Page 57 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 31

Basic HTML Version

51
LEFTWICH / ABOUT TRANSLATION FROM THE YIDDISH
same as the problems which face translators from and into any
other language.
Vvnat then are the problems of translation from Yiddish? Much
the same as in translation from any other language. At the PEN
International Translators Conference which I attended in 1958
in Warsaw, and delivered the address there on “The Art of Trans-
lation”—my sole translation into Polish—one of the speakers from
Poland dwelt on the problem of intranslatability, “where certain
words,” he said, “do not evoke in the users of the target language
such reactions as they do in the users of the original language.
The differences of reaction are due to differences in natural
environment and cultural traditions.” Yiddish literature is of
course an outgrowth of Jewish life, distinct and different from
the surrounding non-Jewish life. In the particular instance of the
Polish writer, the speaker, Mr. Wojtasiewicz, emphasized the dif-
ferences in natural environment. As it happens Yiddish grew up
in the same natural environment as Polish, on the same Slav soil.
As that master of the Polish-Jewish scene, Sholem Asch, has put
it in his story “Kola Road,” “The Jew who is born on this soil
has more of the field and the orchard in him. He lives with the
peasant.” But when it comes to the “differences in cultural tra-
ditions,” it is another story. “Translatability depends,” Mr. Woj-
tasiewicz pointed out, “on the community of cultural traditions.
Translators have to think of the languages and also of the social
conditions, manners and customs and traditions, which are quite
different.” The whole point of Yiddish literature is that it is
the expression of Jewish life, of what we may call a Jewish cul-
ture, Jewish traditions, Jewish ways, Jewish
shteiger lebn.
And
different ways of life express themselves in different turns of
phrase, different idioms. I t ’s the idioms that matter.
It is not only in translating from Yiddish that translators find
themselves caught in pitfalls. The translator must know not only
the language from which he is translating, but the life of the
original language. Let me take a non-Jewish example. Maria
Kuncewiczowa told us that early in her career she had translated
a book of Sigrid Undset. “I t was a bad translation not so much
for my having re-translated it from its German version, as be-
cause I had never been to Norway; never breathed its air, never
listened to its people, its birds, its children.” Here she touched
on a problem that is acute with our translations from Yiddish: