Dr Seuss in Yiddish -- vey iz mir!

Yiddish House press has translated several classic kids' books into Yiddish, a curious and wonderfully expressive language spoken mostly by Jews of Eastern European descent. I just picked up their Eyn Fish Tsvey Fish Royter Fish Bloyer Fish, a translation of Dr Seuss's classic One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Sholem Berger.

Dr Seuss works improbably well in Yiddish. Yiddish's strength is its onomatopoeic expressiveness; and it contains a lot of Germanic words that are cognates for their English equivalents (such as "bloyer," which means "blue;" and "fish," which means "fish!"), but they're pitch-bent enough to make them sound a little off-kilter, which makes them perfect for a Seussian rhyme.

Berger's translation is funny and tight, his rhymes are as sweet as Seuss's originals. The text is written in both Hebrew script and Latin-alphabet transliterations (which is good, since I read Hebrew at the rate of about three words per hour).

I grew up speaking Yiddish, having learned it at the Workman's Circle center in Toronto in after-school classes. It was my father's first language, and the language spoken by my grandparents and their friends. I love its eye-rolling irony and humor, and can't think of a better text to appear in Yiddish translation. You don't have to speak Yiddish to enjoy the sheer poetry of Seuss rendered in it, either. I read bits out to my wife (who speaks some Welsh, but no Yiddish), and she concurred.

Eyn Fish Tsvey Fish Royter Fish Bloyer Fish

23

  1. After a “vey iz mir!” I was not expecting such a positive review.
    I bet that it adds a spark to the narration and that it would be great as an audiobook. :)

  2. Yes! Another masterful translation! It’s a joy to see how careful translators are with Dr. Seuss; they try to preserve the wordplay and alliteration and make it work in the chosen language. So “Sam I Am” becomes “Juan Ramon” to rhyme with “jamon”, the Spanish word for ham. (No me gusta huevos verdes con jamon! No me gusta nada, Juan Ramon!) Similarly, the Cat in the Hat becomes Cattus Petasattus in Latin (again, words chosen for maximum wordplay). This is truly a wonderful thing.

  3. This looks better than the Hebrew conversion of “Green Eggs and Ham”. We got it as a gift and it looks like they loosely kept the idea of the rhyme and tempo but made up a whole new story, I was disappointed. Although to be fair look how an English translation of psalms has no pleasing tempo.

    Having had a very Zionist family I did not really learn much Yiddish, but many of the neighbor kids where I live do speak it so it comes home with my kids.

  4. Thanks for the great review!

    You linked to Amazon, but they’ll take you 6 weeks to send you the books. Buy it at yiddishcat.com and we’ll get it sent to you right away.

    We also have Di Kats der Payats (The Cat in the Hat) and George der Naygeriker (Curious George).

    Zackary Sholem Berger
    yiddishcat.com
    zackarysholemberger.blogspot.com
    sholemberger.blogspot.com

  5. I have always said that the Hebrew / Yiddish prayers spoken at various bat mitzvahs and other such events sounded to me, a non-Jew, like Dr Seuss read backwards.

    Even the basic start of the pray, goes well in english.
    “I broke my toy and now I’m annoyed…”

  6. I think it’s great.

    As an aside, I always wanted to hear the opera, “Carmen” sung in Yiddish. It would be perfect!

    1. So would performing a Wagner opera in Yiddish be considered offensive to Jewish people or would it be a kind of slap-in-the-face to antisemites?

      1. I have no idea, Felton.
        I’ve absolutely no desire to enter a political arena here.

        I was referring purely to the aesthetics of the melody as sung and enunciated. The sound and pronunciation of the Yiddish language would impart a wonderful vocal expression to the melody.

  7. “Vey iz mir” is probably a reaction to the prices at Amazon – I saw three copies available, priced at about $90.

    Thankfully, Adon Berger gave us a link to his site, with affordable prices.

    1. So would I! Perhaps we could crowdsource the project here? Or perhaps the good Mr. Berger could be convinced to provide a translation… my Yiddish is practically nonexistent, but I think “Kill the wabbit!” is roughly, “teytn der kinigl!”

  8. I’m really happy someone is relating their Yiddish experience on a high tech blog. I grew up in a very Yiddish neighborhod, but never spoke it since my parents wanted me to learn English. But am saddened by the marginalization of Yiddish—and Yiddish culture—in today’s modern world.

    I genuinely thank you for posting this. A very welcome surprise.

Comments are closed.