wolf

The Hebrew and Greek that is translated in English as “wolf” is translated in Muna as da’u ngkahoku: “forest dog,” because there is no immediate lexical equivalent. (Source: René van den Berg)

In Asháninka, it is translated as “ferocious animal,” in Waffa as “wild dog,” and in Navajo as “Coyote.” (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125)

In Lingala it is translated as “leopard.” Sigurd F. Westberg (in The Bible Translator 1956, p. 117ff.) explains: “The wolf, for example, does not exist here, but its relative the jackal does and we have a name for it. But the jackal does not prey on domestic animals as the wolf did in Palestine, nor is he as fierce. The equivalent from these points of view is the leopard. Hence in Genesis 49 Benjamin is likened to a ravenous leopard, and the basic meaning is approached more closely than if we had been governed by scientific classification.”

Mungaka also uses “leopard” (see also bear (animal)) (source: Nama 1990).

Michel Kenmogne comments on this and comparable translations (in Noss 2007, p. 378 ff.): “Some exegetical solutions adopted by missionary translations may have been acceptable during that time frame, but weighed against today’s translation theory and procedures, they appear quite outdated and even questionable. For example, Atangana Nama approvingly mentions the translation into Mungaka of terms like ‘deer’ as ‘leopard’, ‘camel’ as ‘elephant’, and ‘wheat’ as ‘maize,’ where the target language has no direct equivalent to the source text. These pre-Nida translation options, now known as adaptations, would be declared unacceptable in modern practice, since they misrepresent the historico-zoological and agricultural realities in the Bible. Nowadays it is considered better to give a generalized term, like ‘grain,’ and where necessary specify ‘a grain called wheat,’ than to give an incorrect equivalence. Unknown animals such as bears, can be called ‘fierce animals,’ especially if the reference is a non-historical context.”

the light

The Greek that is translated in English as “the light” is translated in John 1:8 in Alekano as “the father of light,” in Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac as “the true light,” and in Tenango Otomi as “that one who opens the hearts of the people.”

Matt Taylor (in The PNG Experience) describes the process of finding the correct term for the presently prepared Nukna translation of John:

“We’ve been working on the Nukna translation of the book of John, and recently came to Jesus’ famous statement in John 8:12, ‘I am the light of the world.’ As we discussed how to best translate this metaphor, we realized that there was a problem. There is a Nukna word for light — yam — but it’s not possible to say just yam by itself. Light always has a source, and grammatically that source must be included, either by mentioning the actual source or by using a possessive pronoun — ‘its light,’ ‘their light,’ etc. It would be ungrammatical to just say ‘light.’ ( This grammatical feature is known as ‘inalienable possession.’) To literally translate ‘I am the light of the world’ into Nukna would lead to an unacceptable Nukna sentence.

“One idea we’ve had is to use a common source of light that the Nukna people are familiar with: the bamboo torch. The Nukna people live in a remote area without electricity. To see at night, they often light up a species of bamboo named kup. Kup burns with a blazing brightness, and a long piece can be held as a torch, enabling a person to walk at night around the otherwise pitch black village. So in Nukna, Jesus’ words would read, ‘I am like a bamboo torch [kup] that shines its light to the world.’

“Our translation team needs to do further testing to see if this figure of speech is communicating accurately and powerfully. Please pray for us, that God would guide us as we seek to communicate this concept, as well as many others, into the Nukna language in a dynamic and life-changing way. ‘It’s like the light of a bamboo torch shining in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (John 1:5).”

Likewise, Mungaka also uses “torch” (source: Nama 1990).

bear (animal)

The Hebrew that is translated as “bear” in English is translated in Mungaka as “leopard” since bears are not known in that culture (see also wolf) (source: Nama 1990).

Michel Kenmogne comments on this and comparable translations (in Noss 2007, p. 378 ff.): “Some exegetical solutions adopted by missionary translations may have been acceptable during that time frame, but weighed against today’s translation theory and procedures, they appear quite outdated and even questionable. For example, Atangana Nama approvingly mentions the translation into Mungaka of terms like ‘deer’ as ‘leopard’, ‘camel’ as ‘elephant’, and ‘wheat’ as ‘maize,’ where the target language has no direct equivalent to the source text. These pre-Nida translation options, now known as adaptations, would be declared unacceptable in modern practice, since they misrepresent the historico-zoological and agricultural realities in the Bible. Nowadays it is considered better to give a generalized term, like ‘grain,’ and where necessary specify ‘a grain called wheat,’ than to give an incorrect equivalence. Unknown animals such as bears, can be called ‘fierce animals,’ especially if the reference is a non-historical context.”

complete verse (Matthew 5:15)

Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 5:15:

  • Uma: “And there is no person who lights a lamp and up-turns a pot on it. He puts it on its putting-place so that its shine is seen by all people in the house.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “Nobody lights a lamp and covers it up with a basin but he places it on it’s stand so that the whole house is light.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “There is also no person who lights a lamp and covers it up with a basket, rather he places it on a holder so that all of the house might be lighted.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “No one also lights a lamp (kerosene-burning wick type) to then cover it with a basin, but rather he sets-it -on-top-of-(something) so that all the household will see what they are doing.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Consider also that of course no-one will light a lamp which, after he has lighted it, he will cover with a ganta-measure. On the contrary he really will put it on its stand/resting-place, so that all the inside of the house will be lit up.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “When a lamp is lit it isn’t put underneath a box, rather it is placed in a stand so that it shines for all those who live in the house.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Mungaka: “Let your fire shine into the eyes of the people.” (source: Nama 1990)