January 14th, 2011 / 6:39 am

Isaac Bashevis Singer on Translation

The fact that I don’t have as many readers in Yiddish as I would have liked to have bothers me. It’s not good that a language is going downhill instead of up. I would like Yiddish to bloom and flower just as the Yiddishists say it does bloom and flower. But as far as translation is concerned, naturally every writer loses in translation, particularly poets and humorists. Also writers whose writing is tightly connected to folklore are heavy losers. In my own case, I think I am a heavy loser. But then lately I have assisted in the translating of my works, and knowing the problem, I take care that I don’t lose too much. The problem is that it’s very hard to find a perfect equivalent for an idiom in another language. But then it’s also a fact that we all learned our literature through translation. Most people have studied the Bible only in translation, have read Homer in translation, and all the classics. Translation, although it does do damage to an author, it cannot kill him: if he’s really good, he will come out even in translation. And I have seen it in my own case. Also, translation helps me in a way. Because I go through my writings again and again while I edit the translation and work with the translator, and while I am doing this I see all the defects of my writing. Translation has helped me avoid pitfalls which I might not have avoided if I had written the work in Yiddish and published it and not been forced because of the translation to read it again.

Read the rest at the Paris Review.


  1. Lucas Cunha

      Damn right!

  2. NLY

      Brings to mind two books on the subject worth reading: Edith Grossman’s “Why Translation Matters” and George Steiner’s “After Babel,” with the latter being the beast to the former’s beauty.

  3. Anonymous


  4. Trdrd


  5. Anonymous