Dr. Seuss In Hebrew.

Translation of children’s books is a subset of translation that has its own demands; Lior Zaltzman discusses a particularly interesting example for Kveller:

How do you translate Green Eggs and Ham into Hebrew? It’s an extremely difficult feat. Dr. Seuss’s wonderful, rhyming children’s books are, in every possible way, an ode to the English language.

Green Eggs and Ham, for example, is the perfect book for beginning language learners. It contains a mere 50 different word — 49 of which have only one or two consonants (i.e., Sam, Am; Box, Fox). It’s the pithiness of language, along with its consistent tone of playful joy, that have made it one of the top-selling English-language children’s books of all time.

Translating that rhyming exuberance into any language other than English is a tough job. But it’s especially challenging for someone who wants to publish the book in Hebrew, for the only Jewish nation in the world. After all, in a country where pork products aren’t readily available, what’s the kosher version of Green Eggs and Ham?

That’s where the incredible Leah Naor comes in. The 83-year-old playwright, songwriter, author, translator, and mom of three is the talent who has translated Seuss’ children’s books to Hebrew. (Her latest translation, of The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories, came out in 2012.)

When the Hebrew version of Green Eggs and Ham was published in 1982, she changed the title to Lo Raev, Lo Ohev — which means, roughly, “Not Hungry, Don’t Love It.” Throughout the entire story, the name of the disliked dish is never mentioned. The book is so fun, and so fantastical, no kid ever stops to wonder, “Wait, what is that meat?” Really, it’s brilliant!

The piece ends with a recording of the Hebrew version being read which is worth the price of admission all by itself. Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I shall probably be banned from posting at Language Hat for saying this, but I think that Dr Seuss is far more admired in the USA than he is on this side of the Atlantic. His “books” seem to be a hangover from the days when the “whole-word” method was regarded (in the USA) as the ideal way of teaching children to read. Isn’t it now pretty much obsolete?

  2. David Marjanović says:

    The book is so fun, and so fantastical, no kid ever stops to wonder, “Wait, what is that meat?”

    That strikes me as a drastic underestimation of diversity among kids.

  3. As a child I was profoundly disturbed by the idea of green eggs.

  4. “As a child I was profoundly disturbed by the idea of green eggs.”

    Yet considering that generations of children have grown up since that book’s publication with processed food and vividly coloured products, and food spoilage might be lower than in days of yore, maybe many children these days don’t get why green eggs would be weird or undesirable?

  5. Trond Engen says:

    And even if you’re indifferent to the concept of green eggs you never know what that image might do in the long run. Colourless green ideas sleep furiously.

  6. I shall probably be banned from posting at Language Hat for saying this, but I think that Dr Seuss is far more admired in the USA than he is on this side of the Atlantic.

    Oh, I’m not crazy about his books myself, but he’s very popular for obvious reasons (whimsy, repetition, over-the-top rhyming, etc.).

  7. At least as my parents tell it, Seuss is also appreciated for having swept away the insipid “see Spot run!” approach of Dick and Jane. I enjoyed his books as a young child, especially for their distinctive art style.

    A quibble: Zaltzman’s third paragraph strikes me as inapt; surely he’s been translated into Arabic, Turkish, Urdu…? And even meat-eating Hindus tend to avoid pork as far as I’m aware.

  8. I (born 1958) grew up on him and love him, whereas my wife (born 1943) didn’t grow up on him and is indifferent to him. It’s one of those things. (On the other hand, I had heard of “Quick, Henry, the Flit!”, a slogan for a bug spray based on one of his cartoons, and she had not.)

    Athel: Because the U.S. federal government has little responsibility for education, which is distributed among some 13,000 government school districts and who-knows-how-many private (i.e. independent) schools, all under greater or lesser degrees of supervision by the states, little is known about what is taught where or how. But my impression is that although there is some degree of compromise between the methods, the battle still rages. As Rudolf Flesch said back in 1955, the look-and-say (more politely, whole-language) method was roundly denounced by all psychologists except behaviorists and by all linguists of whatever persuasion; on the other hand, book publishers love it and push it and its associated books as hard as they can.

    That said, only about a dozen of Seuss’s 60-odd books actually employ restricted vocabularies, and of these Green Eggs and Ham is the most extreme. But of course limited vocabularies require high levels of repetition, and it will always be true that children love repetition.

  9. A quibble: Zaltzman’s third paragraph strikes me as inapt; surely he’s been translated into Arabic, Turkish, Urdu…?

    I imagine so, but that doesn’t contradict the original statement, which is “it’s especially challenging for someone who wants to publish the book in Hebrew” — that in no way implies that it’s not similarly challenging for someone who wants to publish the book in other languages that involve similar religious restrictions, just that it’s more challenging than translating it into French or whatever.

  10. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    At least as my parents tell it, Seuss is also appreciated for having swept away the insipid “see Spot run!” approach of Dick and Jane.

