narrative order (Ruth 3:14)

The Hebrew that is typically translated in English as “So she lay there at his feet, but she got up before it was light enough for her to be seen, because Boaz did not want anyone to know that she had been there.” needed to be reordered in languages like Bribri and Poqomchi’ “to reverse the order of the cause and effect, putting the cause first: ‘Boaz didn’t want anybody to know that Ruth had slept there. Because of that, Ruth got up very early the next morning (to go).’

The exact wording in Poqomchi’: Re’ Booz ma’ xraaj taj chi xkinab’eej chi re’ ixoq re’ re’ xponik woroq ar, ruum aj re’, re’ Rut ko q’equm wach ak’al xwuktik chi junwaar.


In this verse reference is made to ritual purification. In Poqomchi’ it was felt necessary to emphasize that is “not simply taken a bath and hosing down the new walls. The Poqomchi’s did this by clarifying ‘according to the commandment of God.'”

narrative order (1Sam 18:12)

The Hebrew that is translated as “Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with David but had abandoned him” or similar in English had to be restructured in San Blas Kuna that follows a subject-verb-object order (Hebrew uses verb-subject-object or subject-verb-object and English uses subject-verb-object) “to have cause and effect. They put first that Saul realized that God no longer helped him but he did help David. So he became afraid of David.”


The Hebrew that is translated as “merchants” (for Leviathan) in English had to be translated more specifically in Poqomchi’.

Ronald Ross explains: “In at least some Mayan languages the word for ‘vendor’ cannot be used without expressing what it is they sell. So here, in Poqomchi’ we have had to put ‘fish vendors,’ even though we are assuming that Leviathan is a crocodile. [See Leviathan] It seems that even in the Hebrew the context is that of a fish market, which is logical since Leviathan is considered to be a sea monster. This may be a case of Hebrew classification of anything that swims or lives in the water being a fish, like anything that flies is a bird (bats, for example).”

hole / cave

The Hebrew that is translated in English as “He came to a cave (…) and went in to relieve himself. It happened to be the very cave in which David and his men were hiding far back in the cave.” or similar was problematic to translate in Kaqchikel “because the words for ‘cave’ and ‘hole’ are the same in Kaqchikel. So if you are not careful you can wind up with Saul relieving himself in a hole with David at the bottom. In Kaqchikel this was resolved by means of the directional apo (‘onward’) as opposed to ka (‘downward’) (Y rija’ xok k’a apo chiri’ richin . . .) which implies he kept walking more or less on a level plain.”

implicit information made explicit (Job 41:8)

The Hebrew is translated in English as “Lay hands on it [the Leviathan]; think of the battle; you will not do it again!” or similar. Here and in the Hebrew original the fear of touching the Leviathan again is implied. In Poqomchi’ it had to be made explicit with the addition of “because you’ll be very much afraid of him.”

See also Leviathan.

sword fell out

In the Hebrew text Joab drops his dagger (or: sword) in verse 8 and then uses it to stab Amasa in verse 10 without any mention that he picked it up again. In languages like Kaqchikel it is “necessary to mention that at some point he picked it up. This does seem to affect the element of surprise, but still in languages like Kaqchikel Joab cannot stab Amasa until he picks up his dagger.”

rejoice with trembling

The Hebrew that is translated as “rejoice with trembling” (or just: “trembling”) in English is translated in Poqomchi’ with the existing phrase “tremble with joy,” “so the source of the trembling seems to come from the joy and not from the fear of God.”

summon Bathsheba

The Hebrew that is typically translated as “summon Bathsheba” in English in 1 Kings 1:28 had to be translated in Q’anjob’al in a manner that explained that she first left away (since she is mentioned as present in the preceding verses). To circumnavigate this problem, the translators mention in verse 23 that Bathsheba left.

Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name

Ron Ross talks about the problems of metaphors in translation in relation to Psalm 89:12 where The Hebrew is translated in English as “[the mountains] Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.” “[This] will be tough in many languages in which such metaphoric uses either sound ridiculous or are taken literally. This seems to be the case in Poqomchi’. When I suggested to the Poqomchi’ translator that he try to keep the image of the mountains singing, his response was that he could do that, because nothing is impossible for God.”

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.”