tribe

The Greek and Hebrew that is translated as “tribe” in English when referring to the “12 tribes of Israel” is translated in some East African languages, including Taita and Pökoot use the equivalent of “clan” instead.

Aloo Mojola explains (in The Bible Translator 1989, p. 208ff.) (click or tap here to see the rest of this insight):

“A number of Bible translation teams in East Africa have been baffled and intrigued by the use of the term ‘tribe’ in the English translations of the Bible. The usage employed in these translations does not reflect any of the popular meanings associated with the term ‘tribe’ in present-day English. Neither does it reflect popular conceptions of the meaning of this term in East Africa or in other parts of Africa and elsewhere. This raises the question: is the term tribe the best translation of the Hebrew terms shebeth and matteh or the Greek term phyle? What is a tribe anyway? Are the twelve tribes of Israel tribes in the sense this term is currently understood? How can this term be translated in East African languages?

“It is easy to see that there is no consistent definition of the term tribe which applies exclusively and consistently to the communities to which it is currently applied. Why, for example, are the Somali or the Baganda called a tribe, but not the Irish or the Italians? Why do the Yoruba or Hausa qualify, but not the Portuguese or the Russians? Why the Bakongo and the Oromo, but not the Germans or the Scots? Why the Eritreans, but not the French or Dutch-speaking Belgians? Why the Zulu or the Xhosa, but not the South African Boers (Afrikaners) or the South African English? The reason for the current prejudices, it would seem, has nothing to do with language, physical type, common territory, common cultural values, type of political and social organization or even population size. Ingrained prejudices and preconceived ideas about so-called “primitive” peoples have everything to do with it.

“The term ‘tribe’ is used to refer to a universal and world-wide phenomenon of ethnic identification which may draw on any of the following bases: identification in terms of one’s first or dominant language of communication (linguistic), in terms of one’s place of origin (regional), in terms of one’s presumed racial, biological or genetic type (racial), or in terms of one’s ideological or political commitments (ideological), and so on. Communities may choose one or more of these bases as criteria for membership. Any of these may change over time. Moreover forms of ethnic identification are dynamic or in a state of flux, changing in response to new environments and circumstances. Essentially forms of ethnic association reflect a people’s struggle for survival through adaptation to changing times. This is inextricably intertwined with the production and distribution of vital resources, goods and services as well as the distribution of power, class and status in society.

“At the base of any ethnic group is the nuclear family which expands to include the extended family. The extended family consists of more than two families related vertically and horizontally: parents and their offspring, cousins, uncles, aunts, nephews, and others, extending to more than two generations. A lineage is usually a larger group than an extended family. It includes a number of such families who trace descent through the male or female line to a common ancestor. A clan may be equivalent to or larger than a lineage. Where it is larger than a lineage, it brings together several lineages which may or may not know the precise nature of their relationships, but which nevertheless claim descent from a common ancestor. A clan is best thought of as a kind of sub-ethnic unit whose members have some unifying symbol such as totem, label, or myth. In most cases the clan is used to determine correct marriage lines, but this is not universally so. Above the clan is the ethnic group, usually referred to inconsistently as the tribe. Members of an ethnic group share feelings of belonging to a common group. The basis of ethnic identity is not always derived from a common descent, real or fictional; it may draw on any of the bases mentioned above.

“The Israelites identified themselves as one people sharing a common descent, a common religious and cultural heritage, a common language and history. There is no doubt that they constitute what would nowadays be called an ethnic group, or by some people a tribe. The twelve subunits of the Israelite ethnic group or tribe, (Hebrew shebeth or matteh, or Greek phyle) are clearly equivalent to clans. In fact this is what seems to make sense to most African Bible translators in the light of their understanding of these terms and the biblical account. Referring to a shebeth as a tribe or an ethnic group and to Israel as a collection of twelve tribes creates unnecessary confusion. Translating each of the terms shebeth, matteh, and phyle as clan seems to solve this problem and to be consistent with current usage in African languages.”

zeal, zealous

The Greek and Hebrew that is often translated in English as “zeal” or “zealous” is translated in Moken as “great love” (“my zeal” — cewui lak tho: “my great love.”) (Source: Gam Seng Shae)

In Ixcatlán Mazatec it is likewise translated as “love, commitment, enthusiasm” (not jealousy). (Source: Robert Bascom)

In Khasi is is translated with shitrhem which conveys the “idea of loving or devoted enthusiasm.” (Source: B. J. Syiemlieh)

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Acts 26:7)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). (Click or tap here to see more details)

The inclusive “we” specifically includes the addressee (“you and I and possibly others”), while the exclusive “we” specifically excludes the addressee (“he/she/they and I, but not you”). This grammatical distinction is called “clusivity.” While Semitic languages such as Hebrew or most Indo-European languages such as Greek or English do not make that distinction, translators of languages with that distinction have to make a choice every time they encounter “we” or a form thereof (in English: “we,” “our,” or “us”).

For this verse, translators typically select the exclusive form (excluding King Agrippa).

In Huautla Mazatec, however, the translators selected the inclusive we.

Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.

hope

“Hope is sometimes one of the most difficult terms to translate in the entire Bible. It is not because people do not hope for things, but so often they speak of hoping as simply ‘waiting.’ In fact, even in Spanish, the word esperar means both ‘to wait’ and ‘to hope.’ However, in many instances the purely neutral term meaning ‘to wait’ may be modified in such a way that people will understand something more of its significance. For example, in Tepeuxila Cuicatec hope is called ‘wait-desire.’ Hope is thus a blend of two activities: waiting and desiring. This is substantially the type of expectancy of which hope consists.

