I registered a complaint about this phenomenon when I came across it in a translation of a wonderful book called Ali and Nino; now I find it again in a translation of Sorstalanság (Fateless) by Imre Kertész (as quoted in the NYRB review by István Deák):
I made the surprising discovery that Jews don’t have just one language, namely Hebrew, as I had believed. I slowly gathered that their question was “Reds di jiddis, reds di jiddis, reds di jiddis?” [Do you speak Yiddish?] The boys and I answered “Nein.”
(The protagonist is a 14-year-old boy who, like the author, has just arrived in Auschwitz as a totally assimilated Hungarian Jew and discovered how alien he is to his fellow inmates.) In Hungarian, j is pronounced like English y and s is pronounced like English sh, so a Hungarian would read the repeated phrase as /redsh di yiddish/. An English speaker, however, would read it as /reds di jiddis/, although context would provide a clue that the mysterious “jiddis” was actually Yiddish. My question is, why on earth would a translator not render such things in a way that makes sense to the target audience?
Interestingly, later in the review the following passage occurs:
They reject his attempts to curry favor because he speaks no Yiddish: “‘Di bist nisht ka Yid, d’bist a sheygets’ [You are not a Jew, you are a goy]… That was a rather strange feeling, because, after all, I was among Jews in a concentration camp.”
When I read this, I was struck by the very different transliteration; if it were rendered along the lines of the first quote, the Yiddish would read “Di biszt nist ka jid, d’biszt a sejgec.” Then I looked at the footnote and found:
Because the translators omitted the Yiddish quote from the English version, I use here the quote in the original Hungarian as it might appear in an English-language text.
[Emphasis added.] So Deák, a Hungarian, has the sense to retransliterate for English-speakers; why don’t the translators of the book, Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M. Wilson? Do any of you translators out there have thoughts on this?