asking God for mercy in Lakota

When biblical writers ask God for mercy, Lakota translators can add a female grammatical deferential marker to translate the passages in a culturally appropriate manner.

Steve Berneking (in Beerle-Moor / Voinov, p. 119f.) explains:

“The Bible of our Judeo-Christian tradition is filled with examples in which God is described in and granted human attributes. Anthropomorphically, God sees, walks, talks, fights. Further, God is said to demonstrate human emotions: love, hate, jealousy, anger. And, quite remarkably, humans can communicate to God the entire range of human feelings: love, fear, doubt, anger. Humans can argue with, command, remind, negotiate with, and even ignore God in our biblical tradition.

“Few places in the biblical canon are as filled with the joy and angst of this human/God encounter as the book of Psalms. Even the traditional genres or categories of the psalms reflect such a range of emotion: praise, lament, complaint, thanksgiving. It is precisely this open and frank dialogue between human and God that troubles the Lakota translators when working with the psalms. Because Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka [see God] is not engaged anthropomorphically as the Christian ‘God’ is in the Psalms, the translators have a difficult time getting into Psalms. . . almost to the point of despair and abandoning the translation of Psalms. My examples are from two places in the Psalter (both cited according to the New Jewish Publication Society’s translation):

Psalm 57:1
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in You I seek refuge.

Psalm 90:13, 14
Turn, O Lord! How long? Show mercy to Your servants. Satisfy us at daybreak with your steadfast love that we may sing for joy all our days.

“How is it, the Lakota translators ask, that humans can demand anything from God, especially mercy? No Lakota, they noted, would or even could speak to Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka with such boldness. In their translation of the Psalms into Lakota, they needed a transcultural and translingual alternative, so they employed the female deferential command enclitic [= closely connected in pronunciation with the preceding word] marker ye in these and other psalms. That positioned the psalmist in these psalms as a female, thereby softening the rhetoric from a blatant command addressed to Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka to an earnest, heartfelt plea of desperation. Here are these examples from the Lakota translation, along with word-for-word renderings plus the enclitic markers.

Psalm 57:1
Uŋṡimala ye, Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka, uŋṡimala ye. Inakijiŋyaŋ el ċiu welo.
Have pity [female deferential command], Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka, have pity [female deferential command]. [Defense] for I come to you [male statement].

Psalm 90:13,14
Tohaŋyaŋ niċaŋzekiŋ kta hwo?
How long are you angry [potential] [male question]
Niṫawowaṡi ki lena uŋṡiuŋlapi ye.
Your workers the these be kind to us [female deferential command]
Ihihanŋi iyohila wouŋṡila uŋṡiuŋlapi ye.
Morning each one mercy show/give [female deferential command]
Heċel wiyuṡkiqiŋyaŋ uŋlowaŋpi na ċaŋte waṡteya niuŋk’uŋpi ktelo.
So that happily sing and heart in a good way live [potential].

“Their solution, I would argue, shows a particular theology of their spirituality, interpreting and translating these texts in their own way, thereby ‘making them their own.’”