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 most 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.”

In most Dutch translations, the same distinctions are made.