Saturday, January 12, 2013

Heebits and Hobbits

The Hobbit was recently translated from English into Yiddish and Heeb is here to tell us about it:

Hey, some people collect stamps; Some people build model railroads; And some people translate epic fantasy series into a language that hasn’t been widely spoken for nearly a century

Herp derp.

As usual, Heeb is about as edgy as a third grade bully.

On the eve of WW II (1939) there were approximately 13 million Yiddish speakers. After the war, that number was drastically reduced, but still numbered in the millions. And today, estimates have the number of Yiddish speakers at a million. It's true, the majority of those Yiddish speakers are some flavor of Haredi (and not the target audience for der Hobbit), nonetheless, they live and breathe and probably own the loft you want to rent in East Williamsburg.

Anyway, there's an interesting story in the transmigration of Hobbit to האביט, but as usual, the clever kids at Heeb can't figure out how to take a story beyond pointing and laughing.  To them, Yiddish is a punchline. I get it. Like bullies everywhere, they hate what's different and threatening to their sense of themselves.

So, you know, fuck them. Let's give the mic to Prof. Jeff Shandler. In his book Adventures in Yiddishland, Shandler notes that moving back and forth between languages (code switching) "constitutes a definitional Jewish activity."

"Since the beginnings of modern Yiddish belles lettres in the mid-nineteenth century, translation practices involving Yiddish-- both as a target language (i.e., translating into Yiddish) and as a source language...-- generate innovating meanings out of code-switching, as they engage new kinds of texts and create new kinds of readers. In particular, translation practices can be seen as exemplary Jewish engagements with modernity-- both expanding the frontiers of Yiddish literacy and presenting it with unprecedented potential for its dissolution."

Maybe you think translating The Hobbit into Yiddish is a waste of time. Heeb seems to think so. But Shandler opens his chapter on translation with a pertinent quote by the great Yiddish literary critic, Shmuel Niger. "One language has never been enough for the Jewish people."  Maybe one Hobbit wasn't enough for us, either. Who am I to judge?

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