Harry Potter in Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese Translation


The Titles of Magical Books in Harry Potter


Spellman's Syllabary


Chinese (Mainland) 魔法字音表
Mófǎ zìyīn-biǎo
魔法 mófǎ  = 'magic'.
字音表 zìyīn-biǎo = 'character-sound-table' = 'table of word pronunciations'.
Magic pronunciation table
Chinese (Taiwan) 符咒家的字音表寶典
Fúzhòu-jiā de zìyīn-biǎo bǎo-diǎn
符咒 fúzhòu = '(Taoist) magic figures and incantatations, spells'.
-jiā = suffix meaning 'person who...', similar to English '-ist'.
de = connecting particle
字音表 zìyīn-biǎo = 'character-sound-table' = 'table of word pronunciations'.
寶典 bǎodiǎn = 'treasured book'.
Spell-expert pronunciation table treasury
Japanese スペルマン音節文字表
Superuman onsetsu-moji-hyō

Superuman no sukkiri onsetsu
スペルマン Superuman = 'Spellman (phonetic)'.
音節 onsetsu = 'syllable'.
文字 moji = 'letter, character'.
-hyō = 'table'.

すっきり sukkiri = 'clean'.
Spellman syllabic letter table

Spellman's clean syllables
Vietnamese Bộ Vần Âm Tiết Của Thầy Bùa

Bảng Ký Hiệu Âm Tiết cho Người Niệm Chú
bộ vần = 'alphabet, set (of syllables)'. (bộ = 'set'; vần = 'rhyme, syllable, alphabet'.)
âm tiết (音節) = 'syllable'.
thầy bùa = 'sorceror' (thầy means 'teacher' and is used for white-collar professions. bùa is 'spell'. Thầy bùa is thus a professional in spells.)

bảng () = 'table'.
ký hiệu (記號) = 'symbols'.
âm tiết (音節) = 'syllable'.
cho = 'for'.
người = 'person'.
niệm chú (唸咒) = 'cast spell, incantation'.
Syllabary of a spell worker

Table of syllabic symbols for spell casters

The English title is playful and inventive.


'Spellman's Syllabary' is similar to real-world titles like 'Pitman's Shorthand', one of the oldest and most famous methods of shorthand. Pitman's shorthand, needless to say, was developed by a gentleman called Pitman. By analogy, Spellman's syllabary must have been created by a gentleman called Spellman. 'Spellman' is a real name, but it also hides two other meanings: a 'spell man' may be an expert at magical spells and may also be an expert at spelling.

The Mainland Chinese translator adopts an economical approach, the generic 'Magic Pronunciation Tables'. The mythical 'Spellman' disappears from sight.

The Taiwanese translator renders 'Spellman' with 符咒家 fúzhòu-jiā = 'an expert in charms and spells' (where 符咒 fúzhòu is a term for traditional Taoist/Daoist magic figures and incantations). The result makes reasonable sense.

The Vietnamese also translates 'Spellman' as a Thầy Bùa, a professional spell worker or sorceror. In Book 7 this is changed to Người Niệm Chú, a person who casts spells.

The Japanese goes for a direct transliteration of the English, i.e., スペルマン Superuman. Japanese are familiar with the word スペル superu as meaning 'spelling' but much less commonly with スペル superu meaning 'spell' or 'curse'.


A syllabary is a system of writing where each letter represents a single syllable. This is somewhat different from an alphabet, where each letter represents a single sound. English uses an alphabet; Japanese uses the hiragana and katakana syllabaries. Putting 'Spellman' and 'syllabary' together results in an alliterated title in English: Spellman's Syllabary.

字音表 zìyīn-biǎo, used in both Mainland and Taiwanese versions, refers to tables indicating the pronunciation of (characters). By definition, this is a 'syllabary' since Chinese characters are almost completely monosyllabic in nature. Chinese has more than 400 basic syllables, traditionally analysed into 'initials' and 'finals'. A description of the Chinese syllabic system, including a complete list of 'initials' and 'finals', can be found at Chinese Phonetic System - Pinyin System.

Japanese uses 音節文字表 onsetsu-moji-hyō, the standard word for 'table of syllables'.

At Book 7, however, a somewhat different translation is adopted: すっきり音節 sukkiri onsetsu. The word すっきり sukkiri is one of those difficult-to-capture onomatopaeic words. It means 'clean', in the sense of removing what is redundant, surplus, annoying, or dirty. It may be applied to the feeling one has after a shower, after cleaning out a room, after removing emotional baggage, after pruning unnecessary verbiage, etc. When applied to something like a syllabary, it refers to something that is simple and easy to understand, without superfluous or distracting material. Of course, the reason for using すっきり sukkiri here is because it forms an alliterative pair with スペルマン Superuman.

Vietnamese also operates with a system of syllables -- except for some foreign borrowings, almost all Vietnamese words are split into syllables by the script, giving the false impression that Vietnamese is a 'monosyllabic' language. The Vietnamese translator uses the word âm tiết, used also by the Chinese and particularly the Japanese as 音節 (Chinese yīnjié, Japanese onsetsu) meaning 'syllable'. Bộ Vần Âm Tiết means 'set of syllables'. The alternative title in Book 7 uses Bảng Ký Hiệu Âm Tiết 'table of syllabic symbols'.

Category: Language

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