Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Chapter 19: Elf Tails
Where a Vietnamese word has been borrowed from Chinese, the original Chinese character is shown in parentheses.
xiǎo-jīnglíng = 'elf'.
尾巴 wěiba = 'tail'.
Xiǎo-jīnglíng de gēnzōng
|小精靈 xiāo-jīnglíng = 'elf'.
的 de = connecting particle
跟蹤 gēnzōng = 'tail, follow'.
Shimobe yōsei no bikō
|しもべ妖精 shimobe yōsei = 'servant spirit'.
の no = connecting particle
尾行 bikō = 'act of tailing, shadowing'.
|Servant elves' tailing|
|Vietnamese||Gia tinh bám đuôi||Gia tinh (家精) = 'house spirit'.
bám = 'to stick to, hang on to, follow'.
đuôi = 'tail'.
|Elves following tail|
The 'elf tails' of the title are not quite what you might expect. After all, it's not really very certain that elves actually have tails. This is, in fact, another case of word play by the author.
In this chapter, Harry asks the house-elves Kreacher and Dobby to 'tail' Malfoy to find out what he is doing. 'Tail' means 'to surreptitiously follow or shadow'; it is the kind of word likely to be found in detective stories. Since the elves are working as 'tails', they are 'elf tails'.
The Mainland translator translates the title quite literally as 'tails (of the physiological kind) belonging to elves'. This has nothing to do with shadowing or following. In the main body of the chapter, where Harry commands Dobby and Kreacher to 'tail' Malfoy, the word 跟踪 gēnzōng 'to shadow, follow' is used. At no stage in the chapter, does the translator draw any connection between 小精灵尾巴 xiǎo-jīnglíng wěiba ('elves' tails') and the mission to 'tail' Malfoy. For the Mainland reader, the title 'Elf tails' can only be seen as a complete mystery.
The Taiwanese translator does not attempt to reproduce the word play, giving the game away from the start by using the word 跟蹤 gēnzōng 'to tail, to follow' in the chapter title. Although the word play is lost, there are no surprises or mysteries in store when readers come to the relevant scene.
The Japanese translator similarly uses 尾行 bikō, a word meaning 'to follow or shadow'. The only connection with 'tails' here is the character 尾, which means 'tail', although very few Japanese would think about the word's etymology to the extent of imagining physical tails or 尾 o.
The Vietnamese translator manages to come somewhat closer to capturing the English wordplay. Đuôi means 'tail'; bám đuôi means 'to stick on to (someone's) tail, to follow'. However, like the Japanese and Taiwanese translations and unlike the English, the Vietnamese version reveals what is going to happen during the chapter.