that a protector (Lat. patronus) appears once the spell is cast.

Certain names are either translated or replaced by a paraphrase or common noun on different occasions. A case in point is Petrified, which is used as a proper name. Petrified designates the particular state into which living beings turn by the gaze of the Basilisk, a mythical giant snake; it is not to be mistaken for the common form petrified, hence the capital letter in the source text. In the Arabic translation, Petrified is not only translated by the verb taḥajjara (to petrify) but also by the verb tajammada (to freeze, to harden) and several paraphrases such as taḥawwala ’ilā ḥajarin (to turn into stone). On other occasions it is replaced by hā’ulā’i lladīna yarqudūna fi l-mustašfā (those persons lying in the hospital) or al-marḍā (the sick). Again, the focus is on meaning, not on form, and the simplifying effect is even more apparent than with the procedure of (partial) translation discussed in the previous section. This is obvious from other examples as well. For instance, BonfireNight is rendered in general terms as iḥtifālātunaw’iyyatun (the light festivities), and the names of the magical game ExplodingSnap and the magical FilibusterFireworks are replaced by a single general paraphrase: ’al‘ābun siḥriyyatun (magic games). These examples show that the replacement procedure is among those techniques that have a considerable effect on the layering of the story, since many associations and instances of wordplay in the source text are not preserved in the target text. However, the ensuing simplification of the text as a whole again does not necessarily imply domestication, as the denotative layer is largely left untouched.

2.5. Omission

Most names that are partially or entirely omitted are names that occur only once in the source text or in secondary textual situations (“i.e., names with a secondary importance for the understanding of the text or the development of the plot,” Aixelá 1996: 74), e.g., names of institutions or spells (Committeefor the Disposal ofDangerous Creatures, the Body-Bind curse), victims of Voldemort (the McKinnons, the Bones, the Prewetts), witches and wizards on the cards that come with the ChocolateFrogs (Morgana, HengistofWoodcroft, AlbericGrunnion, Circe, Paracelsus, Merlin), etc. In the case of witches and wizards, simplification verges on domestication and transferring some of these well-known (at least to a Western readership) conventional names by transliteration, e.g., Circe, Paracelsus, and Merlin, would arguably have a foreignising effect. It is, in our view, however, not necessary and perhaps even far-fetched, to explain such omissions on the basis of norms of the target language or certain cultural values and sensitivities. It is more likely that they relate to general concerns of simplification and translation processing, including considerations of redundancy and economy.

2.6. Conclusion

The results of the different procedures used in the Arabic translation of HarryPotter in order to come to terms with the bewildering range of names in the source text do not point in a single direction. The descriptive conclusion is that conventional names are often, though not exclusively, transliterated, whereas telling names are translated, replaced by a common noun or paraphrase, or transliterated. This conclusion supports Aixelá’s (1996) observation that conventional names tend to be preserved in translation, but it does not fully mesh with Aixelá’s other claim that telling names tend to be given a linguistic translation. In our source material, translations and transliterations of telling names are roughly equally frequent. Moreover, a number of telling names are omitted.

As for the effect of these procedures on the target text, the conclusion is not quite clear-cut. Whereas transliteration undoubtedly has a strong foreignising effect, the replacement of names by common nouns or paraphrases, their omission or translation contribute to a significant simplification of the text. Occasionally, omission and translation also have a domesticating effect, but then largely in a negative sense. The strategy that is arguably the most domesticating one in a positive sense is the third procedure in Hermans’s list, “a formally unrelated name can be substituted in the target text for any given name in the source text,” in particular when a foreign name is substituted for a domestic one. However, the possibility to read frīd as farīd is the only example in our corpus that would fit into the domestication strategy in a positive sense, albeit not without qualifications (as explained in section 2.2). Other translations of HarryPotter take a completely different tack, e.g., the Dutch translation, in which the majority of names are substituted by either existing Dutch names or new creations that are immediately recognisable as possible Dutch names (Van Coillie 2006: 136). Needless to say, the effect of such a substitution procedure is decidedly domesticating.

