The Greek that is translated as “sailor(s)” in English is translated in Kouya as “worker(s) in the big canoe.”
Philip Saunders (p. 231) explains:
Acts chapter 27 was a challenge! It describes Paul’s sea voyage to Italy, and finally Rome. There is a storm at sea and a shipwreck on Malta, and the chapter includes much detailed nautical vocabulary. How do you translate this for a landlocked people group, most of whom have never seen the ocean? All they know are small rivers and dugout canoes.
We knew that we could later insert some illustrations during the final paging process which would help the Kouya readers to picture what was happening, but meanwhile we struggled to find or invent meaningful terms. The ‘ship’ was a ‘big canoe’ and the ‘passengers’ were ‘the people in the big canoe’; the ‘crew’ were the ‘workers in the big canoe’; the ‘pilot’ was the ‘driver of the big canoe’; the ‘big canoe stopping place’ was the ‘harbour’, and the ‘big canoe stopping metal’ was the ‘anchor’!”
In Rincón Zapotec, it is translated as “men who had the care of the boat.” (Source: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)
Following are a number of back-translations of Acts 27:27:
- Uma: “[After] a complete fourteen nights, our ship was still being blown along by the big wind on the Adria Sea. About the middle of the night the workers of the ship sensed/heard like the ship was close to land.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “On the fourteenth night since the start of that storm, we (excl.) were still there on the sea of Adariya carried along by the wind. When it was about the middle of the night, those working on the ship felt that we (excl.) were now near the shore.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And then on the fourteenth night of our being carried by the typhoon, we were there in the sea that’s called Mediterranean. And in the middle of the night the people who carry the ship, they thought that perhaps there was some land near us.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “When two weeks had gone-by since the beginning of the typhoon, we were still being-blown in the middle of the ocean Adriatic. In the middle of the night, the workers on the ship sensed that we (excl.) were approaching its edge (i.e. of the ocean).” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “When it was the fourteenth night, and we continued to be driven by the wind on the Adriatico Sea, just at midnight the sailors suspected that there was land near now.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
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 the addressee).
Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.