I have posted on this blog about Yiddish before. Over this past weekend, I had the opportunity to read Astrid Starck-Adler’s book Yiddish: Continuity and Change, which was published in 2007 as part of the Endangered Languages and Cultures series by the Centre for Multiethnic Research at Uppsala University in Sweden. It is a short book, and there are a surprising number of typos, but there was a lot I found interesting in it, not least because there was some discussion of translation.
The book is composed of three sections. The first is on Yiddish today and possibilities for revitalizing it. The second is on gender and Jewish literature (since Hebrew was traditionally the religious language, the one for men, while Yiddish was for women, for “men who are like women”, and for the home). The last part is on contemporary Yiddish literature.
Starck-Adler mentions a variety of interesting topics in the book, such as transmitting the language to younger generations, “familial” and “convivial” ways of helping the language live on, films in or about Yiddish (such as The Last Holocaust Survivors in Eastern Europe, Castings, and Voyages), using the internet for learning Yiddish, Yiddish writers, and works such as Mayse-bukh, which were used in part to teach women about the bible (and of course this raises issues of translation and adaptation from Hebrew to English). She also discusses how the “most interesting thing about Yiddish is that it plays a twofold role: as a Jewish language, Yiddish is a factor of identity; as a language based on German it is a vector of alterity.” (26)
As for translation, Starck-Adler believes that “[s]ince the circle of Yiddish readers is so small, translation of little-known writers into other languages outside the small Yiddish world is very important for allowing their works to be more widely known” (59-60) and that “[t]ranslation from or into Yiddish or making available in a bilingual edition some important texts is one of the essential means of promoting the survival and renewal of an endangered language like Yiddish.” (48) She seems to be a strong advocate for bilingual editions, since they allow the reader to “compare the two versions of the same text, to ‘verify’ the accuracy of the core text, and, in the absence of good reliable dictionaries, we can then have access to different registers of language, which are more elaborate and more complete.” (49) Also, seeing the original language may encourage curious readers of the translated text to study it.
Finally, here is a somewhat odd comment on translation: “The importance of translations has been pointed out by Dovid Katz who thinks that a better translation than the original would help to gain interest from a bigger readership!” (19)
Usually, books on language don’t discuss translation, so it was refreshing to read a scholar’s thoughts on how translation is necessary for keeping Yiddish literature and language alive.