As far as we can judge, the fact that in the Arabic translation of HarryPotter, a small number of names are rendered inconsistently in the target text (e.g., translated or transliterated on different occasions) has a bearing not on the question of foreignisation versus domestication, but rather on the internal coherence of the text (see Schreiber 1993: 163, and Aziz 2003: 83, who observe that inconsistency in translation fosters confusion and lack of coherence). The same can be said of the findings that the Arabic translation has considerably fewer names than the English original, due to the many replacements and omissions,[8] and that, unlike the English original, the Arabic translation does not pay much attention to aspects such as alliteration, wordplay, associations, connotations, and instances of humour regularly arising from them. This has a considerable effect on the eventual style of the target text.

However, it would be wrong to jump to the conclusion that these latter findings can be subsumed under the heading of domestication. We concur with O’Sullivan (2000) that the traditional dichotomy between foreignisation and domestication is not entirely adequate because it does not do justice to the actual output of transfer procedures, in particular when several procedures, possibly with different outcomes, are used to produce one target text. With respect to our corpus of names, transliteration clearly has a foreignising effect, yet the other procedures do not result in domestication but rather in what O’Sullivan (2000: 237) terms neutralization, with the effect that the foreign elements of the source text are levelled out. The three strategies that O’Sullivan distinguishes are foreignisation (“exotisierende-dokumentierende Übersetzung”), neutralisation (“neutralisierende Übersetzung”), and domestication (“adaptierende” or “einbürgernde Übersetzung”).[9] In our corpus, the neutralisation effect is achieved through the replacement, omission, and translation of names.

In the next section we turn to culture-specific items related to food. As in our analysis of names the focus is on the relation between particular source text items and the procedures employed in the translation, and on the effects of these procedures on the target text compared to the source text.

3. References to food

3.1. Text functions and transfer procedures

It is widely accepted among researchers of children’s literature that references to food (including beverages) play an important role in books intended for children. Nikolajeva (2000) points out that food is often used in children’s literature as “a means of gaining entry to the other world, as a symbol of community and shared union, and as a central symbol of security” (see also Inggs 2003: 289). The HarryPotter series is no exception, in particular the first volume, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which pays much attention to magical sweets, banquets at the beginning and the end of school terms, the Christmas table, etc. As the later volumes address a readership that is steadily growing older, the references to food decrease in number.

References to food unequivocally fall under the heading of culture-specific items in current translation studies.[10] As with names, several procedures are available to transfer culture-specific items to a target text (Bödeker 1991; Aixelá 1996; Davies 2003). One of the most elaborate lists of procedures is presented by Kujamäki (2004). Although his classification partly overlaps with Hermans’ (1988) list of procedures for the transfer of proper names (see section 2.1), it may be useful to have a closer look at Kujamäki’s list, if only to demonstrate that in our corpus only a few procedures are actually used. Building on previous scholarship, Kujamäki (2004: 921-924) distinguishes the following procedures, which can be grouped into four categories:

  1. copy or lexical borrowing (“Direktübernahme”)

  2. translation, including several techniques, among which:

    • the use of a hyponym or hyperonym

    • loan translation (“Lehnübersetzung”), e.g., as when the Finnish word for a traditional bread with a hole in the middle, reikäleipä, is rendered as Lochbrot in German

    • localisation or naturalisation (“Analogieverwendung”), i.e., translation by means of an analogue designation, e.g., Finnish sauna > German Badestube, or an autonomous, target language-specific creation

  3. omission

  4. addition in the form of an extra- or intratextual gloss, with the purpose of uncovering tacit knowledge presupposed in the source text, or a paraphrase.

In the Arabic translation, three procedures are used: omission, translation proper, and copying, the last in the form of transliteration. Again, a single source text item is sometimes rendered by different procedures throughout the volumes under investigation.

3.2. Omission

Many references to food are omitted. Interestingly, this is true irrespective of whether the food products are to be considered common or special. References to common products omitted in the translation include chips, lambchops, peas, carrots, and a range of different, often amusing flavours of BertieBott’s sweets: chocolateandpeppermintandmarmalade, spinachandliverandtripe; bogey-flavoured, sprouts; toast, coconut, bakedbeans, strawberry, curry, grass, coffee, sardine, pepper, vomit-flavoured. Examples of more culture-specific products that are not mentioned in the translation are sherbetlemmon, minthumbugs and cornedbeef, as well as certain dishes that are popular in parts of Great-Britain but possibly unknown in many other countries, e.g., Yorkshirepudding, treacletarts, trifle and jelly. For the sake of comparison, references to Yorkshirepudding are also omitted in the French translation (Davies 2003: 80), whereas they are transliterated in the Russian translation (Inggs 2003: 293), copied in the German translation and rendered by an analogue designation in the Dutch translation.

