Harry Potter un der filosofisher shteyn
February 7, 2020 8:27 AM   Subscribe

A Yiddish translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone has just been published, translated by Arun Viswanath, an Orthodox Jewish American with heritage from India and roots in the Catskills, and partly financed by the government of Sweden (where Yiddish is an officially recognised minority language). Faced with the challenge of how to simultaneously stay true to the original material whilst imparting a Yiddish feel to it, Viswanath was judicious with his changes.

For example, unlike some other translations, the names of characters generally remained the same, unless forced by a plot device, as, for example, Tom Riddle's middle name. Quidditch becomes shees-bezem, or “shoot-broom”, from an apposite Yiddish saying. Hogwarts' traditions remain generally Anglican, rather than being transposed into Judaism, though characters' dialects shift, with Dumbledore speaking in a learned, rabbinical register, Snape speaking in a Lithuanian dialect and Hagrid's West Country English dialect becoming a rural Polish Yiddish one. Meanwhile, the goblins of Gringotts, sometimes accused of echoing old anti-Semitic stereotypes, subtly echo a different aspect of the medieval Jewish experience in Europe, speaking in the coded language of a minority in a hostile culture.
posted by acb (15 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Yiddish, like most Germanic languages, is absolutely beautiful for storytelling. If I had the time, energy, and resources to learn another language now, it would be near the top of my list.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:37 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]

The lightning bolt through the tet on the book cover delighted me.
posted by Ruki at 9:24 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]

oh my plan for a jewish harry potter rewrite was called Heshie Pincus and the Alter-Kocker's Tchotchke
posted by poffin boffin at 9:43 AM on February 7 [8 favorites]

I actually took classes to begin the conversion process to Reform Judaism before deciding against going through with it. This story is fascinating to me on two levels then.

Thanks for posting this, acb.
posted by indianbadger1 at 9:50 AM on February 7

OK but Neville Longtuchus would be a great nebbishy name.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:53 AM on February 7 [14 favorites]

I'm glad someone posted this! I know the translator and he's really the perfect guy for this, particularly for really digging into the word play and social meaning behind different accents. Dumbledore using a lot of loyshn kodesh (Hebrew/Aramaic origin words) to sound learned and Snape and McGonagall as Litvaks (Jews from Lithuanian/ the former Duchy of Lithuania; stereotyped as being a bit cold and analytical compared to the more emotional Polish Jews- which is the accent given to Hagrid) is just perfect.
posted by damayanti at 9:56 AM on February 7 [16 favorites]

Thus, Harry’s classmate Neville Longbottom remained Longbottom, rather than “longtuchus.”

This is the most disappointing sentence in the (fascinating! great!) article.
posted by jeather at 10:22 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]

I absolutely love this, thank you for sharing. It sounds like an immense amount of work, but also such a pleasure to translate a work of art you love into a language you love.
posted by sallybrown at 12:08 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]

OK but Neville Longtuchus would be a great nebbishy name.

Harry should have been Herschel Teper.
posted by maxsparber at 1:36 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]

I hafta wonder if any the great Yiddish terms found in 20th-century US comedy meshugaas schtick made it into the book? (... the only Yiddish I know!)
posted by Twang at 4:06 PM on February 7

I am so delighted by this, omg
posted by Kitchen Witch at 6:46 PM on February 7

I'm a bit surprised that the initials used for the transliteration of "J K Rowling" were spelled out as "דזש ק" (Dzsh. K.) rather than, say, ״י ק״ (Y. K.).
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:00 AM on February 8

“J” stands for Joanne; I'm guessing the transliterator decided on keeping the English pronunciation rather than resetting it as a continental “Yoan-na”.
posted by acb at 4:56 AM on February 8

may snape have a huge house with 100 bedrooms and 100 bathrooms and may he never have a single night's sleep or a single day's shit in any of them
posted by poffin boffin at 10:20 AM on February 8 [5 favorites]

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