inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Dan. 1:12)

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, the Jarai and the Adamawa Fulfulde translation both use the exclusive pronoun, excluding the guard.

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Dan. 1:12)

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, the Jarai translation and the Adamawa Fulfulde translation use the exclusive form, “since the hearer is not included.”

formal 2nd person pronoun (Spanish)

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Spanish uses a formal vs. informal second-person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Spanish Bibles all use only the informal second-person pronoun (), with the exception of Dios Habla Hoy (third edition: 1996) which also uses the formal pronoun (usted). In the referenced verses, the formal form is used.

Sources and for more information: P. Ellingworth in The Bible Translator 2002, p. 143ff. and R. Ross in The Bible Translator 1993, p. 217ff.

See also the use of the formal vs. the informal pronoun in the Gospels in Tuvan.

king

Some languages do not have a concept of kingship and therefore no immediate equivalent for the Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin that is translated as “king” in English. Here are some (back-) translations:

(Click or tap here to see details)

  • Piro: “a great one”
  • Highland Totonac: “the big boss”
  • Huichol: “the one who commanded” (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Ekari: “the one who holds the country” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Una: weik sienyi: “big headman” (source: Kroneman 2004, p. 407)
  • Pass Valley Yali: “Big Man” (source: Daud Soesilo)
  • Ninia Yali: “big brother with the uplifted name” (source: Daud Soesilio in Noss 2007, p. 175)
  • Nyamwezi: mutemi: generic word for ruler, by specifying the city or nation it becomes clear what kind of ruler (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)
  • Ghomála’: Fo (“The word Fo refers to the paramount ruler in the kingdoms of West Cameroon. He holds administrative, political, and religious power over his own people, who are divided into two categories: princes (descendants of royalty) and servants (everyone else).” (Source: Michel Kenmogne in Theologizing in Context: An Example from the Study of a Ghomala’ Christian Hymn))

Faye Edgerton retells how the term in Navajo was determined:

“[This term was] easily expressed in the language of Biblical culture, which had kings and noblemen with their brilliant trappings and their position of honor and praise. But leadership among the Navajos is not accompanied by any such titles or distinctions of dress. Those most respected, especially in earlier days, were their headmen, who were the leaders in raids, and the shaman, who was able to serve the people by appealing for them to the gods, or by exorcising evil spirits. Neither of these made any outward show. Neither held his position by political intrigue or heredity. If the headman failed consistently in raids, he was superceded by a better warrior. If the shaman failed many times in his healing ceremonies, it was considered that he was making mistakes in the chants, or had lost favor with the gods, and another was sought. The term Navajos use for headman is derived from a verb meaning ‘to move the head from side to side as in making an oration.’ The headman must be a good orator, able to move the people to go to war, or to follow him in any important decision. This word is naat’áanii which now means ‘one who rules or bosses.’ It is employed now for a foreman or boss of any kind of labor, as well as for the chairman of the tribal council. So in order to show that the king is not just a common boss but the highest ruler, the word ‘aláahgo, which expresses the superlative degree, was put before naat’áanii, and so ‘aláahgo naat’áanii ‘anyone-more-than-being around-he-moves-his-head-the-one-who’ means ‘the highest ruler.’ Naat’áanii was used for governor as the context usually shows that the person was a ruler of a country or associated with kings.”

(Source: Faye Edgerton in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 25ff. )

See also king (Japanese honorifics).

Translation commentary on Daniel 1:12

Test: the force of the imperative is softened in Hebrew by the addition of a particle, so that the resulting form is not a command but more of a polite request. This particle is used especially when an inferior is speaking to a superior person. In order to avoid giving the impression that Daniel and his friends gave an order to the guard, it may be well to insert the word “please” (see New Revised Standard Version) or something similar (as in New International Version, New Jerusalem Bible, New American Bible, and Anchor Bible). Moffatt attempts to convey the same idea with “I pray you.”

Your servants: Daniel and his companions refer to themselves indirectly as “your servants” in order to acknowledge their subordination to the guard. This is a common way of showing respect in Hebrew, but for the sake of clarity in most languages, it is usually required that a word-for-word rendering be avoided here. Otherwise the reader may understand that the guard is being asked to put some others to the test rather than Daniel and those with him. This would, of course, misrepresent the meaning of the text. The most natural rendering will probably be the pronoun meaning “us.” In those languages having inclusive and exclusive forms of the first person plural pronouns, the “us” in this verse, as well as “our” in verse 13, will clearly be exclusive, since the hearer is not included.

For ten days: this is a relatively short time, but a period of ten days for spiritual testing is a common theme in this type of literature (compare Rev 2.10).

Let us be given: even in languages where passive forms exist, this may not be the most natural way of saying what Daniel and his companions intended. In most cases the more direct wording, “give us…” (Good News Translation, New English Bible/Revised English Bible, New International Version, New American Bible), will be best. But in some languages it is possible to say “Let us have…” (Moffatt) “Let them give us…” (King James Version) or “Please give us….” This should not be understood as a request for permission, but a polite appeal for a particular type of food that would not normally have been given.

Vegetables: this may be a very difficult concept to translate in some languages. The Hebrew word so translated comes from a very similar word that means “sowing” or “a thing sown” and is closely related to the word for “seed.” It may be necessary to say something like “plants” or “planted things.” The whole point of the request is to avoid having to eat meat and drink wine. For this reason it will be important in many languages to add the word “only,” as in New Jerusalem Bible or Bible en français courant: “let them give us only vegetables to eat and water to drink.”

The relationship of the two verb phrases in this verse may be made clearer in some languages by using a structure similar to that of Anchor Bible‘s rendering: “Please test us, your servants, for ten days by giving us only vegetables to eat and water to drink,” or simply “Please test us for ten days….”

Quoted with permission from Péter-Contesse, René & Ellington, John. A Handbook on Daniel. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1994. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

imperatives (kudasai / Japanese honorifics)

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way Japanese show different degree of politeness is through the choice of an imperative construction as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

In these verses, the honorific form kudasai (ください) reflects that the action is called for as a favor for the sake of the beneficiary. This polite kudasai imperative form is often translated as “please” in English. While English employs pure imperatives in most imperative constructions (“Do this!”), Japanese chooses the polite kudasai (“Do this, please.”).

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )