bread, loaf

The Greek term that is translated in English as “bread” or “loaf” is translated in Samo, it is translated as “Sago,” which serves “like ‘bread’ for the Hebrews, as a generic for food in the Samo language. It is a near-perfect metonymy that has all the semantic elements necessary for effective communication.” (Source: Daniel Shaw in: Scriptura 96/2007, p. 501ff.)

In Chol as waj, the equivalent of a tortilla.

John Beekman (in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 180f.) explains: “The word ‘bread’ in Scripture primarily occurs as either a specific term for bread (including the Lord’s Supper), or as a generic term for food. It is not surprising, however, the some aboriginal groups use something other than bread as the staff of life. The Chols, with their cultural focus in the cultivation of corn, use waj, a type of thin corn flake. Since a meal is not complete without this main item of food, the term has been extended to include any other foods which may be served along with waj. While bread is known to them, its use is limited to a few occasions during the year when it functions as a dessert. In translating this term in the Chol New Testament, consistent use has been made of the word waj whenever the function of bread as a basic food was in focus. John 6:35, “I am the bread of life,” was thus translated with this word. If the word for bread had been used, it was feared that the Chol would compare Christ to the desirable, but not absolutely necessary, dessert.”

Robert Bascom adds his thoughts to this in relation to other Mayan languages (in Omanson 2001, p. 260: “In many Mayan languages, ‘bread’ can be translated waj or kaxlan waj. The first term literally means anything made from corn meal, while the second term literally means ‘foreigner’s waj,’ and refers to the local wheat-based sweet breads which are so popular within the broader European-influenced culture of the region. On the one hand, waj would be a better dynamic equivalent in cases where ‘bread’ meant ‘food,’ but in cases where the focus is literal or the reference well-known, kaxlan waj would preserve a flour-based meaning (though in biblical times barley was more in use than wheat) and not insert corn into a time and place where it does not belong. On the other hand kaxlan waj is not the staff of life, but refers to a local delicacy. In cases such as these, it is even tempting to suggest borrowing pan, the Spanish word for ‘bread,’ but native speakers might respond that borrowing a foreign word is not necessary since both waj and kaxlan waj are native terms that cover the meaning (though in this case, perhaps not all that well).”

vain (worship)

The Greek that is translated into English as “vain” or “in vain” in English is (back-) translated in various ways:

  • Cashibo-Cacataibo: “say I am important, but they do not believe it”
  • Kekchí: “has no meaning when they praise me”
  • Toraja-Sa’dan, Pamona: “uselessly”
  • Copainalá Zoque: “uselessly they remember”
  • Farefare: “their religion is their mouth”
  • Southern Subanen: “their worship has no meaning”
  • Tzotzil: “they say they love me, but this means nothing”
  • Southern Bobo Madaré: “they worship me but they do not mean what they say”
  • Central Mazahua: “it is of no value that they honor me”
  • San Blas Kuna: “their thinking is not in their hearts” (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Mairasi: “tribute of theirs for me [which] will-be-on-their-own” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Guhu-Samane: “with the front teeth of their mouths they worship me” (“‘In vain’ caused puzzlement [because] why should their efforts to worship God produce no results, try as they may? [But the idiom] ‘with the front teeth of their mouths they worship me’ comes from the picture of one who is making a pretense at eating food, hence their deceit is apparent.’ Source: Ernest L. Richert in Notes on Translation December 1963: p. 4-7; reprinted in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 198ff.)

complete verse (Isaiah 33:15)

The back-translation of Isaiah 33:15 from Alur is as follows:

“The person who walks white, and that speaks straight; the person who hates deceitful exchange for personal gain, that snaps clean his hands from taking this world’s riches, who corks up his ears from hearing bloody (things), who closes his eyes from looking upon evil; He will abide up high”.

Source: F. G. Lasse in The Bible Translator 1956, p. 22ff.

hold my lot

The Hebrew that is translated as “you hold my lot” or “you support my lot” in English is rendered in Medumba as “you guard the back of me,” “that is to say my posterior from my head to my heels. The predominant idea in this expression is one of protection, while continuing action is indicated by the verb ‘to keep.'”

Source: Jan de Waard in The Bible Translator 1969, p. 143ff.


“In Genesis 29:15, the verse speaks of the ‘wages’ Laban should have paid Jacob, but in Bari the ordinary word for wages cannot be used, as there is no question of hire between relatives. The reward for work done is called doket, ‘gift’, or yariet, ‘help’.”

Source: Source: P. Guillebaud in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 189ff.

John whom I beheaded

The Greek that is translated as “John, whom I beheaded” or similar in English is translated in Waiwai as canirma mese onikhato norohamta: “It is evidently John whom I beheaded.” Robert Hawkins (in The Bible Translator 1962, pp. 164ff.) explains: “The particle mese indicates disagreement with another person; apparently Herod was disagreeing with the guesses of other people concerning the identity of Jesus. In the original this is not stated in the text but is implied in the context.”

See also with orders to bring his head and has been raised.

complete verse (Psalm 18:7-8)

In the translation of these two verses into Gbaya the translators used a number of ideophones (words that expresse what is perceived by the five senses).

The original text says:

Nù foo mɔ ɗirr,
ɓɛɛ o gun kaya zuɗi ɓut.
Nɛ́ nyimsea kɔ̧-a̧ a̧ dee ha̧ mɔ mɛ fo mɔ.
Zi-wee tura nɛ̀ kɔ̧ zɔ̧ɔ̧-a̧a̧ gbonɛ nduɗɛɛ,
wee baa kɔ̧ nú-a mbɛt,
ɓɛɛ o kɛ̧i̧-wee nyɔŋ yoŋgoŋgo.

A word-for-word back translation is
“Earth moved ɗirr and the feet-hills broke loose ɓut was anger of him that caused for things to move smoke-fire rose from inside his nose nduɗɛɛ fire blazed in mouth him also and coal-fire ate yoŋgoŋgo.

Philip Noss (in The Bible Translator 1985, p. 423ff.) explains: “The Psalmist’s imagery vividly portrays the awesome power of God. In the English translation, the power of the imagery is conveyed by the verbs, but in Gbaya it is conveyed by ideophones that modify the verbs. The Gbaya verb states that the earth moved and the ideophone described how it moved — ɗirr, in the way that the earth trembles when there is an earthquake. In the second line the mountains are shaken, and the Gbaya verb is that commonly used with uprooting a plant like a mushroom whose root goes very deep into the earth. The verb and the ideophone ɓut create an image that dramatically depicts the mountains’ being shaken to their very foundations. The image of smoke also calls for an ideophone because the verb normally used for the movement of smoke merely describes the motion of smoke drifting or floating in its usual lazy manner. The English Good News Translation here says that it ‘poured’ from his nostrils, and Gbaya uses the ideophone nduɗɛɛ to depict mass movement, that of smoke pouring out of his nostrils. The final line includes an ideophone that makes explicit the burning heat of the coals in his mouth. Without it, the coals might be dying embers, but with yoŋgoŋgo, it is clear that they are burning devouring coals. Two lines of the translation are without ideophones, that of the prosaic explanation that it is God’s anger that is the cause of the events being described by the Psalmist, and the next to last line in which the consuming flame is described. In the latter clause, an ideophone is not needed because the verb itself is powerful and precise in this context. An ideophone would have been redundant and would have drawn needless attention to itself.”


The Greek and Hebrew that is translated as “doubt” in English versions is translated with a term in Tzeltal that means “heart is gone.” (Nida 1952, p. 122)

In other languages it is represented by a variety of idiomatic renderings, and in the majority of instances the concept of duality is present, e.g. “to make his heart two” (Kekchí), “to be with two hearts” (Punu), “to stand two” (Sierra de Juárez Zapotec), “to be two” or “to have two minds” (Navajo), “to think something else” (Tabasco Chontal), “to think two different things” (Shipibo-Conibo), “to have two thoughts” (Yaka and Huallaga Huánuco Quechua), or “two-things-soul” (Yucateco).

In some languages, however, doubt is expressed without reference to the concept of “two” or “otherness,” such as “to have whirling words in one’s heart” (Chol), “his thoughts are not on it” (Baoulé), or “to have a hard heart” (Piro). (Source: Bratcher / Nida, except for Yucateco: Nida 1947, p. 229 and Huallaga Huánuco Quechua: Nida 1952, p. 123)

In Chokwekwalajala is ‘to doubt.’ It is the repetitive of kuala, ‘to spread out in order, to lay (as a table), to make (as a bed),’ and is connected with kualula ‘to count.’ [It is therefore like] a person in doubt as one who can’t get a thing in proper order, who lays it out one way but goes back again and again and tries it other ways. It is connected with uncertainty, hesitation, lack of an orderly grasp of the ‘count’ of the subject.” (Source: D. B. Long in The Bible Translator 1952, p. 87ff.)


In the Tuvan Bible translation project, the official policy (…) was to keep the spelling of names of major characters the same as in the Russian Synodal translation. However, the translation team and representatives of local Tuvan churches agreed that deviation in proper name spelling from the RST would be allowed on a case-by-case basis if there was a concrete need to do so.

Such a need arose with the name of Noah’s son Ham (חָ֥ם) in Genesis and elsewhere in the Old Testament.

In Russian, as in English, this is transliterated with three letters — Хам (Kham). In Russian, the name of this character has entered the language with the meaning of “boorish lout, impudent person” because of how Ham treated his father; in Tuvan, however, the word Хам (Kham) already means “shaman.” Since the Tuvan people continue to practice their traditional religion in which shamans play a major role, the translation team felt that leaving the transliteration of this name with the exact spelling as in Russian might cause needless offense to Tuvan sensibilities by unwittingly causing the text of Gen. 9:20-27 to portray shamans as the targets of Noah’s curse. Therefore, the translation team chose to avoid this potential stumbling block while continuing to maintain a close sound correspondence with the name of the biblical character as Tuvan Christians already knew it from the RST text. This was done by doubling the vowel — Хаам. Tuvan has long vowel phonemes that are written with a double vowel, so this is perfectly acceptable from the point of view of Tuvan orthographic conventions.

The correspondence of the Tuvan version of the name to the Russian Synodal spelling is still recognizable, but hopefully, the wrath of Tuvan shamans and their supporters has been averted by this small disliteration.

The rationale behind such an approach to spelling changes in names is concisely described in the foreword to the Tuvan Bible for the sake of transparency

Apparently, the similarity of the English version of this name to the food item (as in “I’ll have a ham and cheese sandwich”) is not deemed offensive enough to the meat-packing industry for a similar disliteration to be performed in English Bible translations.

Source: Vitaly Voinov in The Bible Translator 2012, p. 17ff

rhetorical questions (Matt 6:27)

During the translation of the New Testament into Huixtán Tzotzil, translation consultant Marion Cowan found that questions where the answer is obvious, affirmative rhetorical questions, as well questions raising objections tended to cause confusion among the readers. So these are rendered as simple or emphatic statements.

Accordingly, Matthew 6:27a reads “Even if you worry a lot, you cannot make longer your time of living.”

Source: Marion Cowan in The Bible Translator 1960, p. 123ff.