cypress wood

The Hebrew that is translated “cypress wood” or “gopher wood” in English is translated in the interconfessional Chichewa translation (publ. 1999) with mnjale or “(boards of the) canoe tree,” a tree that grows along the banks of rivers and is used to make boats.

Ernst Wendland (in The Bible Translator 1981, p. 107) explains: “Some might argue that the use of such local substitutes constitutes a misrepresentation of the biblical setting in that they give the impression that the indigenous item was actually found in the Holy Land. That may be true, but difficulties also arise with alternative solutions. Use of a generic term (e.g. ‘good timber’ — Good News Translation) is probably the safest, but this procedure, if overused, produces a dull text due to the lack of descriptive detail.15 A generic word modified by a descriptive word/phrase is also possible, but it is not very easy sometimes to find an expression that fits neatly into the account. (…) Frequently a generic or qualifying phrase turns out to be rather awkward and tends to upset the smooth flow of the discourse. They are particularly unnatural in dialogue since they can make the speaker (or his addressee) sound as if he doesn’t know his own language properly (e.g., build a ship with the boards of a tree like the mnjale…”). A loanword, unless it is one that is widely circulated in the speech community, is the least satisfactory as a descriptive term. Either its referent lies completely outside the experience of the receptors, or it is strongly associated with life in the twentieth century, hence an obvious anachronism.”

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