Is 'damp chill' 'a cold'? (Mongolian version)

When a completely new translation is commissioned, one tends to assume that the new translation will be an improvement on the old. After all, the new translator always has the old translation to refer to for hints in elucidating obscure or difficult sentences. Regrettably, this is not always so.

Nepko Publishing published a Mongolian translation of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, translated by D. Ayuush and D. Batbayar (Д. Аюуш, Д. Батбаяр), in 2009. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets appeared in 2011, this time translated by N. Myandas and Ts. Batsoyombo (Н. Мяндас, Ц. Батсоёмбо).

Regrettably, Nepko ended up issuing only the first two volumes. Although the publishing details in the translation declare that 'Nepko LLC holds the rights to the Mongolian-language translation' (Монгол хэл дээрх орчуулгын эрхийг НЭПКО ХХК эзэмслдэг), for whatever reason those rights now appear to belong to Monsudar Publishing LLC. Monsudar have engaged a different translator, N. Enkhnaran (Н. Энхнаран), to translate the entire series from scratch under the Jangar imprint for children. The Jangar edition of both Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets appeared in November 2017.

The old Nepko edition features its own unique artwork, functional but certainly not overwhelming.

Харри Поттэр ба Нууцат өрөө: The Nepko cover
ISBN: 978-99962-66-11-9

By comparison, the Jangar edition is beautifully produced. It is a sturdy hardcover volume with an attractive dust jacket featuring the latest artwork from Bloomsbury.

Харри Поттэр ба Нууцат өрөө: The Monsudar (Jangar) cover
ISBN: 978-99973-1-449-4

When it comes to the quality and style of the translations themselves, that is something I am not capable of judging. When a mistake is made, however, it is immediately apparent. The mistranslation that is the subject of this page is found not in the old Nepko translation but in the newer Jangar translation. The nature of the error is clear enough, even at a casual glance:


October arrived, spreading a damp chill over the grounds and into the castle. Madam Pomfrey, the matron, was kept busy by a sudden spate of colds among the staff and students.

Mongolian (Nepko)

Гадаа болон дотор чийгтэй сэрүүхэн болж, арван сар гарлаа. Багш, сурагчдын дунд гэнэт ханиад дэлгэрч, сургуулийн сувилагч, хатагтай Помфри, их завгүй байх болов.

Gadaa bolon dotor chiigtek serüükhen bolj, arvan sar garlaa. Bagsh, suragchdiin dund genet khaniad delgerch, surguuliin suv'lagch, khatagtak Pomfri, ikh zavgüi baikh bolov.

Outdoors and indoors it became damp cold, and October began. Colds suddenly spread among teachers and students, and the school nurse, Madam Pomfrey, became very busy.

Mongolian (Jangar)

Арван дугаар сар гарахад шилтгээн даяар ханиад тархжээ. Сувилагч хатагтай Помфри хүүхдүүдийн дунд тархсан ханиадыг эмчлэх гээд завгүй байлаа.
Arvan dugaar sar garakhad shiltgeen dayaar khaniad tarkhjee. Suv'lagch khatagtai Pomfri khüükhdüüdiin dund tarkhsan khaniadiig emchlekh geed zavgüi bailaa.
By October, colds had spread throughout the castle. Madam Pomfrey was busy working to treat colds that spread among the children.

The error in the Jangar edition is the misinterpretation of the word 'chill' (meaning 'an unpleasant feeling of coldness in the atmosphere, one's surroundings, or the body') as 'a feverish cold'. This is not a major error in the larger order of things and it is understandable that the translator might have been confused (although the context should suggest the correct meaning). But it is an error nonetheless, one which forces the translator into the clumsy repetition of the word ханиад khaniad 'cold, flu, chill, cough' in the second sentence. To make matters worse, Enkhnaran mentions only that the students ('children') had caught colds, whereas the English original points out that both 'staff and students' were affected.

Despite time pressure to produce the translations quickly, Enkhnaran would have been well-advised to check the earlier translation or ask a native speaker when translating. Translators of literature are expected not only to produce elegant, readable translations; they are also expected to get the meaning right.

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