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.

formal pronoun: crowd and Pilate

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 crowd and Pilate address each other with the formal, respectful pronoun.

formal pronoun: Jesus and his mother

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 addresses Mary, his mother, with the formal, respectful pronoun, whereas she addresses him with the informal pronoun, typically used by parents for their children.

Vitaly Voinov explains how the translation team made those choices: “As in probably all languages with a formal/informal distinction, so in Tuvan, parents always address their children with the informal pronoun. Mary does likewise in the only passage where she directly addresses Jesus (Luke 2:48). It was assumed by the Tuvan translation team that Jesus always treated Mary with proper filial respect as a fulfillment of the fifth commandment (cf. Luke 2:51). This is the case even in John 2, where he addresses her as gunai ‘woman’ [see woman], and at first seemingly turns down her request.”

gospel

In choosing a word for the Greek that is typically translated as “gospel” in English, a number of languages construct a phrase meaning “good news,” “joyful report” or “happiness-bringing words.” In some instances such a phrase may be slightly expanded in order to convey the proper meaning, e.g. “new good word” (Tzotzil), or it may involve some special local usage, e.g. “good story” (Navajo), “joyful telling” (Tausug), “joyful message” (Toraja-Sa’dan) (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida), or “message of God” (Shilluk) (source: Nida 1964, p. 237)

Vitaly Voinov tells this story about the translation into Rutul:

“In Rutul, it was only during the most recent consultant checking session that I realized that the Rutul word for Gospel – Incir (from Arabic إنجيل — Injil) — sounds and looks exactly like the word that means ‘fig’ in Rutul. This is a case of homonymy, in which two completely non-related words from differing historical sources have come to sound exactly alike. Most Rutul speakers know that incir means ‘fig’ because they grow this fruit in their yard or buy it at the market every week. However, because the religious sphere of discourse was heavily disparaged during the Soviet era, most people simply never encountered Incir with the meaning of ‘Gospel.’ This meaning of the word, which Rutuls of the pre-Soviet era knew from the Koran, simply fell into disuse and never had much reason for returning into contemporary Rutul since there is no Christian church established among the people. So if the translator continues to use the term Incir as the rendering for ‘Gospel,’ he runs the risk that most readers will, at best, read the word with a smile because they know that it also means ‘fig,’ and, at worst, will completely misunderstand the word. The seemingly ‘easy’ solution in this case is for the translator to use a Rutul neologism meaning ‘Joyful Message’ or ‘Good News,’ [see above] instead of Incir; but in fact it is not all that easy to make this change if the translator himself insists on using the historical word because at least some Rutuls still understand it as meaning ‘Gospel.’ This is a situation in which the translation team has to gradually grow into the understanding that a fully intelligible translation of Scripture is preferable to one that maintains old words at the cost of alienating much of the readership.”

formal pronoun: John and Herod

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, John addresses Herod with the informal pronoun, showing a lack of respect.

devil

The Greek that is translated in English as “devil” is sometimes translated with indigenous specific names, such as “the avaricious one” in Tetelcingo Nahuatl or “the malicious deity” in Toraja-Sa’dan. (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)

In Yoruba it is translated as èṣù. “Èṣù is thought of as bringing evil, but also as giving protection. The birth of a child may be attributed to him, as the names given to some babies show, Èṣùbiyi (Èṣù brought this forth), and Èṣùtoyin (Èṣù is worthy of praise).” (Source: John Hargreaves in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 39ff.)

In Muna, it is translated as Kafeompu’ando seetani: “Master of the evil-spirits” (source: René van den Berg) and in Mairasi as owe er epar nan: “headman of malevolent spirits” (source: Enggavoter 2004), in Huehuetla Tepehua
as “chief of demons,” and in Ojitlán Chinantec as “head of the worldlings” (source for the last two: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125).

In Lak and Shughni it is translated with terms of feminine gender. Vitaly Voinov tells this story:

“In the Lak language of Dagestan, the names ‘Iblis’ and ‘sheytan’ (referring to Satan and his minions, respectively) in this language were borrowed from the Arabic Islamic tradition, but they entered Lak as feminine nouns, not masculine nouns. This means that they grammatically function like nouns referring to females in Lak; in other words, Laks are likely to think of Iblis as a woman, not a man, because of the obligatory grammatical patterning of Lak noun classes. Thus, when the team explained (in Russian) what the Lak translation of Jesus’ wilderness temptation narrative at the beginning of Matthew 4 said, it sounded something like the following: ‘After this, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Iblis… .The temptress came to Jesus, and she said to Him…’

“Since this information (that the devil is a female spirit) is part of the very name used for Satan in Lak, nothing can really be done about this in the translation. The Lak translator did not think that the feminine gender of Iblis should cause any serious misunderstandings among readers, so we agreed to leave it in the translation. Prior to this, I had never heard about languages in which the devil is pictured as a woman, but recently I was told by a speaker of the Shughni language that in their language Sheytan is also feminine. This puts an interesting spin on things. The devil is of course a spirit, neither male nor female in a biologically-meaningful sense. But Bible translators are by nature very risk-aversive and, where possible, want to avoid any translation that might feed misleading information to readers. So what can a translator do about this? In many cases, such as the present one, one has to just accept the existing language structure and go on.”

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.