As a rule, references to culture-specific dishes pose a major challenge to any translator, not only pertaining to the HarryPotter volumes. However, more important is the observation that, in the first three volumes of HarryPotter, there are many passages with detailed references to food and eating processes that greatly contribute to the realism and overall appeal of the text (especially for children). Davies (2003: 91-92) and Feral (2006: 470-471) point out that parts of these passages are either omitted or rendered in simplified form in the French translation. The same can be observed in the Arabic translation. For instance, ice-cream (chocolate and raspberry with chopped nuts) is reduced to ’āys krīm; pudding: a huge mound of whipped cream and sugaredviolets to tūrtatun ḍahmatunmuġaṭātun bi-l-krīmati r-rā’i‘ati (a huge cake covered with gleaming cream); after a tea of turkey sandwiches, crumpets, trifle and Christmas cake to ba‘da š-šāyi d-dāfi’i wa ka‘ki l-‘īdi l-ladīdi (after some hot tea and delicious Christmas cakes). Other examples of reduction include:

Regularly, entire passages with references to food are deleted, for example:

According to Feral (2006: 471), omissions and / or simplifications of this kind change the narrative point of view of the text. She claims that the perspective offered in the French translation of HarryPotter is no longer that of a child but of an adult. Analysis of the Arabic translation does not necessarily support this conclusion. Omissions tend to flatten the text’s descriptive subtleties and richness of detail in favour of its narrative development and story line (see section 2.1). We consider it unlikely that these are adaptations that reflect an adult perspective. On the other hand, they definitely make the text more accessible to those readers, children or adults alike, who are first and foremost interested in the suspenseful plot.

3.3. Translation

Translation is another important transfer procedure used to convey references to food in the Arabic translation. Not all techniques described by Kujamäki (2004) are used. Literal translation occurs, for instance, when the biscuits that Hagrid has baked, referred to as rock cakes in the original, are called ka‘kun ṣahriyyun (stony, rocky cakes) or al-ka‘ku ṣ-ṣulbu (the hard cakes). The use of hyperonyms is also quite frequent. A hyperonym has a more general meaning than the source reference, as, e.g., in:

  • a bit of fried egg > aṭ-ṭa‘āmu (the food, meal)

  • hamburger > ‘ašā’un (supper)

  • steak > al-laḥmu (meat)

  • apieceoftoast > qiṭ‘atu hubzin (a piece of bread).

The technique whereby a source culture-specific item in the domain of food is conveyed by a target culture-specific item that can be regarded as a culture-specific analogue is resorted to in the following examples:

  • bun > faṭīratun (“a cake-like white bread or a pastry made of water, flour and shortening,” Wehr 1980: 720);

  • jamdoughnuts > faṭā’iru l-murabbā (jam pastry);

  • rice-pudding > muhallabiyyatun (a typical Arabic dessert “resembling blancmange, made of rice flour, milk and sugar,” Wehr 1980: 1031);

  • pie > šaṭīratun (the word for //sandwich// and //steak// according to Wehr 1980: 917).

Ben-Ari (1992: 227) calls this technique cultural conversion, and he emphasises its importance in the translation of children’s literature in general. However, in the Arabic translation of HarryPotter, conversion norms of the kind intended by Ben-Ari do not appear to play a prominent role, except for certain taboo references (see below).[11]

In section 2.3, we observed that a single designation in the source corpus is not necessarily associated with one and the same translation throughout the target corpus: e.g., DarkWizard is either translated by a word meaning //bad magician// or //black magician// in the Arabic text. Conversely, we found that different items in the source text may also be conveyed by a single translation, for example, as when the Dementor, a gamekeeper and the keeper in the Quidditch game are invariably designated by the general Arabic word for //guard, keeper//. In the transfer of references to food, the alternation between different procedures for the designation of a single item and the tendency to reduce the lexical variation of the source text is even more obvious. For example, faṭīratun is used as a translation of bun and doughnut, and tūrtatun as a translation of pudding and cake; pudding in turn is either rendered as tūrtatun or alwā, and cake as tūrtatun or ka‘katun; the latter noun is also the translation of crumpet. Both gravy and ketchup are translated as ṣalṣātun (sauces); alwā (sweets) is used as the translation of porridge, but at the same time it is a fairly frequent word in the target corpus and equally serves to refer to other sweet products, e.g., pudding, sweets, and home-made fudge.

