Embracing Difference: Challenges and Strategies in Translating Two 1920s Yiddish Poems by Women

Ena Burstin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


This essay explores the transmission of historical, cultural and sexual differences in two 1920s Yiddish poems by women, and their translations into English. The poems were originally published during the Yiddish literary heyday, and a time of significant social change in Jewish communal and cultural practice, and in the roles and status of women. Both poems reflect and confront the impact of inequitable power dynamics on Jewish women’s lives – one focusing on the theme of women’s education, and the other on domestic violence. The power relations that underlie and frame the source texts are therefore examined in this article, along with an exploration of the ways that power intercedes in the translation of these texts. The divergent ways that women’s resistance is depicted in the two poems is noted. Drawing on feminist translation strategies, this article applies a self-reflective lens that articulates translation processes and underlying theoretical approaches. Moreover, it highlights power dynamics, cultural assumptions and contextually embedded meanings, and draws attention to critical historical, social and gendered differences. Strategies for conveying these differences in translation are identified. These include retaining key culturally-specific terms from the source language, replicating stylistic elements of the source text, and prefacing and supplementing translations with critical analyses that clarify and embrace the differential cultural contexts. Doing so makes historical, cultural and sexual differences visible in translation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-20
Number of pages16
JournalThe AALITRA Review
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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