Sneak Peek 42: Rebecca Margolis

Translating into a Dying Language: New Yiddish Video and Film

Rebecca Margolis

University of Ottawa

rmargoli [at]

Abstract: What are the implications of translating into a “dead” or “dying” language? This paper proposes to examine the case of Yiddish, widely considered to be a threatened language, and recent Yiddish-language Canadian works of video and film. It offers an analysis of three new works released in 2013-2015: the feature films The Pin/Di shpilke (2013) and Felix et Meira (2015), and the sitcom webseries YidLife Crisis (2014–). Each project entails the deliberate translation of original English or French-language scripts into Yiddish for actors and producers largely unfamiliar with the language and for audiences who are likewise non-Yiddish speakers. This deliberate production of fluent, spoken Yiddish is remarkable given the rapid decline of Yiddish as a mainstream communicative language. This paper proposes to analyze the discourse around each project and discuss the implications of contemporary translation into Yiddish. Ultimately, I argue that these uniquely Canadian translation projects represent a new stage in the development of Yiddish, both locally and globally.

Bio: Rebecca Margolis is an associate professor in the University of Ottawa’s Vered Jewish Canadian Studies Program. Her many scholarly publications in the areas of Yiddish Studies, Canadian Jewish Studies and Holocaust Studies include the book Jewish Roots, Canadian Soil: Yiddish in Montreal, 1905-1945. She is currently working on a SSHRC-funded study of Yiddish transmission after the Holocaust in Canada.