Moreover, the use of an analogue, a hyperonym or simple omission may also alternate. For instance, jamdoughnuts are called not only faṭā’iru l-murabbā (jam pastry) but also a‘āmun (plain for //food, meal//) or the designation is simply left untranslated. Interestingly, this kind of alternation between different procedures can also be observed in the treatment of references to food that are arguably taboo in the Arabic culture, in particular references to pork (and all food products derived from pigs and hogs) and alcohol. The word bacon is either omitted or translated as bayḍun (egg), a reference to pork chops is omitted, and roast pork is translated hyperonymically as al-laḥmu l-mašwiyyu (roasted meat). Aziz (1982) confirms that certain culture-specific items pose serious problems for translators, in particular

lexical items referring to objects that are forbidden in the target language […] Pork, ham and bacon are almost impossible to render into Arabic, where only the generic term, lahem al-khanzir [pork], exists and is charged with unfavourable emotive meaning for a Moslem reader.

Aziz 1982: 29

The same holds for references to alcohol, with the difference that

several names of spirits and liqueurs have become part of the vocabulary of the Arabic language, e.g., beera (beer), whisky, gin and brandy. Many other terms for beverages, e.g., sherry and cider […], are unknown in the Arab world, and therefore pose a problem for the translator.

Aziz 1982: 27

In the Arabic translation of HarryPotter, almost all potential taboo references are left out, with a few exceptions. For example, in a passage where Hagrid fails to transform Dudley into a piglet, the reference to a pig is preserved:

In accordance with the didactic nature of children’s literature in the Arab world, references to alcohol are deleted or altered: sherry, fourpintsofmulledmead and redcurrantrum are omitted, brandy and wine are either omitted or translated as šarābun, which can designate //wine//, //fruit juice, fruit syrup// or simply //beverage, drink// (Wehr 1980: 462). The word for the very popular drink in the magic world, Butterbeer (a proper name), which is usually drunk hot and does not make wizards drunk, is either omitted or translated as šarābun or mašrūbun (drink). When on the occasion of Aunt Marge’s visit to the Dursleys, Vernon uncorkedseveral bottles of wine, this reference is rendered as ’aḥara […] ’anwā‘an muta‘addidatan min-a š-šarābi (he fetched various sorts of beverages).

Virtually all the passages referring to Hagrid’s chronic alcohol abuse are left untranslated (e.g., and every now and then he gets drunk; Hagrid was drinking deeply from his goblet; he kept buyin’ me drinks; he’d got Hagrid drunk; I’ll never drink again!; A large bottle was swinging from his hands; meander tipsily). However, there is one exception. When Hagrid is sad and his friends pay him a visit to cheer him up, the sentence One look told them that Hagrid had been drinking a lot is not omitted but translated as ‘arafū ’annahu qad tanāwala l-katīra min-a š-šarābi (they knew that he had got many drinks). The other references to Hagrid’s drunken condition in this passage are not retained (and he seemed to be having difficulty in getting them into focus; he said thickly; taking a huge gulp of whatever was in the tankard; ‘I think you’ve had enough to drink, Hagrid,’ said Hermione firmly).

3.4. Copy

Finally, a handful of food references are copied by means of transliteration. As a rule, the designations exist as loanwords in the Arabic language, e.g.: sausages > sūsīs, sandwiches > sandwitšāt, ice-cream > ’āys krīm, chocolate > šīkūlāta, dog biscuits > biskwīt al-kilābi, cake > ka‘katun. The transliteration of earwax (one of the many awkward flavours of Bertie Bott’s sweets referred to above) as ’īrwāks is probably due to an error.

