formal pronoun: religious leaders addressing Jesus

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Tuvan uses a formal vs. informal 2nd person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Unlike other languages that have this feature, however, the translators of the Tuvan Bible have attempted to be very consistent in using the different forms of address in every case a 2nd person pronoun has to be used in the translation of the biblical text.

As Voinov shows in Pronominal Theology in Translating the Gospels (in: The Bible Translator 2002, p. 210ff.), the choice to use either of the pronouns many times involved theological judgment. While the formal pronoun can signal personal distance or a social/power distance between the speaker and addressee, the informal pronoun can indicate familiarity or social/power equality between speaker and addressee.

Here, religious leaders or their representatives are addressing Jesus with the formal pronoun, showing respect. Compare that with the typical address with the informal pronoun of the religious leaders. Voinov gives two reasons for the outliers. One is a “pretense of respect. These occasions are usually marked by their use of titles of respect such as ‘teacher.'” The other reason is sincere respect, such as in the case of the lawyer in Mark 12 or Nicodemus in John 3.

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