formal pronoun: Jesus and his brothers

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Tuvan uses a formal vs. informal 2nd person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Unlike other languages that have this feature, however, the translators of the Tuvan Bible have attempted to be very consistent in using the different forms of address in every case a 2nd person pronoun has to be used in the translation of the biblical text.

As Voinov shows in Pronominal Theology in Translating the Gospels (in: The Bible Translator 2002, p. 210ff.), the choice to use either of the pronouns many times involved theological judgment. While the formal pronoun can signal personal distance or a social/power distance between the speaker and addressee, the informal pronoun can indicate familiarity or social/power equality between speaker and addressee.

Here, Jesus’ brothers address Jesus with the informal pronoun.

Vitaly Voinov explains: “Whether one believes that these were Jesus’ younger brothers, his older half¬brothers, or his cousins, it seems that their familial intimacy coupled with a lack of faith and respect would preclude them from using a polite form in addressing Jesus. Using the informal address here in the Tuvan text is an excellent means to reinforce their expression of disbelief and possible mockery of Jesus’ mission.”

Ham

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

formal pronoun: disciples addressing Jesus after the resurrection

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Tuvan uses a formal vs. informal 2nd person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Unlike other languages that have this feature, however, the translators of the Tuvan Bible have attempted to be very consistent in using the different forms of address in every case a 2nd person pronoun has to be used in the translation of the biblical text.

As Voinov shows in Pronominal Theology in Translating the Gospels (in: The Bible Translator 2002, p. 210ff.), the choice to use either of the pronouns many times involved theological judgment. While the formal pronoun can signal personal distance or a social/power distance between the speaker and addressee, the informal pronoun can indicate familiarity or social/power equality between speaker and addressee.

Here, the disciples are addressing Jesus with the informal pronoun, unless they are in his physical presence (see formal pronoun: disciples addressing Jesus). This is in contrast to how the disciples addresses Jesus before the resurrection with the formal pronoun. “The Tuvan translation team [wanted to] highlight the change in the disciples’ consciousness about Jesus, signalling a greater degree of intimacy due to their recognition of Jesus as God.”

Vitaly Voinov explains the process that the translation team went through in different editions of the translation (click here):

“In the Tuvan New Testament of 2001, we had Peter use the informal pronoun with Jesus in John 21. However, when we were revising the NT for inclusion in the full Bible ten years later, we decided to change Peter’s address to the formal form in this place for the reason that I had already noted in the article: ‘since the disciples address Jesus with the formal pronoun before his resurrection as a sign of respect, it may seem somewhat strange to readers that they start using the formal form after.’ We realized that Peter still sees the same Jesus in front of himself that he saw prior to the resurrection and he still has a personal relationship with Jesus as a respected rabbi/teacher. We decided that it’s too rash of a change for Peter to suddenly start addressing Jesus with an informal pronoun at this point, especially since in John 21:20 there is a reminiscence about how John has addressed Jesus during the Last Supper (with a formal pronoun). So we decided to let Peter continue to speak to Jesus here as he was used to speaking to Him prior to the crucifixion/resurrection, with a formal pronoun. As a result, we tweaked our pronominal system so that Jesus is addressed by the disciples with a formal pronoun when He is physically present with them in the Gospels (whether pre- or post-resurrection), and with an informal pronoun in Acts, the Epistles and Revelation, since Jesus is now acknowledged by the church as God and is at the right hand of the Father, not physically present with them as a rabbi/teacher.”

In Marathi, three pronouns for the second person are used: tu (तू) for addressing a child, an inferior and among very close friends, but also respectfully for God, in prayer, tumhi (तुम्ही), the plural form of tu but also used to address an individual courteously, and apana (आपण), an even more exalted form of address. In most of the gospels, Jesus is addressed with the second-person pronoun apana but — like in Tuvan — after his resurrection and realization of his divinity, the pronoun is changed to be the familiar tu which is used for God. (Source: F.W. Schelander in The Bible Translator 1963, p. 178ff.)

In English some translations, including the New King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, or the Holman Christian Standard Bible capitalize “You” when Jesus or any other person of the trinity is addressed but don’t differentiate between pre- or post-resurrection.

formal pronoun: difference between Ziba and Shimei addressing David

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Tuvan uses a formal vs. informal 2nd person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Unlike other languages that have this feature, however, the translators of the Tuvan Bible have attempted to be very consistent in using the different forms of address in every case a 2nd person pronoun has to be used in the translation of the biblical text.

As Voinov shows in Pronominal Theology in Translating the Gospels (in: The Bible Translator 2002, p. 210ff.), the choice to use either of the pronouns many times involved theological judgment. While the formal pronoun can signal personal distance or a social/power distance between the speaker and addressee, the informal pronoun can indicate familiarity or social/power equality between speaker and addressee.

In these verses, Ziba uses the respectful pronoun as he addresses David (1 Sam 16:4) in the Tuvan translation, whereas Shimei uses the informal pronoun, compounding the insult given by his words (1 Sam 16:7-8).

behemoth

Another often transliterated biblical term is bĕhēmôt (…). The Hebrew noun behemâ typically means “beast, animal, cattle”, while the -ôt feminine plural ending here seems to indicate something like a “plural of majesty,” since in the context of Job 40, this creature is obviously singular in number.