3.5. Conclusion

Designations of food contribute to a considerable degree to the general outlook of the first three volumes of HarryPotter. References to pork and alcohol constitute particularly salient illustrations of “cultural constraints” (Shavit 1994: 12) when it comes to the question of how they are to be dealt with in the Arabic translation. To the extent that such references are part and parcel of the entire setting in the Harry Potter series, Nord (1997: 38) argues that, in the translation, their intended text function should take priority over their denotative value as well, rendering, e.g., bayḍun (egg) an adequate translation of bacon. However, Coseriu (1978) has pointed out that an adequate transfer procedure cannot – and, we would like to add, should not – be established once and for all. If the colour of mourning and death is black in certain cultures but white in others, Coseriu argues, then the translator has to make a choice between the message (or sensus, German Sinn) of the text that he is translating and the denotative value (Bezeichnung) of certain words. Both techniques are legitimate in and by themselves:

Will er [the translator] den Sinn beibehalten, wird er die Bezeichnung ändern müssen; will er hingegen die Bezeichnung beibehalten, wird er eventuell außerhalb der Übersetzung selbst (z.B. in einer Fußnote oder in einem erklärenden Kommentar) angeben müssen, dass die gleiche Bezeichnung in der dem Originaltext entsprechenden Sprachgemeinschaft einen anderen Sinn hat.

Coseriu 1978: 26[12]

If the Arabic translation as a whole is compared to the English original, the references to pork and alcohol turn out to have rather limited cue validity for an accurate overall assessment of the Arabic target text. It is important to stress that, also in the domain of food designations, attempts at domesticating the text are rare in the Arabic translation of HarryPotter. This is consistent with the observation that the neutralising effects emerging from procedures such as omission, including reductions, and translation techniques such as the use of hyperonyms are much more pervasive than the attempts at domestication. By and large, therefore, the results of this section on references to food dovetail with the results of our analysis of the transfer of names in section 2. Rather than domesticating the text by using culture-specific analogues, the Arabic translation of Harry Potter relies heavily on the strategy of simplification. Laviosa-Braithwaite (1998: 288-289) points out that simplification may manifest itself at different levels, namely, the lexicon, syntax, and style. The concomitant effect of the procedures that we have been discussing on the style of the text is indeed very similar to that described in the previous section: as with the names, the richness of detail, the humour and the many connotations associated with food, flavours and aromas in the source text are only rarely reproduced in the target text.

4. Further evidence from other culture-specific domains

Apart from names and references to food, there are other culture-specific items that provide converging evidence for the importance of the neutralisation strategy. In this section, we briefly look at the domains of schooling and education, kinship and family ties, and the use of dialect and slang. For reasons of space, our account of these domains is necessarily cursory and serves mainly to illustrate the effect of translation strategies that add to neutralisation, and in particular, attenuation and normalisation.

It is generally acknowledged that the references to the boarding school that Harry Potter attends are a major factor in the development of a typically British atmosphere in the book series. It is striking, therefore, that many designations related to this domain are not rendered in a consistent way in the target text: term, for instance, is translated as dirāsatun (study), ‘āmun dirāsiyyun (year of study) or faṣlu d-dirāsati (term), summer term as al-‘āmu (year), and first years as al-’awlādu (the children), at-talāmīdu (the pupils) or talāmīdu ṣ-ṣiffi l-’awwali (the pupils of the first grade). Similar lexical variation can be noticed with dormitory, translated as ‘anbaru n-nawmi (sleeping compartment), ujratu n-nawmi (bedroom) or ‘anābiru (compartments), and commonroom, translated as baqiyyatu l-manzili (the rest of the house), bahwun ra’īsiyyun (the principal room, living room), qā‘atun (room, hall), al-ḥujratu l-‘āmmatu (the public room) or al-bahwu l-‘adhīmu (the great hall). Given this variation, it is unlikely that readers are able to locate certain sites of events or actions correctly (see also Inggs 2003: 294, who gives examples of similar lexical variation in the Russian translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone). Conversely, the differentiation between detention and to suspend is not preserved in the target text, both being rendered by the hyperonym ‘āqaba (to punish), and function designations such as Head Boy and Prefect are translated as aṭ-ṭālibu l-mitāliyyu (the model student) and ra’īsu t-talāmīdi (the head of the pupils) respectively. Compared with other translations, e.g., Schulsprecher and Vertrauensschüler in German, hoofdmonitor and klassenoudste in Dutch, premier de la classe and préfet in French (with an additional gloss for préfet, “c’est un élève chargé de maintenir la discipline,” Davies 2003: 77), the Arabic translation testifies to the lack of attention that the translators have paid to the hierarchy expressed by these designations.

