You can now add Yiddish to the languages into which the Harry Potter books have been translated

Feb 11, 2020

Posted by: Amanda Kirk

Books, Harry Potter and the Philosophers / Sorcerers Stone, Publishers, Translations

As reported in Jewish newspaper The Forward, the First Edition of the Yiddish translation of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, comprising 1,000 copies, sold out within two days of publication, with orders coming in from the United States, Israel, Poland, Sweden, Morocco, Australia, and China.  1,000 copies may not sound like very many, given the typical stratospheric sales figures for books in the Potter franchise (over 500 millions copies in over 80 languages have been sold worldwide), but it has been unusual for Yiddish-language books from outside of the Hasidic community to sell more than a few hundred copies due to the limited market.  According to publisher Niklas Olniansky of Sweden-based Olniansky Tekst, “It’s crazy, it’s hard to believe.  We thought that we wouldn’t be able to sell more than 1,000 copies of a non-Hasidic book”.

The Harry Potter franchise is known for breaking records, and also breaking cultural and linguistic barriers, leading to a global community of diverse fans (shout out to Leaky readers) united by our love of the magical world created by J.K. Rowling.  The Forward speculates that purchasers of the Yiddish edition include both native speakers and students of Yiddish, as well as collectors who simply want to own all available editions of the Potter books.

Translator Arun Viswanath told The Forward, “I’m an optimist by nature but even I’ve been blown away by the enthusiasm. I’m thrilled”.   It was Viswanath’s wife, a Harry Potter fan, who encouraged him to translate the first book in the series into Yiddish.  As a proponent of the language, he was eager for kids to be immersed in it as a first language, and his wife said, “Do you really want to raise Yiddish-speaking kids in a world without Harry Potter in Yiddish?”  Viswanath spent two years translating Philosopher’s Stone (rendered Harry Potter un der filosofisher shteyn in Yiddish) and is now working on Chamber of Secrets (Heri Poter un di soydes-kamer).

Rowling’s sophisticated wordplay, neologisms, British-specific vocabulary, and regional accents, make the series particularly challenging for a translator.  Viswanath opted for a carefully-chosen mix of substituting English words with Yiddish equivalents, transliterating some words, and leaving others in their English form (Hufflepuff house is still Hufflepuff, although Griffyndor became Goldngrif and Ravenclaw is Robnkrel).  You can read a detailed account of the translation challenges and process here and read an excerpt here.


A second edition is forthcoming.  You can order it here for $28, which includes shipping worldwide.


The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.