Lexical Meaning and Equivalence in ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’

Written on 3 February, 2022

An excerpt of “The analysis of Lexical Meaning and Equivalence in J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’.”

An academic essay by Jasmine Stolk

Introduction

The aim of this essay is to discuss the translation of certain nouns and extracts in J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ in comparison with the German translation ‘Harry Potter und der Feuerkelch’. Rowling uses many literary devices in her writing, such as allusions, alliteration, poetry and her imaginative invention of nouns and proper nouns.

Harry Potter book

Proper Nouns

Firstly, we will look at the character Peter Pettigrew, who has the nickname ‘Wormtail’. His given name, as with most of the characters names, has been transferred to the German translation, however, his nickname has not. Wormtail is a compound noun, which when split, give the morphemes ‘worm’ and ‘tail’. The propositional meaning of ‘worm’ is “any of numerous relatively small elongated usually naked and soft-bodied animals” (Merriam-Webster, 2016). However, it also has an expressive meaning of “a human being who is an object of contempt, loathing or pity” (Merriam-Webster, 2016). The second definition is much more fitting to this character. Furthermore, the noun ‘tail’, which is a part of an animal’s body, in this instance, refers to a specific animal: a rat. This requires previous knowledge, that Peter Pettigrew’s animagus (the ability to transform into an animal), is a rat. A rat is often thought of as a dirty creature, which is looked down upon, yet again, a very fitting character assessment.

Wormtail, was literally translated, whereby it is a direct transfer into grammatically and idiomatically correct language, to ‘Wurmschwanz’ [back translation (BT): Wormtail], which is also a compound noun. When split into two separate morphemes, ‘Wurm’ and ‘Schwanz’ it is clear that the connotation of the expressive meaning of worm, has not been transferred to the German ‘Wurm’. The propositional meaning of ‘Schwanz’ remains the same as tail. Despite the successful literal translation, this still provides a translation loss as the expressive meaning of ‘worm’, being a coward, isn’t transferred to German.

Albeit this, where there is translation loss, there must also be translation gain. The additional wizarding schools taking part in the Triwizard Tournament, (the main plot of the book), remain the same in the translation as they are in the source. However, the allusion connected to the name ‘Durmstrang’, may be not obvious to an English audience, but a lot more prominent for a German readership. ‘Durmstrang’ alludes to the German literary movement in the 1700’s called ‘Sturm und Drang’ [literally translated as storm and stress], whereby the types of work made during this period were passionately individualistic and rebellious, both of which can characterise this particular wizarding school.

Alliteration in names is a popular choice for Rowling when inventing the names for the ghosts that appear in her novel. Two notable examples include ‘Moaning Myrtle’ and ‘Nearly Headless Nick’. The later has been literally translated, but without the inclusion of alliteration, ‘Der fast kopflose Nick’ [BT: the nearly headless Nick]. However, in this instance, it was more important to keep the propositional meaning that this ghost was fully decapitated, rather than to keep the literary device, since this fact is a part of a sub plot throughout the books.

‘Moaning Myrtle’ keeps the alliteration and propositional meaning in its translation as ‘Die Maulende Myrte’ [BT: sulking Myrte]. ‘Myrtle’ has been changed to ‘Myrte’ as it is the German equivalent of the Myrtle plant, where the name originated from.

Conclusion

It has been shown that the literary devices that Rowling uses can be translated across from the source, and in the case of “Durmstrang”, perhaps more successfully in the translation.

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