While the transfer of references to school points to neutralisation, designations related to kinship and family often add attenuation to neutralisation. Attenuation means that the translators “omit or soften ‘blunt’ or ‘strong’ expressions” (Ben-Ari 1992: 226). The importance of this strategy is particularly evident in the transfer of negative, contemptuous or downright humiliating remarks about certain people in the source text. In the target text, these remarks are either couched in less offensive words or (partially) omitted. For instance, when James Potter, Harry’s father, is referred to as a good-for-nothing husband or a wastrel, these references are omitted in the translation, and when Aunt Marge calls him a no-account, good-for-nothing, lazy scrounger, the translation is attenuated to mujarradu ṣabiyyin kasūlin (nothing but a lazy lad). When Petunia Dursley talks of her dratted sister, the derogatory adjective is replaced by a neutral one: šaqīqatun rāḥilatun (deceased sister).

A particularly salient case in point is the tendency towards attenuation in passages related to Marge Dursley (Aunt Marge), who often uses strong language. First, Miss Dursley is a Missis (as-sayyidatu //Mrs.//) in the target text. Second, descriptive passages such as She even had a moustache, though not as bushy as his, shewiped her moustache and She burped richly are left out. Third, much of what she says is either omitted or else rendered in an attenuated form. For example, the sentence, Ripper [her dog] can have some tea out of my saucer, said Aunt Marge is omitted, but this may primarily be due to the lowly status of dogs in Arabic culture. Not surprisingly, Aunt Marge’s comment on Harry’s origins in terms of kennelling (‘You see it all the time with dogs. If there’s something wrong with the bitch, there’ll be something wrong with the pup –’) is not translated either, and her criticism of the soft way to deal with boys like Harry at school, this namby-pamby, wishy-washy nonsense, is rendered as bi-hādihi l-kalāmi (with these words). Other attenuated translations of humorous or cheeky comments by other characters include:

The attenuation strategy is so pervasive that it is also applied when the text is about villains, e.g., as when Voldemort says about his father: ‘You think I was going to use my filthy Muggle father’s name for ever?’ and ‘I keep the name of a foul, common Muggle, who abandoned me even before I was born, just because he found out his wife was a witch?’ These sentences are not retained in the translation.

Finally, some domains of culture-specific items provide evidence of normalisation in the Arabic translation, most conspicuously those items that are related to special language uses such as dialect, informal language and slang. Normalisation reflects a “tendency towards textual conventionality,” in particular when the representation of spoken language in the source text “is adjusted towards the norms of written prose” (Laviosa-Braithwaite 1998: 289-290; see also Helgegren 2005: 13).[13] The importance of normalisation is generally acknowledged in the literature on children’s books. According to Even-Zohar (1992: 232), until very recently it was considered inappropriate to have non-standard language in Hebrew books for children. As a matter of fact, the rejection of non-standard language in children’s literature had been the norm in Europe for a very long time as well (O’Sullivan 2000: 185-186). We find that the same holds true for the Arabic translation of Harry Potter. All instances of non-standard language in the source text are either transferred into standard Arabic or else omitted altogether. For example, the West country accent of Hagrid and the Cockney accent of Stan Shunpike and Ernie Prang are not preserved, although these linguistic features serve to characterise the individual characters (e.g., Hagrid – Jentsch 2002: 290-292) and often are a source of humour in the original. Also informal language use is consistently ignored, for example:

  • Mum – geroff. > Ø;

  • Aaah, has ickle Ronnie got somefink on his nosie? said one of the twins. > Ø;

  • Are you ghoulie or ghostie or wee student beastie? > Ø;

  • Me dad’s a Muggle. > ’abī min-a l-‘āmmati … (my father belongs to the common people);

  • Ickle firsties! > talāmīdu l-faṣli l-’awwali (the pupils of the first grade).

According to Leppihalme (2000: 259-261), normalisation provides evidence of what Toury (1995: 267-268) calls a “law of growing standardization” in favour of “[more] habitual options offered by a target repertoire.” However, even though normalisation fits the global strategy of neutralisation or even domestication, Leppihalme (2000: 266) points out that “the elements weakened or lost – the sociocultural context, humour and individualization of characters – may not be readily missed if the reading experience is emotionally satisfying in other ways.”