Countless tons of ink have been spilled in arguments over whether this creature is a hippopotamus, an elephant, a dinosaur, or a mythical amalgam of large, powerful land animals. The point that is of interest to us here is that in modern English, at least the U.S. variety which I speak, the commonly recognized meaning of the term behemoth has become the following: “any monstrous or grotesque creature or thing”, “something of oppressive or monstrous size or power.” This word is usually applied as a description of inanimate entities, such as “a behemoth car” or “the behemoth government agency,” but can occasionally also be used to refer to animate creatures. A quick search through a corpus of contemporary American English (…) shows that the term is often used with a negative connotation approximating “more trouble than it’s worth.” So when an English reader who has not had much contact with Christian teaching or the Bible reads this passage in Job for the first time, it is quite likely that associations of oppressiveness or inutility will color this reader’s initial mental image of the creature, even though the context of the verse does not contain any such connotations, but rather the opposite connotation of appreciative wonder.

The Russian Synodal translation (RST) has transliterated this word from the Hebrew as “бегемот” (begemot), apparently borrowing this rendering from the Russian scholar/poet M. Lomonosov in his poetic translation of the Job 40 passage (c. 1750 AD). What is of interest is that this very transliteration has become the main term meaning “hippopotamus” in modern Russian. There is another Russian term with an almost completely synonymous meaning, “gippopotam,” derived from ancient Greek, but in contemporary Russian usage this latter term is becoming more and more obsolete, or at least restricted to scientific contexts. An informal corpus study of the use of the word begemot in Russian texts indicates that prior to the publication of the RST, it was used to refer to monstrously large animals, but not specifically to the hippopotamus. Thus, it seems that what gave the meaning of “hippopotamus” to the transliterated word “begemot” was the tradition of scriptural interpretation in favor at the time of the translation of the RST. Even though the transliteration “begemot” was originally introduced into the Russian text of Job ostensibly because the translators were not quite sure what this creature was, the new word eventually came to refer unambiguously to the hippopotamus and nothing else.

What should the Tuvan translation team have done with this term? (Note: The goal of the Tuvan translators was to match the Tuvan transliterations with those of the Russian Synodal translation)? the RST, which all Tuvan believers currently read as their main Bible version, specifically states in Job 40:15 that this animal is a begemot, which in contemporary Russian is completely unambiguous as meaning “hippopotamus.” This is the meaning with which the Russian word has already been borrowed into the Tuvan language. Maintaining this transliteration would mean affirming this specific interpretation of the Hebrew term “bĕhēmôt.” Although the explicit “hippopotamus” interpretation is found in some other modern translations (e.g., the English CEV, The French La Bible en français courant or Louis Segond’s translation, or the Italian Conferenza Episcopala Italiana), the Tuvan translation team did not want to commit themselves wholeheartedly to this interpretation. So we decided to retransliterate the Hebrew word using a different medial consonant — “бехемот” (bekhemot), with a footnote explaining this decision as an attempt to remain open-minded concerning the exact nature of this beast. This new transliteration created a word that did not have any pre-existing semantic associations transferred from the Russian language. Only time will tell how exactly future generations of Tuvinian Bible readers will react to the new transliteration of this term, and whether or not they will imbue it with the same “hippopotamus” sense as in the RST or with something completely unforeseen by our translation team.

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

I am the door (gate)

The Greek that is translated in English typically as “I am the door (or: gate)” is translated in Lak as “I am the entrance.”

Vitaly Voinov tells this story:

“Field testing showed that some readers might find it hard to understand how a person could say about themselves that they are a door or gate. What exactly this metaphor means in this context was not well understood and caused what linguists call ‘processing difficulty.’ Even when it was explicated by ‘I am the door/gate for the sheep,’ it still caused problems in understanding. In other languages that have experienced a similar problem with this metaphor, translators have sometimes resorted to turning it into a simile, ‘I am like a door/gate.’ But in the Lak case, this would still leave unanswered the basic question of what the exact point of similarity is between Jesus and a door/gate. After much discussion, the team decided to try a different synonym, ‘I am the entrance.’ Further field testing should show whether this has solved the problem or not.”

formal pronoun: Herod addressing wise men/Magi

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Tuvan uses a formal vs. informal 2nd person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Unlike other languages that have this feature, however, the translators of the Tuvan Bible have attempted to be very consistent in using the different forms of address in every case a 2nd person pronoun has to be used in the translation of the biblical text.

As Voinov shows in Pronominal Theology in Translating the Gospels (in: The Bible Translator 2002, p. 210ff.), the choice to use either of the pronouns many times involved theological judgment. While the formal pronoun can signal personal distance or a social/power distance between the speaker and addressee, the informal pronoun can indicate familiarity or social/power equality between speaker and addressee.

Here, Herod addresses the wise men (Magi) with the formal pronoun, expressing respect.