    That’s what I learned from Google after posting this morning. I was surprised, as the advance of Dr Seuss over Dick and Jane seemed to be so small as to be almost imperceptible. I was always surprised that my first wife (brought up in California and taught to read with Dick and Jane; university education at Berkeley and Santa Barbara) made strange errors like writing “sweater” as “sweather”. I don’t think anyone had told her before I did that there was any relationship between spelling and pronunciation.

  11. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    As a child I was profoundly disturbed by the idea of green eggs.

    I was profoundly disturbed by a boiled egg that I was given to eat at breakfast at school that proved to be green when opened. At that time (1950s) rotten eggs were a lot more common than they are today.

  12. It’s hard to escape the fact that Sam-I-Am and green ham are part and parcel of modern American culture, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a writer from another anglophone country reference it. As for Danish I can’t even find a translated version in the national library database, though The Cat in The Hat is there.

    So I looked up the picture version today, and was a bit surprised to find that the ham is green too!

    Now if you boil an egg for too long the yolk can actually turn a pale greenish-yellow color without harmful effects, but the dish in the book is not something I’d let in my mouth without a good explanation for the color.

    (When I was in Mexico recently one of the street food places had a sausage-like meat product that was an even brighter color, but according to my local guide the most likely explanation was a high content of chillies so I gave it a pass. Looking it up now it would be Chorizo Verde from Toluca and most of the color would be from spinach, so not necessarily that spicy).

  13. Oh how I love green chiles!

  14. All in moderation, but yes it can be nice. Actually the food itself was not very spicy (I was in Mexico City, Puebla and Veracruz), but some of that salsa verde was rather … efficacious.

  15. Yeah, I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging about how I can cram ten chile peppers into my mouth at once — I don’t like super-spicy food — but I do love the salsa verde flavor.

  16. Indeed. The good thing is that the hardened types can pour it freely on their tacos and types like me can stop at ten drops or so.

    But oh, I did find a quite authentic looking taco place in Copenhagen today, pity that the price (converted) is MXN 100 per taco instead of 6…

  17. —Dr. Seuss, in Hebrew, naturally דּוֹקְטוֹר סוּס doktor sus, translates as ‘Doctor Horse’, a fine name for a childrens’ author.
    — I might translate Lo Raev Velo Ohev as “Not Hungry and Don’t Like”. The semantic range of Hebrew ʔhb includes that of English ‘love’ and some of that of ‘like’. The omission of the object is stereotypical child talk, as in English.
    — Sam-I-Am is translated as שְׁמִי–הוּא–שֵׁב šmi hu šev ‘my name is sit-down’. I guess it works.
    —Color names are mostly two or three syllables (depending on gender and number), and the translator wisely gave up on them entirely.
    —There’s no reference to any particular food at all. The food is only referred to as זֶה ze ‘this’.

  18. Thanks for those helpful explications!

  19. David Marjanović says:

    I don’t think anyone had told her before I did that there was any relationship between spelling and pronunciation.

    Now that’s profoundly disturbing!

    As for Danish I can’t even find a translated version in the national library database

    I’m not sure if I’ve ever come across any Dr. Seuss books in German. After all, his very name looks wrong!

  20. J.W. Brewer says:

    Dr. Seuss’ various books seem to vary widely in prominence these many decades later, and his contributions to orthography are alas probably in the less-widely-appreciated subset of his ouevre. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Beyond_Zebra!

  21. After all, his very name looks wrong!

    I’m pretty sure it’s right. His name was Theodor Seuss Geisel, and his middle name was the surname of his mother, Henrietta Seuss (1878-1931), whose father George J. Seuss (1857-1901) was born in Bavaria. I suppose it’s possible George (presumably christened Georg) changed his name from Suess/Süss, but Seuss doesn’t seem any more Americanized to me. Checking on Wikitree shows various other people named Seuss, notably a Conrad Seuss, born in Baden-Baden, who moved to Iowa and changed his name to Sease.

    JWB: See Seussian Latin Extensions, part of the ConScript Unicode Registry, which allocates codes for constructed scripts into the private-use zone of Unicode. I originally assigned the last letter in the book the name SEUSS LETTER INNOMINATE, but Michael Everson changed it to SEUSS LETTER ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ.

  22. The Austrian Nazi Arthur Seyss-Inquart was born Artur (or Arthur) Zajtich in Moravia, but he changed his name to Seyss-Inquart to make it more German looking, although many of the biographical sketches found online (including Wikipedia’s) omit this. One online reference lists his “original name” as Seyss and says he received the Inquart name as a bequest from great-uncle Heinrich Ritter von Inquart. So it is possible that he first changed his name to Seyss to look more German and only added the Inquart later.

  23. German Wikipedia says explicitly that he was born Seyß, son of Emil Seyß, and that there are no primary documents to support the Zajtich theory.

  24. David Marjanović says:

    Oh, that’s right, eu as a hypercorrection for ei is common in names.