5. General conclusion

According to Dickins, Hervey, et al. (2002: 96), “the question is not whether there is translation loss (there always is), but what it consists in and whether it matters.” In keeping with this descriptive perspective, the research reported in this article establishes several findings that enable us to relate the transfer procedures employed in our corpus:

  1. to specific formal, semantic and cultural properties of the source text material; and

  2. to textual and stylistic features of the target text.

With respect to the source text properties, we have shown that transliteration, although mainly used as a procedure to transfer conventional names, is applied to a number of other items as well, in particular telling names containing Latin, Pseudo-Latin or other foreign elements. These names are copied in the target text and adjusted to the conventions of the Arabic script and phonological system. Occasionally, telling names are replaced by common nouns, but most telling names consisting of English words are translated (even though an alliterating, phonosemantically loaded and lexically transparent name like Shrieking Shack is transliterated). Culture-specific references to food may be translated by general hyperonyms or transferred by culture-specific analogues. However, one of the most pervasive procedures across all items that we have investigated is clearly omission. On the one hand, we have adduced evidence that many semantically and / or culturally loaded items or text passages, and to a lesser extent also formally distinctive items, are left untranslated. On the other hand, however, it is clear that neutralisation and attenuation cannot account for all of the instances of omission in the data. Regularly, portrayals of certain characters or general descriptions intended to create a certain atmosphere are omitted or considerably abbreviated, not because of semantic or cultural reasons but primarily because of economy and, so it seems, a fairly liberal attitude towards those parts in the source text that are apparently considered redundant for the plot. By and large, this conclusion holds for all three volumes of the series that we investigated (especially volumes one and two), and the omissions are more frequent in the first parts of the books than in the latter parts.

The upshot of our investigation, then, is that although the transfer procedures employed in the Arabic translation of Harry Potter are not committed to a single translation strategy, the research findings indicate the overall importance of the neutralisation strategy. In our corpus, neutralisation is achieved mainly through simplification (the principal procedures being omission, the replacement of names by common nouns and hyperonymic translation), occasionally supplemented by procedures of attenuation and normalisation. This conclusion crucially relies on the omission procedure. The “process and/or result of making do with less words” (Blum-Kulka and Levenston 1983: 119) has a particularly profound impact on the end result of the translation process. Yet, neutralisation does not altogether exclude instances of foreignisation and domestication, although it should be noted that in our corpus the foreignising effect of a considerable number of transliterated names by far outweighs the domesticating effect of the few cultural conversions through the introduction of culture-specific analogues. It is beyond the scope of this paper to explore the question whether the Arabic translation of Harry Potter fits into an established tradition within the field of Arabic translation of children’s literature or not.

According to O’Sullivan (2000: 237), neutralisation is midway between foreignisation and domestication, universally regarded as the two dominant strategies of translation (Venuti 1998). If Venuti (2008: 19) is right in stating that the “terms ‘domestication’ and ‘foreignization’ indicate fundamentally ethical attitudes towards a foreign text and culture, ethical effects produced by the choice of a text for translation and by the strategy devised to translate it,” then the conclusion must be that the Arabic translation of Harry Potter is largely neutral in an ethical sense as well. Be that as it may, with respect to children’s literature neither a neutralisation strategy carried out to the extreme nor a radical domestication strategy seems to be a safe bet in the long term (Oittinen 2006). Nikolajeva’s (2006: 278) recent assertion that children perhaps are “less tolerant toward alien elements in their reading” and that we “should be aware of the risks of translated literature being rejected by readers as too ‘strange’” may be unwarranted. Recall what Astrid Lindgren said decades ago:

Certains vous diront que le livre d’enfant, plus que tout autre genre, est solidaire du pays dans lequel il est écrit, qu’il dépeint des types humains et des milieux que les enfants d’un autre pays, pris au filet de leur petite expérience, sont incapables de comprendre, avec lesquels ils ne peuvent pas s’identifier. Vraiment? Vous croyez? Je suis convaincue du contraire – convaincue que les enfants ont une prodigieuse faculté d’adhésion, qu’ils savent vivre les choses et les situations les plus insolites pour peu qu’un bon traducteur les y aide…

Lindgren 1969: 98

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