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.

bitter, Mara

The Hebrew name Mara means “bitter” which is here used as a designator for the state Naomi finds herself in (translated in English: “call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.” or similar). “However not all languages use the word for ‘bitter’ to describe things like lives, or feelings. In Poqomchi’ we had to translate this as ‘sadness,’ because ‘bitter’ would have meant nothing in this context, and the proposed name change would have been as meaningless as if left unexplained.”

singular vs. plural (Neh. 2:12-15)

The narrative in Nehemiah 2:12-15 mentions that Nehemiah is accompanied by a number of other people. Yet, the verb forms (and pronouns) in this and the preceding verses are all singular in the Hebrew text. In the Chuj translation everything is retold in plural forms, except the verb forms of “inspect” in verses 13 and 15 since Nehemiah “had not confided in the men what his plans are, so presumably only he is inspecting walls.”

For the Mam on the other hand, translation consultant and the translators reached a different decision: “The team and I discussed this issue in depth and concluded that the level of leadership of the other men was so extremely low (they are only mentioned once and were not even aware of the purpose of the trip) that the singulars could stand.”

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.