devil

The Greek that is translated in English as “devil” is sometimes translated with indigenous specific names, such as “the avaricious one” in Tetelcingo Nahuatl or “the malicious deity” in Toraja-Sa’dan. (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)

In Yoruba it is translated as èṣù. “Èṣù is thought of as bringing evil, but also as giving protection. The birth of a child may be attributed to him, as the names given to some babies show, Èṣùbiyi (Èṣù brought this forth), and Èṣùtoyin (Èṣù is worthy of praise).” (Source: John Hargreaves in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 39ff.)

In Muna, it is translated as Kafeompu’ando seetani: “Master of the evil-spirits” (source: René van den Berg) and in Mairasi as owe er epar nan: “headman of malevolent spirits” (source: Enggavoter 2004), in Huehuetla Tepehua
as “chief of demons,” and in Ojitlán Chinantec as “head of the worldlings” (source for the last two: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125).

In Lak and Shughni it is translated with terms of feminine gender. Vitaly Voinov tells this story:

“In the Lak language of Dagestan, the names ‘Iblis’ and ‘sheytan’ (referring to Satan and his minions, respectively) in this language were borrowed from the Arabic Islamic tradition, but they entered Lak as feminine nouns, not masculine nouns. This means that they grammatically function like nouns referring to females in Lak; in other words, Laks are likely to think of Iblis as a woman, not a man, because of the obligatory grammatical patterning of Lak noun classes. Thus, when the team explained (in Russian) what the Lak translation of Jesus’ wilderness temptation narrative at the beginning of Matthew 4 said, it sounded something like the following: ‘After this, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Iblis… .The temptress came to Jesus, and she said to Him…’

“Since this information (that the devil is a female spirit) is part of the very name used for Satan in Lak, nothing can really be done about this in the translation. The Lak translator did not think that the feminine gender of Iblis should cause any serious misunderstandings among readers, so we agreed to leave it in the translation. Prior to this, I had never heard about languages in which the devil is pictured as a woman, but recently I was told by a speaker of the Shughni language that in their language Sheytan is also feminine. This puts an interesting spin on things. The devil is of course a spirit, neither male nor female in a biologically-meaningful sense. But Bible translators are by nature very risk-aversive and, where possible, want to avoid any translation that might feed misleading information to readers. So what can a translator do about this? In many cases, such as the present one, one has to just accept the existing language structure and go on.”

mustard seed

The Greek that is translated in English as “mustard seed” is translated in Muna as “wonolita seed.” René van den Berg explains: “The mustard plant rarely exceeds 50 cm in height. A wonolita is a big forest tree growing from a tiny seed.”

In the Bislama and Uripiv translations it is translated as “banyan.” “The banyan tree is one of the biggest in the islands, and it grows from a tiny seed. We (Uripiv) added a footnote to explain to more advanced readers what we had done: ‘Here Matthew compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, but since mustard doesn’t grow here, we put banyan, so that Matthew’s meaning will be clear.’” (source: Ross McKerras)

reconcile, reconciliation

The Greek terms that are translated as “reconcile” and “reconciliation” in English are translated in various ways. Nida (1952, pp. 140) says this:

“The Inupiaq describe reconciliation in the simple terms of ‘making friends again.’ That is to say, ‘God was in Christ making friends again with the world.’ The Uduk in the Sudan express this same truth, but in the rather interesting phrase ‘meet, snapping fingers together again.’ This expression is derived from the Uduk’s practice of snapping fingers together when they meet each other. Instead of shaking hands, they extend their thumbs and middle fingers and snap fingers together, but only friends will do this. Men who have something against each other refuse to acknowledge each other in this way. And so it is that the natural man is an enemy of God; he refuses to snap fingers with God, but God has come to reconcile man to Himself and through Jesus Christ has brought man into fellowship with Himself. Man and God may now meet ‘to snap fingers together again.’

“The Tai Dam of Indo-China employ quite a different figure of speech. They say that reconciliation consists in ‘rubbing off the corners.’ This does not refer to social acceptability, but to rubbing off the corners so that two objects, meant for each other, will fit together. Man is regarded as being incapable of fitting into the plan and fellowship of God because of the sin which has deformed him and which stands out as an ugly growth on his personality. The corners of iniquity must be rubbed off so that man may be reconciled to God and made to fit into God’s eternal plan for the world.”

In Muna, the phrase manusia suli dopometaa bhe Lahata’ala: “man has-a-good-relationship/is-in-harmony-again with God” is used for “reconciled.” (Source: René van den Berg)

camel

The Greek that is translated in English as “camel” is translated in Muna as “water buffalo.” René van den Berg explains: “Camels are unknown; the biggest known animal is the water buffalo (though now rare on Muna).”

In Bislama is is translated as buluk: “cow” / “bull.” (Source: Ross McKerras)

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.”

snow (color)

The Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic that is translated in English as “(as white as) snow” is translated in San Miguel El Grande Mixtec as “(as white as) volcano frost,” the only white kind of frost that is known in that language. (Source: Nida 1947, p. 160.)

In Obolo it is translated as abalara: “white cloth” (source: Enene Enene), in Bambam as “like the white of cotton” (source: Phil Campbell in Kroneman 2004, p. 500), and in Muna as “white like cotton flowers” (source: René van den Berg).

See also frost.

altar

The Greek that is translated as “altar” in English is translated in Obolo as ntook or “raised structure for keeping utensils (esp. sacrifice),” in Muna as medha kaefoampe’a or “offering table,” and in Tzotzil as “where they place God’s gifts” (Source: Obolo: Enene Enene; Muna: René van den Berg; Tzotzil: John Beekman in Notes on Translation, March 1965, p. 2ff.).

cast a net

The Greek that is translated as “casting a net” in English has an immediate equivalent in Muna with buani: “to cast a (circular) net.” René van den Berg: “In this instance the Muna translation is possibly more graphic than the English, which leaves the nature of the net rather vague.”

desert, wilderness

The Greek that is translated as “desert” or “wilderness” in English is translated as “a place where noisiness is cut off (or: stops)” in Mairasi and “big barren-field” (pandaso bhalano) in Muna.

Sources: Mairasi: Enggavoter 2004 and Muna: René van den Berg.

See also wilderness.

eye of a needle

The Greek that is translated as “eye of a needle” in English (and in many Romance and Germanic languages) is rendered variously in different languages:

See also It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.