I am the good shepherd

The Greek that is translated in English typically as “I am the good shepherd” is difficult to translate into Lak.

Vitaly Voinov tells this story:

“In Lak culture, shepherds are considered low-class. On an emotional/connotational level, it’s somewhat akin to calling a person a swineherd or muckraker in English; these employments don’t earn much respect from the average person. In the original context in which Jesus made this statement, a Jewish person who heard Jesus would likely have made the association with the Old Testament use of “shepherd’ for the Lord God Himself (see Isa 40:11, Ezek 34:11) or for earthly kings and rulers of the people (see Isa 44:28, Ezek 34:23). Thus, there’s a fairly big disconnect between the conclusions which the original audience would have probably drawn from Jesus’ words and the conclusion that Lak readers are likely to draw from His words. What to do about this? The Lak team will try adding an interpretive footnote to fill in this knowledge gap. But many (most?) people don’t bother to read footnotes. And if a Lak person listens to an audio recording of this passage, they definitely won’t hear any footnote. Should this be left for preachers to interpret for the audience? But there are almost no Lak pastors, and no Lak church to speak of yet. So this rendering is currently a problem without a really great solution. We accept it and go on, but always have it in the back of our minds until a better solution arises.”

See also shepherd.

vine

The Greek that is translated in English typically as “vine” is translated in Lak as къюмайтӀутӀул мурхьра: “the (grape-)cluster tree.”

Vitaly Voinov tells this story:

“Laks (who live in the mountainous regions of Dagestan) historically have had no experience with planting and tending vineyards. They buy grapes at the market or the store, but that’s about all they know of grape growing. Thus, in field testing, none of the readers could picture the primary image of this chapter. The translator’s initial attempt of rendering ‘vine’ as ‘grape stalk’ met with complete non-understanding. After much discussion of the problem and potential solutions, we settled on what one of the field testing respondents suggested to remedy the problem: ‘vine’ was rendered as ‘the (grape-)cluster tree’ (къюмайтӀутӀул мурхьра). Technically grapes of course don’t grow on trees, but something had to be put in the text, and it had to be said in a way that the average reader/hearer could understand it. The Lak team could have borrowed the Russian word for “vine” (лоза), but since this is a very low-frequency word in the Russian language, it’s likely that many Laks wouldn’t know the Russian word either. So the team settled for a reduction of accuracy in order to achieve greater clarity. After all, the primary point of importance in this passage is not a horticultural analysis, but a metaphorical comparison to the spiritual world, to the relationship between the Father, His Son, and the followers of Jesus. This rendering allows readers to get to the core of this meaning without getting tangled up in unknown terms.”

formal pronoun: angels addressing people

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Tuvan uses a formal vs. informal 2nd person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Unlike other languages that have this feature, however, the translators of the Tuvan Bible have attempted to be very consistent in using the different forms of address in every case a 2nd person pronoun has to be used in the translation of the biblical text.

As Voinov shows in Pronominal Theology in Translating the Gospels (in: The Bible Translator 2002, p. 210ff.), the choice to use either of the pronouns many times involved theological judgment. While the formal pronoun can signal personal distance or a social/power distance between the speaker and addressee, the informal pronoun can indicate familiarity or social/power equality between speaker and addressee.

Here, angels address people with the formal pronoun, expressing respect.

formal pronoun: John (the Baptist) addressing Jesus

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Tuvan uses a formal vs. informal 2nd person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Unlike other languages that have this feature, however, the translators of the Tuvan Bible have attempted to be very consistent in using the different forms of address in every case a 2nd person pronoun has to be used in the translation of the biblical text.

As Voinov shows in Pronominal Theology in Translating the Gospels (in: The Bible Translator 2002, p. 210ff.), the choice to use either of the pronouns many times involved theological judgment. While the formal pronoun can signal personal distance or a social/power distance between the speaker and addressee, the informal pronoun can indicate familiarity or social/power equality between speaker and addressee.

John addresses Jesus with the formal pronoun

Voinov explains: “This relationship is somewhat complicated. John and Jesus are relatives, John being the older. However, John recognizes Jesus as more important than himself, as the Messiah whose sandal straps he is not worthy to untie (Mark 1:7). At the same time, Jesus highly respects John, submitting to the inferior position by receiving John’s baptism, and later calling him the greatest among the prophets (Matt 11:7-15). In the Tuvan translation, we finally decided that the overall circumstances indicate that John addresses Jesus with the formal pronoun as a sign of respect.”

John the Baptist

A further question of cultural assumptions arose in Tuvan in the case of “John the Baptist.” The instinctive way to translate this name denotatively would be “John the Dipper,” but this would carry the highly misleading connotation that he drowned people. It was therefore decided that his label should focus on the other major aspect of his work, that is, proclaiming that the Messiah would soon succeed him. (Compare his title in Russian Orthodox translation “Иоанн Предтеча” — “John the Forerunner.”) So he became “John the Announcer,” which fortunately did not seem to give rise to any confusion with radio newsreaders!

Source: David Clark in The Bible Translator 2015, p. 117ff.