house falls (in the parable of two house builders)

Gbaya uses a lot of ideophones (words that express what is perceived by the five senses) which naturally also has an impact on translation. In the case of the two different versions of Jesus’ parable of two house builders in Matthew and Luke, two different ideophones are used to capture the fall of the house and differences in the Greek text.

Philip Noss (in The Bible Translator 1985, p. 423ff.) explains: “The story is short and dramatic, building up from the wisdom of the first man to the foolishness of the second. In addition to using literary and dramatic narrative style to recount the plot line, the Gbaya translators used ideophones to depict the final drama of both versions of the account.

  • Matt. 7:27: ɓɛɛ tua’i gbin a nù gɛ́tɛ́-gɛ́tɛ́ (‘… and it fell—and great was its fall!’ (NRSV))
  • Luke 6:49: ɓɛɛ tua’i gbin a nù nɛ oi-aa lɛŋ mútú-mútú (‘… immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’ (NRSV))

“In both accounts [many English versions] use the verb ‘fall.’ Gbaya also has a verb ‘to fall,’ but it cannot be used here because the houses did not fall from anywhere. They were on the ground and they broke apart or collapsed. This is expressed in Gbaya by a serial verb construction ‘break-put ground.’ To express Luke’s stronger form of the Greek verb, the Gbaya team added ‘completely.’

“Following the Greek text, [most] English versions add a final emphatic clause which Gbaya expresses by an ideophone. To translate Matthew’s version, the Gbaya team said gɛ́tɛ́-gɛ́tɛ́ which depicts the action of breaking apart, of scattering in small pieces. To emphasize Luke’s portrayal of collapse and total ruin, the Gbaya team said mútú-mútú which describes total destruction, something being crushed and ground to pieces. The Gbaya use of the ideophone is more economical and direct than the Greek original and the English translation which both require an additional term and, in the latter, even an exclamation mark.”