In Yucateco the dependence of hope is described by the phrase ‘on what it hangs.’ ‘Our hope in God’ means that ‘we hang onto God.’ The object of hope is the support of one’s expectant waiting.

In Ngäbere the phrase “resting the mind” is used. This “implies waiting and confidence, and what is a better definition of hope than ‘confident waiting’.” (Source for this and above: Nida 1952, p. 20, 133)

Other languages translate as follows:

  • Mairasi: “vision resting place” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Enlhet: “waitings of (our) innermost” (“innermost” or valhoc is a term that is frequently used in Enlhet to describe a large variety of emotions or states of mind — for other examples see here) (source: Jacob Loewen in The Bible Translator 1969, p. 24ff.)
  • Kwang: “one’s future is restored to one’s soul like a fresh, cool breeze on a hot day.” (Source: Mark Vanderkooi right here)
  • Nyongar: koort-kwidiny or “heart waiting” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Anjam: “looking through the horizon” (source: Albert Hoffmann in his memoirs from 1948, quoted in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 7)
  • Highland Totonac “wait with expectation” (to offset it from the every-day meaning of hope or wait — source: Hermann Aschmann in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 171ff.).
  • Alekano: “wait not hearing two ears” (meaning to “wait without being double-minded” — source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation June 1986, p. 36ff.)
  • Marathi aasha (आशा) with a stronger emphasis on desire
  • Tamil: nampikkai (நம்பிக்கை) with a stronger emphasis on expectation (source for this and above: J.S.M. Hooper in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 2ff.)

C.M. Doke looks at a number of Bantu languages and their respective translations of “hope” with slightly varying connotations (in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 9ff.):

  • Xhosa and Zulu: themba “hope, expect,” also “have faith in, rely upon”
  • Tswana: tsholofelo “hope, expect, look for confidently”
  • Southern Sotho: tshepo “trust, rely on, believe in, have confidence in”
  • Kuanyama: eteelelo “waiting for”
  • Swahili: tumaini “confidence, trust, expectation, hope” (as a verb: “hope, trust, expect, be confident, be truthful, rely on”
  • Ganda: okusuubira “hope, trust, expect” also “look forward to, rely upon, anticipate, reckon”
  • Chichewa: chiyembekezo “wait for, wait, expect”
  • Koongo: vuvu “hope, expectancy, expectation, anticipation”
Syntyche D. Dahou (in Christianity Today, January 2021) reports on the two different terms that are being used in French (click or tap here to see the details):

“Unlike English, which uses the word hope broadly, the French language uses two words that derive from the word espérer (to hope): espoir and espérance. Both can first refer to something hoped for. In this sense, the word espoir usually refers to an uncertain object; that is, someone who hopes for something in this way does not have the certainty that it will happen (“I hope the weather will be nice tomorrow”). On the other hand, espérance describes what, rightly or wrongly, is hoped for or expected with certainty. It often refers to a philosophical or eschatological object (‘I hope in the goodness of human beings’; ‘I hope for the return of Jesus Christ’).

“When we speak of espoir or espérance, we then have in mind different types of objects hoped for. This difference matters, because both terms also commonly refer to the state of mind that characterizes the hopeful. And this state of mind will be different precisely according to the object hoped for.

“Having espoir for an uncertain yet better future in these difficult times may be a good thing, but it is not enough. Such hope can be disappointed and easily fade away when our wishes and expectations (our hopes) do not materialize.

“The opposite is true with espérance, which is deeper than our desire and wish for an end to a crisis or a future without pain and suffering. To face the trials of life, we need peace and joy in our hearts that come from expecting certain happiness. This is what espérance is: a profound and stable disposition resulting from faith in the coming of what we expect. In this sense, it is similar in meaning to the English word hopefulness.

“If we have believed in the Son of the living God, we have such a hope. It rests on the infallible promises of our God, who knows the plans he has for us, his children—plans of peace and not misfortune, to give us a hope and a future (Jer. 29:11). By using the two meanings of the word, we can say that the espérance that the fulfillment of his promises represents (the object hoped for) fills us with espérance (the state of mind).”

complete verse (Acts 26:7)

Following are a number of back-translations of Acts 26:7:

  • Uma: “So at this time, stand here to be examined, because I trust that God will fulfill his promise to our ancestors that says: all the dead people he will make alive again on a future day. We descendants of the twelve tribes [lit., mother-groups] of Israel, we all wait for the fulfillment of this promise, that’s why we worship God continually, both day and night. King whom I respect, because of this belief of mine in God’s promise, that is why I am being accused by the Yahudi people. And you, my Yahudi relatives! Why is it that you do not believe in the power of God to make alive the dead?” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “This was also hoped for by our (excl.) twelve Yahudi tribes, therefore they really worshiped God day and night. But because of this my hope, Sir, I am here accused by my fellow Yahudi.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And as for all of us (incl.) Jewish people who are divided into twelve, we (incl.) believe that this will come to pass. Therefore day and night we worship God. Now, Dear King, in spite of the fact that I believe this, they used it as a reason to accuse me.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “All moreover of our fellow Jews, that very thing is what they expect will be fulfilled to them, so they single-mindedly/persistently worship God daily and nightly. But because I believe that God made-Jesus -alive again and that is our basis-for-expecting that he will also make-alive the plural-dead, exactly that Sir King is what they accuse-me -of.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “And as for the majority of Jews, who persevere night and day in their serving of God, they too are sure that they will be included in this which he has promised. But well, that indeed is what the Jews hold against me, respected King, this assurance of mine of what God has promised.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)