sending a message via a third person

All the letters by Paul start with the same expression in Wichí Lhamtés Güisnay with the same expression: Amtena ipuhfwas or “It has been time but now it is.”

Bill Mitchell (in Omanson 2001, p. 437) explains: “Languages have their own ways of marking different genres. When the Wichí of Argentina send a message by way of a third person it begins with a particular expression, which, if taken literally, would say: ‘it has been time but now it is.’ It may not communicate a whole lot in English, but it is indispensable in Wichí. In the Wichí New Testament the letters of Paul begin with this word.”

introducing a riddle

In the Cusco Quechua Bible Samson’s riddle is introduced by the traditional formula with which riddles are started: Imasmaris, imasmaris, ¿imataq kanman? “What is it? What is it? What can it be?” (Source: Bill Mitchell 2001, p. 438)

they dart like lightning

The Hebrew that is translated as “they dart like lightning” or similar in English is translated in Cusco Quechua as illapa hinan q’enqo-q’enqota phawan: “they fly like flashing lightning.”

Bill Mitchell (in Omanson 2001, p. 438) explains: “The expression q’enqo-q’enqota, with its reduplication and glottalised, postvelar consonants, both echoes the clashing action and visualizes the moment, for q’enqo also means ‘zigzag.'”


The Greek that is often translated in English as “leap (or: leaped)” is translated with appropriate idioms as “trampled” (Javanese), “shook-itself” (Kituba), “wriggled” (Thai), “danced” (Taroko), “stirred” (Toraja-Sa’dan), “sprawled” (Batak Toba), “played” (Shipibo-Conibo). In Dan the clause has to be “her stomach moved” since “leaping” sounded vulgar. (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)

Bill Michell (in Omanson 2001, p. 431) explains why in Cusco Quechua the women on the translation team had to intervene to correct a translation that was too literal:

“In the [Cusco Quechua] project in Peru the first draft of Luke’s Gospel was done by a man. In the case of Luke 1:41 his translation was quite literal. He had the unborn child physically jumping, unhampered and unhindered. This was met with some laughter from the women on the team. They suggested an onomatopoeic expression to communicate the sensation of a sudden movement in the womb: wawaqa ‘wat’ak’ nirqan — ‘the child said, ‘Wat’ak!” The child didn’t jump, it ‘spoke’! This times there were smiles instead of laughter as the women recognized something that was authentically their own.”

close relative, kinsman-redeemer, next-of-kin

The Hebrew that is translated as “kinsman-redeemer” (or “next-of-kin” or “close relative”) is translated in Yasa as “a near family member who has responsibility for protecting the family.”

Joshua Ham explains why: “One of the most important terms in the book of Ruth is the Hebrew word go’el. This word is often translated kinsman-redeemer in English Bibles. In ancient Hebrew culture, the go’el could play many roles. If a married man died without children, his brother (acting as go’el) was expected to marry the widow and carry on the dead man’s lineage. If someone was forced to sell their family land (keeping in mind that family land was very important in the Old Testament), a family member (again acting as go’el) was supposed to eventually restore the family’s title to the land. If a family member was murdered, it was up to the go’el to seek justice.

“As you can imagine, there’s just no way we’re going to find a single word in any language that covers all of those cultural aspects. And if we tried to explain all of those aspects in the text itself, it would get unwieldy pretty fast. So in translating a word like go’el, we try to pick out the most salient points. In the Yasa text of Ruth, we ended up with something like ‘a near family member who has responsibility for protecting the family.’ It’s a bit smoother in Yasa than it sounds in English!”

In Cusco Quechua it is translated “close relative of a corpse.”

The translation consultant Bill Mitchell (in Omanson 2001, p. 428) tells this story: “The translators struggled to translate the idea [of the near relative responsible for helping a family or clan member hit by misfortune, for example, loss of property, liberty or life]. The translation consultant asked them, ‘Is there anyone in your wider family who takes responsibility for a relative in such circumstances?’ They replied, ‘Yes, of course.’ ‘What do you call that person,’ the consulted asked. ‘There is no special name,’ they said. The consultant replied, ‘If a widow or an orphan needed help, what would they say to this person?’ ‘It will probably seem a bit strange to you, but they would say: ‘You are my close relative and I am your corpse.’’ The translators introduced this into their translation. When they tested it out with different groups, they found that it communicated the Hebrew concept of go’el very well.”

See also redeem / redemption and redeemer.

complex architectural terms

The second part of 1 Kings 6:6 is translated into English as “for around the outside of the house he made offsets on the wall in order that the supporting beams should not be inserted into the walls of the house” or similar in English. For the translators into Cusco Quechua this presented an interesting challenge.

Bill Michell (in Omanson 2001, p. 433) explains: “Although their [Inca] ancestors constructed magnificent buildings, architechtural terminology is quite limited in the languages spoken by Andeans today. The typical house in the rural areas is a simple, mud brick structure, with a thatched roof, a low door and no windows. However, there are some very complex buildings in the Bible. Solomon’s Temple is one of these. 1 Kings 6.6b reads: Yupaychana wasi perqataqa anchotan qallarirqanku, kinsa kutitataq ithiykachirqanku muyuriq pata kurkukunata chayman chakanapaq, ahinapin perqata mana t’oqorqankuchu: “For-adoring house the wall wide they-began three times-and they-made-it-smaller-towards-inside that-which-surrounds level-place beams to-there to reach-across in this way the-wall not they-made-a-hole.”

wild honey

The Greek that is translated as “wild honey” in English was difficult to translate in Toba and Iyojwa’ja Chorote.

Bill Mitchell (in Omanson 2001, p. 435) explains why: “Unlike urban, industrialized society, the indigenous way of life is inextricably linked with the land. A deep relationship with nature permeates all of life. This can sometimes be seen in the wealth of vocabulary for certain items. Mark 1:6 and Matthew 3:4 state that John the Baptist ate ‘wild honey.’ The Tobas of northern Argentina have ten different words for ‘wild honey,’ the Chorotes have seven or eight. The biblical text does not specify a type of wild honey, but Toba translators live in the Gran Chaco and harvest wild honey. They want to use the exact word; they do not have a generic term.”

In both cases the translators ended up using the most common term for “wild honey.”

In Balinese, “wild honey” is translated as “honey of bees who shut out the sun” (source: J.L. Swellengrebel in The Bible Translator 1950 p. 75ff.) and in Shipibo-Conibo as “bee liquid” (source: James Lauriault in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 32ff.).