David eluded him twice

The Hebrew that is translated in English as “David eluded him twice” had to be translated more explicitly in San Blas Kuna. That translation first says that Saul threw the spear at him twice. “They couldn’t skip that step.”


The Hebrew and Greek that is translated in English as “Leviathan” is translated in Poqomchi’ as “monster crocodile.”

God of Elijah

The Hebrew that is translated in English as “(Where is) the God of Elijah” is difficult to translate in some Mayan languages. “If you say the God of Elijah, you are implying that he is not the God of Elisha. It has to be translated as something like, ‘Where is the power that God gave to Elijah.'”

my son / child

The Hebrew that is translated in English as “my son” or “my child” was translated in Poqomchi’ as hat wak’uun noq wilkaat: “you my son (as it were)” because “in many languages (including the Mayan ones), can only be said to one’s offspring.”

tied the money up in bags

The Hebrew that is translated as “tied [the money] up in bags” was problematic in the Kaqchikel translation. Ron Ross explains: “The Kaqchikels wanted to have them put the money in baskets, which is what they carry things in, but they agreed to using bags if we said something like ‘they put the money in bags in order to give them to those in charge of the remodeling of the temple.'”

front / back / left / right

The Hebrew of Ezekiel 1:10 is typically translated in English as “Each living creature had four different faces: a human face in front, a lion’s face at the right, a bull’s face at the left, and an eagle’s face at the back.” Tzeltal has no words for left, right, front or back, so translation is “Each living creature had four different faces: on one side of their head they had a human face, on another they had a lion’s face, on another they had a bull’s face and on the last side they had an eagle’s face.” (Source: Ronald Ross in Omanson 2001, p. 361)

hear the words of the LORD

The Hebrew that is typically translated in English as “hear the words of the Lord” is translated in Poqomchi’ as “look at what the Lord has shown me” because “what follows are not words of the Lord at all” (the text continues with “I saw the Lord” in the English translation)

Jerusalem (gender of)

“In the book of Lamentations, Jerusalem is presented as a series of feminine metaphors. (…) She is called a widow, a queen among the provinces, the Daughter of Zion, the Virgin Daughter of Judah. She weeps at night, her tears flow like a river, her lovers fail to console her. From beginning to end, Jerusalem is a woman. However this aspect of the text cannot be reproduced in the Garifuna translation, because in this language all cities are masculine. Jerusalem becomes the king of all provinces and the lovers who fail to console him are women.” (Source: Ronald Ross in Omanson 2001, p. 374)

fox (Judges)

The Hebrew that is translated as “foxes” is Mam as “weasel.” Ron Ross explains: “Foxes is often a difficult concept to express in this part of the world. The Mayas don’t see to know them. In the Mam project we finally put ‘weasel’ rather than ‘coyote,’ which were basically our choices.”

formal introduction of characters (Neh. 2:10)

In this verse, two characters (“Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official” in the English translation) are being introduced for the first time. In Kaqchikel they needed to be introduced formally: “And there were two men, one named Sanballat the Horonite and one Tobiah the Ammonite” (Jak’a toq xkak’axaj re’, ri Sambalat aj-Horón y ri Tobías aj-raqen aj-Amón.)

female first person singular pronoun in Psalms

In Garifuna the first person singular pronoun (“I” in English) has two forms. One is used in women’s speech and one in men’s speech. In the Garifuna Bible the form used in men’s speech (au) is typically used, except when it’s clear that a woman’s speech is quoted (for instance in John 4:9) or in Psalms where the women on the translation team insisted that the form used in women’s speech (nuguya) would be used throughout the whole book.

Ronald Ross (in Omanson 2001, p. 375f.) tells the story: “Throughout most of the translation, [the distinctions between the different forms of the pronouns] presented no problem. Whenever the speaker in the text was perceived as a man, the male speech forms were used; and when a woman was speaking, the female speech forms were used. True, the women members of the translation team did object on occasion to the use of the male forms when the author (and narrator) of a book was unknown and the men translators had used the male speech forms as the default. Serious discord arose, however, during the translation of the Psalms because of their highly devotional nature and because throughout the book the psalmist is addressing God. The male translators had, predictably, used the male form to address God, and the male form to refer to the psalmist, even though women speakers of Garifuna never use those forms to address anyone. The women contended that they could not as women read the Psalms meaningfully if God and the psalmist were always addressed as if the readers were men. The men, of course, turned the argument around, claiming that neither could they read the Psalms comfortably if the reader was assumed to be a woman.

“Initially there seemed to be no way out of this impasse. However a solution was found in the ongoing evolution of the language. There is a strong propensity for male speech and female speech to merge in favor of the latter, so the few remaining male forms are gradually dying out. Moreover, male children learn female speech from their mothers and only shift to the male speech forms when they reach adolescence to avoid sounding effeminate. However they use the female form buguya when addressing their parents throughout life. So the women wielded two arguments: First, the general development of the language favored the increasing use of the female forms. Secondly, the female forms are less strange to the men than the male forms are to the women, because the men habitually use them during early childhood and continue to use them to address their parents even in adulthood. Therefore, the female pronominal forms prevailed and were adopted throughout the book of Psalms, though the male forms remained the default forms in the rest of the translation.”

See also female second person singular pronoun in Psalms.