desolate wilderness

In the Pitjantjatjara translation, the Hebrew that is translated as “desolate wilderness” or “desert waste” in English was translated with “totally destroyed.”

Translation consultant Sam Freney (in this article) explains: “I noticed they captured the lush ‘before’ picture like the garden of Eden, but they didn’t talk about the aftermath as a ‘desert.’ Instead, they said it was ‘totally destroyed.’ When I asked the team about this, it turned out that there’s not really a good word for ‘desert’ they could use here. I found this fascinating –- after all, Pitjantjatjara is a ‘Western Desert Language’, and traditional Pitjantjatjara lands are in the central Australian desert around and to the south of Uluru.

“But this is a case where trying to come up with an ‘accurate’ term for the word ‘desert’ would result in a less accurate translation. For a start, there’s no obvious word to choose so it’s going to end up sounding at least a bit unnatural. But the communicative effect of choosing a word that reflects the kind of land the Pitjantjatjara people live in would knock the impact of this verse down a whole lot. You can imagine the response: ‘Before, the land was beautiful and very green, but after this enormous destructive army came through it was just like the landscape where we’ve lived for thousands of years.’”

See also desert, wilderness.