• Daniel Santacruz

Ke haber in Wonderland? Alisia speaks Ladino in new translation

By Daniel Santacruz

Alisia en el Paiz de las Maraviyas in Ladino.
Cover of the book.

Alice, the famous character of The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, by the English writer Lewis Carroll, has surprised her readers once again.

She now speaks Ladino in a new book translated by Avner Perez, author, editor, poet and lexicographer based in Maale Adumim, Israel.

Perez’s version, titled Las Aventuras de Alisia en el Paiz de las Maraviyas and published by Evertype of England, was released this past September. The 126-page book is illustrated by John Tenniel, who illustrated the original edition in 1865. The book is available from and

Besides their love for literature, Perez and Carroll share something else: a background in math. Perez has two degrees in math, while Carroll was a math teacher at Christ Church, a college in the University of Oxford, England.

Perez is also director of the Instituto Maale Adumim para la Dokumentasion del Ladino i su Kultura, in Maale Adumim, and for several years has been editing the Trezoro de la Lengua Djudeo-Espanyola (ladino) Durante Todas las Epokas—Diksionario Amplio i Istoriko (Treasure of Judeo-Spanish [Ladino] Language Throughout the Generations—Historical Comprehensive Dictionary), a 110,000—word online dictionary.

Other works he has edited are Daat le-Navon: Seleksion de tekstos del Meam Loez Bereshit and La odisea (The Odissey), the Greek classic written by Homer, both published by the Institute in conjunction with the Jerusalem-based Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino.

Perez is no stranger to children’s literature. In 2010 he translated The Little Prince (El princhipiko) from the French into Ladino along with lexicographer Gladys Pimienta. He is also the author of Una torre en Yerushalayim: Poemas para ninyos Shirim le-Eviatar (Poems for Eviatar), which he wrote this past summer for his three-year-old grandson during Operation Protective Edge, the 48-day campaign of Israel in Gaza. 

“I wrote a poem every day [of the operation], so it’s 48 poems,” he said in a recent interview at the offices of the Institute in October. 

The interview was conducted in Ladino (an English version follows the Ladino one).

Avner Perez
Avner Perez (Courtesy).

Kolsefardim: Porke una traduksion de Alisia agora?

Avner Perez: Acheti el desfio de traduzir el livro al ladino porke topi gran interes en el por tres aspektos diferentes. El primero es por mi formasion en matematika. Ize mi primer i segundo grado en matematika antes de lavorar en la kultura i a la literatura djudeo-espanyola, i esto fasinado por la aktitud de Carroll, ke era matematisiano i lojisiano tambien. El trata de introdusir un lenguaje natural en el kontexto del lenguaje lojico formal. El rezultado es divertiente i prezenta un desfio para el traduktor, en mi kavzo, al ladino (. . . )

En segundo lugar, anteriormente me okupi muncho de literatura de ninyos, komo eskritor i komo traduktor tambien de poemas para ninyos. Admiro a Carroll por su aktitud revolusionaria en ese kampo. El troka el karakter didaktiko de la literatura de ninyos de su tiempo a traves de las parodias ke pone en boka de Alisia, ken aze una kosa ridicula de poemas muy famosos ke esta trando de resitar. Tambien aki ay un desfio para todo traduktor (. . .) Me parese ke ningun otro traduktor aze un esforso de imitarlo en su traduksion.

KS: I el treser aspekto?

AP: El treser es el mas importante, en mi opinion, i tiene ke azer kon el ladino. Alisia no es una ovra simple. No es un livro infantil klasiko porke esta dirigido tambien a un publiko mas ancho ke los ninyos. Ladino es una lengua ke esta pedriendo kada vez mas su audensia de avlantes i no se puede topar oy en dia ninyos ke son kriados en esta lengua (. . . ) 

Mi aserkamiento a la traduksion al ladino es diferente del purizmo de los eskritores i traduktores de la epoka de las Luzes en el Imperio Otomano de la segunda parte del siglo diesinueve i prinsipios del veinte. Estos trataron de eliminar artifisialmente elementos linguistikos no ispanikos del ladino i trokarlos por raizes i palavras tomadas del fransez i del kasteyano. Estos elementos, ke forman kaje un kuarto de todo el vokabulario del ladino, son una parte inseparable de el, i un komponente importante de su rikeza komo lengua independiente i diferente del kasteyano. Los lektores ispanikos de la traduksion de Alisia podran distinguir fasilmente estas palavras i formas kompletamente diferentes de las ke se uzan en kasteyano. 

