[Mendele] Mendele Personal Notices and Announcements--Alice in Wonderland in (transliterated) Yiddish

Victor Bers victor.bers at yale.edu
Thu Jul 9 19:12:31 EDT 2015

Mendele Personal Notices and Announcements

July 8, 2015

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From: Michael Everson <everson at evertype.com>
Date: July 8, 2015
Subject: di Avantures fun Alis in Vunderland

Evertype would like to announce the publication of Joan Braman's
translation of “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland” into Yiddish, “Di
Avantures fun Alis in Vunderland”. A page with links to Amazon.com and
Amazon.co.uk is available at



Lewis Carroll is a pen-name: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was the author’s real
name and he was lecturer in Mathematics in Christ Church, Oxford. Dodgson
began the story on 4 July 1862, when he took a journey in a rowing boat on
the river Thames in Oxford together with the Reverend Robinson Duckworth,
with Alice Liddell (ten years of age) the daughter of the Dean of Christ
Church, and with her two sisters, Lorina (thirteen years of age), and Edith
(eight years of age). As is clear from the poem at the beginning of the
book, the three girls asked Dodgson for a story and reluctantly at first he
began to tell the first version of the story to them. There are many
half-hidden references made to the five of them throughout the text of the
book itself, which was published finally in 1865.

I have avoided the temptation to make this translation a “Yiddishized” one,
in which the characters live, move, and have their being in a now-vanished
traditional Eastern European Jewish world. To do so would be an exercise in
nostalgia and would, I believe, deprive the original of its ageless,
fairytale charm. For Alice’s world is that of proper, middle class
Victorian England, with its manners, morals, prejudices, and
idiosyncrasies, and the world she visits is that same world turned on its
head, so to speak. My intention, therefore, was to produce, as nearly as
possible, a thoroughly literal translation that would allow a hypothetical
Yiddish-literate reader to experience the work as located in its own time
and place. Thus, for instance, I have refrained from introducing
traditional Jewish foods, customs, or verbalisms. But beyond that, I have
attempted to reproduce in Yiddish the style, diction, grammatical usage,
and syntactic structures of the original book. This goal of linguistic
veri­similitude, however, required a tradeoff. The Yiddish had often to be
bent out of shape, its natural rhythms distorted to conform to Carrol’s
quaint, formal Victorian prose. Likely a fluent Yiddish speaker would find
it lacking in the true music and flavor of echt mame loshn. I acknowledge
and accept full responsibility for this difficulty, and for any
unintentional grammatical faux pas that I may have perpetrated.

Among the ways in which I have striven to replicate Carroll’s writing, I
have retained the characteristic long, tortuous sentences formed from the
piling up of clauses punctuated by colons and semi-colons, and the frequent
passive constructions, which in Yiddish are typically rendered in the
active mode (using the impersonal pronoun me or men: for example, me hot
geboyt a hoyz ‘a house was built’). I have avoided gratuitous Yiddishisms
and favored literal over idiomatic renderings wherever possible (an
exception, is the irreplaceable halevay, meaning ‘I wish that … would that
… if only’. I have attempted to differentiate between the speech patterns
of the various characters, and have given preference to more commonplace
words of Germanic origin over more sophisticated ones of Hebrew-Aramaic
derivation, as befitting a work for children. Moreover, I have translated
the songs and verses, as closely as was possible, instead of substituting
Yiddish equivalents, while also keeping the rhymes.

Not of least importance, I have been faithful to Carroll’s whimsical
predilection for puns and wordplay, a genre of writing found often in
English literature but, to my knowledge, rarely in Yiddish. Such linguistic
play is usually not readily trans­lateable into other languages; however, I
have not hesitated to take liberties with Yiddish words so as to create
comparable puns, neologisms, mispronunciations, and malapropisms, that
capture the humor and spirit of Carroll’s own.
A word on the subject of gender, as Yiddish is a gendered lan­guage. My
policy has been to refer to specific personified animals or other non-human
creatures using their “real” gender rather than their grammatical one. I
believe that this is customary in some gendered languages, such as with
pets. Thus applied to the Dremlmoyz, who is grammatically feminine (di moyz
‘mouse’) but whom I take to be of male gender (its Tea-Party companions
would hardly treat a female so outrageously), I use the appropriate
masculine articles and pronouns. Whereas the sex of the majority of the
non-human characters mentioned individually is unspecified, I arbitrarily
assume them to be male, the exceptions being the canary and the old Crab at
the Caucus, the Pigeon, and of course Dinah the cat. Among the former
group, the Cheshire-Cat I likewise assume to be male and refer to
accordingly (a generic ‘cat’, di kats, is feminine; der koter or ‘tomcat’,
would have been another option).
In the transliteration from Hebrew to Romanized letters, I have followed
the standardized spelling adopted in 1936 at a conference in Vilna
sponsored by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. There are no capital
letters in Yiddish print or script, but they are naturally required in an
English transliteration.

—Joan Braman
New York, April 2015


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