Ancient Greek, Basque, Gaelic and Welsh – just some of the more obscure languages that the Harry Potter books have been translated into.
To date, the Harry Potter books have sold more then 300 million copies worldwide in over 200 countries and the books have been translated into more than 60 languages – only the bible can better those statistics.
In France, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix became the first English language book to ever top bestseller list but the series has permeated almost every corner of the atlas.
The books have been translated into most Eastern European (from Albanian to Ukranian), East Asian (Cambodian to Vietnamese), and Scandinavian languages. Some countries even have books in several dialects – for instance, in Spain it is possible to buy the books in Spanish, Basque, Catalan and Galician.
But it’s possible to find even more obscure translations such as Faroese (with a mere 60,000 to 80,000 worldwide speakers) and Kalaallisut (the dialect of Greenland spoken by about 54,000). Some of the books have even been translated into the dead languages of Latin (meet Harrius Potter) and Ancient Greek, the latter translation being the longest work in the language since the novels of Heliodorus of Emesa in the 3rd century AD.
The cultural themes and language in the Potter books is very English in nature so translators have often been faced with challenging tasks to make sense of JK Rowling’s anglophile text.
Many of the spells are derived from Latin, which is fine for English speakers (or the Latin translator) but some of the translators had to change things around, including character names. For instance, Tom Riddle's middle name of Marvolo was changed to "Vandrolo" in the Hebrew edition to make the anagram in the second book work.
All of these factors make the books tricky to translate, even for book pirates. There’s one tale of a translator for a Venezuelan pirated copy who wrote in phrases like "Here comes something that I'm unable to translate, sorry."