  25. It’s a testimony to the strength of the cultural ties between Israel and America that anyone would even consider attempting to translate Green Eggs and Ham into Hebrew. The children’s aisles of Arab bookstores are loaded with translations and adaptations of English books, but I’ve never seen this or any other Dr. Seuss in them, which is hardly surprising given the way his books play with the English language.

  26. The Austrian Nazi Arthur Seyss-Inquart was born Artur (or Arthur) Zajtich in Moravia, but he changed his name to Seyss-Inquart to make it more German looking

    What’s your source for this?

  27. I think I first read it in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, but it’s out there on lots of Internet sites as well, for example this World War II graves site.

    The English Wikipedia does not mention anything about him changing his name, and I didn’t think to look at the German version. However, as Y says, his German Wikipedia bio includes this:

    Es wird auch behauptet, Arthurs Familie habe den Namen Zajtich geführt und ihn erst 1907, nach der Übersiedlung nach Wien, auf Seyß-Inquart geändert. Dagegen sprechen Schulpublikationen, die Arthurs Vater Emil Seyß ab den 1870er Jahren unter diesem Namen veröffentlicht hat. Die Führung des Namens Zajtich ist nicht durch Primärquellen nachgewiesen und kommt auch in der deutschsprachigen Literatur nicht vor. [cites omitted]

    So it seems that the story of his name originally being Zajtich is almost certainly false, although I wonder where it got started.

  28. Y: Good find! Bet it was an environmentalist who translated that… (stops to Google) Sure enough, the first thing that comes up when you search for the author’s name is an article of hers titled “How does global warming affect Arab biodiversity?” Doubt it would have happened with a book of his that had less of an overt message to it.

  29. I remember the “Cat in the Hat” well enough, and enjoyed a few others from the Cork children’s library but not enough to remember their names. In college, a Canadian who used the word “grinch” in a debate on Christmas had then to explain it to the rest of us. My memories of “Green Eggs and Ham” were refreshed by watching the film “I am Sam”, whose title itself had not triggered any.

    I was going to suggest correlating the box office of Dr Seuss movies with the cultural salience of the books, but perhaps trueblue Seussians boycott the films as travesties. Also, they were apparently not very good.

  30. I read my share of the books in my childhood, but wasn’t even aware that there were Dr. Seuss movies.

  31. I remember watching “Horton hears a Who!” in a cinema with my daughter, but I can’t remember whether that was in Germany or Kazakhstan. I believe it was the latter; in any case, both Russian and German dubbed versions of the 2008 movie exist.
    I never heard of Dr. Seuss during my childhood in Germany and first encountered his work when friends in Lebanon gave his books (in English) to my daughter. My impression is that he became known in Germany mostly through the Hollywood adaptations of his books.

  32. wasn’t even aware that there were Dr. Seuss movies.

    Best to forget you heard they exist (the live-action movies, that is, not the old animated TV adaptations).

  33. The new CG ones may not be quite as bad as the live action, bit they are still best avoided.

  34. January First-of-May says:

    The Russian spoken diafilm version of Horton Hatches an Egg, however, is surprisingly nice (though weirdly the spoken text occasionally diverges from the written text).

  35. It is nice, and the spoken text diverges quite a bit — it’s clearly being read from a different verson. Odd!

    And from there I got to Кот в шляпе, the Russian version of The Cat in the Hat. Всемирный детский бестселлер!

  36. Translating is doubly hard when you need to be consistent with the illustrations as well. Naor managed this quite well, except when she had to rhyme with שׁוּעָל šu’al ‘fox’. She resorted to עַרְסָל arsal ‘hammock’. There is no hammock in the illustrations, but hopefully the kids who read this will excuse it.

  37. As a child, on my birthday I could have anything I wanted; on one occasion I asked for green eggs and ham for breakfast, and my scrambled eggs were duly greened with food coloring. (The ones in the book are fried eggs, but I dislike fried eggs except in egg sandwiches.)

    For dinner I usually had my mother’s spaghetti with homemade sauce but without olives, as I detest olives. The rest of the year I had to pick the olives out with a fork.

  38. Olives in spaghetti sauce are an abomination.

  39. David Marjanović says:

    Not going to defend olives, but what is this single sauce called spaghetti sauce?

  40. There are a million spaghetti sauces, and olives belong in none of them — at least on my plate.

  41. Mind you, I’m not condemning anyone who likes them — certainly not JC’s mother — I just want them kept away from my spaghetti sauce.

  42. marie-lucie says:

    My mother’s parents were from Southern France. When staying at their house we much enjoyed the traditional lapin aux olives, a rabbit stew with olives.

  43. I’m a big fan of puttanesca sauce, and olives are an important part of why.

  44. My mother’s sauce was founded on tomatoes and was something close to marinara sauce, but not quite the same (milder), plus the olives. I don’t know the recipe she used.

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