love (abstract noun)

Dave Brunn reports this from the translation into Lamogai (see p. 143ff.):

Many languages have very few abstract nouns. This means that the process of nominalization (where a verb or a word in another word class is turned into a noun) is rarely done or not done at all. When transitive verbs (verbs that require an object) have to be used to describe what in other languages can easily be said as a standalone noun, an object has to be defined.

See the process of the translation of “love is patient” into Lamogai:

In Lamogai, “love” is always a verb (“antoinɛ la pe oduk”: “his insides go toward people”). Also, anytime we talk about love in the Lamogai language, we are required by the grammar to specify both who is doing the loving and whom they are loving. It is impossible to talk about love in Lamogai without including this information. Therefore, when we translated the statement “love is patient” (1 Cor 13:4) into Lamogai, it was not quite as simple as translating it into English. The first question I had to ask in translating this verse was Who loves whom? There are three possibilities:

  • God loves people
  • People love God
  • People love people

Obviously, the original meaning could include more than just one of these options. But in order to translate this verse into Lamogai, I had to decide which of these three possibilities is the primary focus. This type of translational choice cannot be taken lightly. As a translator, I had to thoroughly study the context and carefully weigh every option. There are two blanks that I needed to fill in here:

(who) love(s) (whom)

Consider the first blank. “Who” is supposed to show love in this passage? The best way to figure this out is to look at the context. Let us read 1. Corinthians 13:1-3 (NET Bible):

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast, but do not have love, I receive no benefit.

Paul’s repeated use of the pronoun “I” makes it clear that he is including himself in the exhortation of this passage. Obviously, Paul is a person, so it seems reasonable that we would fill in the first blank with the word people.

People love (whom)

What about the second blank? Whom are we people supposed to love? Again, the answer is in the context. Here is what it says in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 (NIV):

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

When do we most often exorcise qualities like patience, kindness, boastfulness, pride and anger? It is usually in our relationship with other people. Therefore, it seems apparent from these verses that the second blank should be the same as the first. The main focus of this passage is on people loving people. Here is one possible way the phrase “love is patient” could be translated into a language like Lamogai: “The person who loves people acts patiently toward people.”

I realize that a rendering like this may bother some; but in many languages, the only alternative would be to translate this phrase in a way that would result in pure nonsense. God could have designed every language on earth to use abstract nouns in the same way Greek does, but he chose not to, so we must conclude that he allows us to use other means to convey his meaning.

Obviously, this is only one of many places where Greek uses a noun to express the idea of love. Other verses may be even more difficult to translate than this one. For example, 1 John 4:8 and 1 John 4:16 say, “God is love.” A literal translation of this phrase into Lamogai would be something like, “God is his insides going toward.” This literal statement sounds just as ridiculous in Lamogai as it does in English.

As I wrestled with these and other complex translation issues, I was reminded of the eternal truth that God is sovereign, and nothing he does is random. God is the one who divinely inspired the phrases “love is patient” and “God is love.” Yet this same God created the Lamogai language (along with many other languages) in such a way that it cannot come remotely close to reflecting these phrases literally.

See also there is no fear in love.