KS: En kuanto tiempo tradujo Alisia?

AP: Tres, kuatro meses, i no fue una kosa kolay [fasil]. 

KS: Uzo el Tresoro para la traduksion?

AP: Sin el Alisia no se pudo realisar. Me bazi en gran medida en el, ke es el mas ancho diksionario en su kategoria, leksikografia djudeoespanyola, i ke kontiene aktualmente mas de 110.000 entradas.

KS: Para ken esta dirijida Alisia oy?

AP: No se. Se ke El Prinhipiko se izo muy popular entre lektores i estudiantes de ladino i me informaron ke en Paris i en Amerika i en todo lugar ke tratan de estudiar ladino les gusta muncho uzar el livro. Me parece ke Alizia va a server para estos eskopos. Otra parte son collectors. Para eyos es una koza de interes. 

KS: No ay munchos livros de ladino para ninyos oy. . . 

AP: Eskrivi 2 kivros de poemas para ninyos. Uno es Una torre en Yerushalayim: Poemas para ninyos i Shirim leAviatar (Poems for Aviatar). Otro lives Mulkticolor: Poemas para chikosi i grandes, por la poetesa Ada Gattegno Saltiel. Debes konsiderar el fakto ke poemas para ninyos es un genero de literatura i puedes eskrivir en el genero aunke no ay ninyos oy ke kieren o pueden meldar ladino. Es es otro desfio para el eskritor ke kiera ainda krear en esa lengua. Esa es la razon porke eskrivi poemas para ninyos.

ENGLISH VERSION Avner Perez: I accepted the challenge to translate the book into Ladino because I found it interesting for three reasons. The first is because of my math education. I got my first, as well as my second degree, in math before I started working in Judeo-Spanish culture and literature. I’m fascinated by the approach that Carroll, both a mathematician and a logician, takes. He tries to introduce natural language within formal logic language. The result is amusing and presents a challenge to the Ladino translator (. . . ) Secondly, in the past I worked extensively in children’s literature, both as a writer and translator of children’s poetry. I admire Carroll for his revolutionary approach in that field. He changes the didactic character of the children’s literature of his day with parodies he put in Alicia’s mouth, with her ridiculing very famous poems she’s trying to recite. Here there is also a challenge for every translator (. . .) It seems to me that no other translator makes an effort to imitate him in his translation. KS: And the third aspect? AP: The third is the most important, in my opinion, and has to do with Ladino. Alisia is not an easy work. It is not a classic children’s book because it’s geared also to a wider public, and not just children. Ladino is a language that’s increasingly losing speakers and today you can’t find children that are raised speaking that language (. . .) My approach to Ladino translation is different from the purism of writers and translators of the Golden Age in the Ottoman Empire during the second part of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. They tried to eliminate artificially non-Hispanic linguistic elements of Ladino and replaced them with French and Castilian roots and words. These elements, which make up almost a quarter of all the Ladino vocabulary, are an inseparable part of it, and an important component of its richness as a language that is independent and different from Castilian. The Hispanic readers of Alisia’s translation will be able to easily tell apart words and expressions that are completely different from the ones used in Castilian. KS: How long did it take you to translate Alisia AP: Three, four months, and it wasn’t an easy thing. KS: Did you use the Tresoro for the translation? AP: Without it Alisia could not have been written. I relied, to a large extent on it, which is the most complete in its category, Judeo-Spanish lexicography, and that currently contains more than 110,000 entries. KS: Who is Alisia geared to? AP: I don’t know. I know that El Prinhipiko became very popular among readers and students of Ladino, and I was told that in Paris and America and wherever people try to study Ladino they like to use it. It seems to me that Alisia will serve that purpose. Others are collectors. For them it’s something interesting. KS: There are not too many books for children in Ladino today. . . AP: I wrote two poetry books for children. One is Una torre en Yerushalayim: Poemas para ninyos, the other Shirim le-Aviatar. Another book is Mulkticolor: Poemas para chikos i grandes, by poetess Ada Gattegno Saltiel. You have to consider the fact that children’s poetry is a literary genre and you can write in it even though there are no children today who want or can read Ladino. It’s another challenge for the writer who still wants to create in that language. That’s the reason why I wrote poems for children.

© Daniel Santacruz

November 2014

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