dome, expanse, firmament

The Hebrew that is translated as “firmament,” “expanse,” or “dome” in English is translated in Roviana as galegalearane: “the open space between the earth and the sky” and in Moru as “empty space.”

In Idoma it is translated as okpanco — “the top of the sky.” “According to tradition, when the world began, the okpanco was low. A woman was pounding yams and her pestle kept hitting okpanco and it started going higher and higher.”

In Naskapi it is translated as “sky skin” — “like a caribou skin.”

(Sources: Roviana: Carl Gross; Moru: Jan Sterk; Idoma: Rob Koops; Naskapi: Doug Lockhart in Word Alive 2013)

In Lingala it is translated as “surface.” Sigurd F. Westberg (in The Bible Translator 1956, p. 117ff.) explains: “The ‘firmament’ in Genesis 1 gave us another problem. Its meaning in English is certainly not immediately obvious. The dictionary tells us that the Hebrew means something close to our English word ’expanse*. It seems, however, that the Hebrew idea may not always have been as abstract as that, for Isaiah says that the Lord ‘stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.’ But the Greek word used in the Septuagint gives the idea of a firm and solid structure, and this is the idea that is carried out in our English word ‘firmament.’ Modern translations into English, Swedish, Norwegian and French take one or the other of these two leads. It is the predicament of the translator that he dare not hesitate too long between ideas. (…) In this case we tried to arrive at ’expanse’ by the use of a word meaning ’width,’ but we found that it is not really understandable except as it is associated with the noun of which it indicates the width. It cannot be used alone. The word we finally used means ‘surface,’ but it also has the idea of something stretched out or smoothed out. It is more concrete than we should like, but it does not require identity with a concrete object as does the word for width’.’

What is truth?

The Greek that is translated into English as “What is truth?” is translated into Dogrib as Nàowo ehkw’ıı ayìı welè?: “What may the truth be anyway?”

Dwayne Janke (in Word Alive 2003, p. 16) tells the story of this translation:

“One challenging passage is John 18:37-38, where Christ tells Pontius Pilate that everyone on the side of truth listens to Him. In response, Pilate asks, ‘What is truth?’ and walks away.

“Jaap [Feenstra, an SIL translation consultant] turns to Alice [Sangris, a Dogrib co-worker for translation verification] after reading the verses. ‘Why, Alice, would he say, Nàowo ehkw’ıı ayìı awèidi? “What do you mean with truth?’?’

“Alice seems unsure. But after Marie Louise [Bouvier-White, a Dogrib translator] reads the verses again, Alice says, that to her, Pilate is asking a genuine question.

“‘It’s supposed to be a rhetorical question,’ Jaap replies. ‘Pilate is saying. We don’t even know what truth is.’

“Marie Louise catches onto the concept: ‘Pilate went out (of the room) because ‘truth’ doesn’t mean anything to him.’

“Mary [Siemens, another Dogrib translator] offers an optional wording that makes the Dogrib translation ot Pilate’s question more sarcastic in tone. The group discusses and tweaks the phrasing, until in Dogrib it says: ‘What may the truth be anyway?'”


The Hebrew that is translated into English as “garden” is translated into Naskapi with a word that means “a place for things to grow.”

Doug Lockhart (in Word Alive 2013) explains: “‘Garden’ was another term that had no Naskapi equivalent. ‘There are no gardens here,’ Bill [Jancewicz, a translation consultant] explains. ‘So what word do you use for ‘Garden of Eden,’ and have it communicate something logical in Naskapi? We finally came up with a word that means ‘a place for things to grow,’ like a park.'”