addressing one’s mother humbly / neutrally in Japanese

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 important aspect of addressing someone else in one’s or someone else’s family is by selecting the correct word when referring to them. One way to do this is through the usage of an appropriate title within a conversation as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

When the speaker humbly refers to his or her mother in the presence of respected interlocutor(s), haha (母) is often used as in the case of Abraham referring to his mother before Abimelech (Genesis 20:12). This form is very appropriately chosen as Abraham is speaking to Abimelech the king of Gerar. While haha can carry this humbling effect in reference to the speaker’s mother, in some types of dialogues/utterances such as in poetry (Song 3:4) and proverbial teachings (e.g. “honor your father and mother” in Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16 et al.), haha is used without the humbling effect.

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

complete verse (Ephesians 6:2)

Following are a number of back-translations of Ephesians 6:2:

  • Uma: “In the Holy Book this rule is written: "We should honor our mother and father." From the ten commands, this is the first command that has a promise.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “God says in his law, ‘Honor your mother and father.’ This is the first command that he joined a covenant/promise to:” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “There is something God has commanded us in which He says, ‘Respect your father and your mother.’ And as for this commandment, it is the first commandment which has a promise added to it for” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Because the command of God which is the first to have what he promises as a reward to the one who obeys, it says, ‘Honor your (sing.) father and mother” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Consider that law of God which says, ‘Respect your (sing.) father and mother.’ This law is really important and if we obey it we will be included in its accompanying promise which says,” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “This is the first of the words in the law of God of which the person who does what it says will encounter the blessing of God. This word says: ‘ Respect your father and respect your mother.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

Translation commentary on Ephesians 6:1 – 6:3

Good News Translation it is your Christian duty to represents the prepositional phrase “in the Lord” (see Col 3.18). There are some important Greek manuscripts that omit the phrase, and New English Bible omits it; all other editions of the Greek New Testament include it (Good News Bible has it within brackets). The manuscript evidence is strongly in favor of the phrase, but it does seem rather redundant with the additional for this is the right thing to do. For other occurrences of the phrase in Ephesians see 2.21; 4.1, l7; 5.8; 6.10, 21.

It may be difficult in some languages to speak of Christian duty, but the sense of obligation which is involved in this statement, to obey your parents, may be expressed in some languages as “as believers you should obey your parents” or “as followers of the Lord you should obey your parents” or “because you belong to the Lord you should obey your parents.”

The clause for this is the right thing to do may simply reinforce the concept of obligation by saying “for this is what you should do” or “for you are doing what is right if you do this.”

The writer, in support of his instruction, quotes the commandment about respecting parents (Exo 20.12; Deut 5.16) almost precisely as it is found in the Septuagint, except that the quotation here does not include the final clause “that the Lord your God is giving you.”

The Greek verb translated respect is used of the attitude Christians should have toward the Roman Emperor (1 Peter 2.17) and toward Jesus Christ and his Father (John 5.23). It means to consider worthy of honor, respect, obedience.

In a number of languages respect is expressed as “to regard as being important.” In other instances it may be necessary to employ a rather extended phrase, for example, “think of them as deserving to be honored.” Sometimes respect is expressed in terms of the extent of attention which is paid to a person, for example, “you should pay attention to everything your father and mother say.”

At the end of verse 2 the writer adds a comment, “which is the first commandment with a promise,” to show that it is in the interests of children to respect their parents.

Rather than employing a relative clause such as “which is the first commandment,” it may be better to introduce a completely new statement, but only at the end of verse 3, for example, “this is the first commandment that promises a benefit” or “… promises that something good will come to one who obeys” or “… to those who obey.”

In verse 3 the writer quotes the promise: so that all may go well with you, and you may live a long time in the land. In Exodus 20.12 the land is, of course, the land of Canaan, which Yahweh gave to the Israelites, as the following relative clause makes clear, “which the Lord your God gives you” ( Revised Standard Version). Here, however, the land is not the Promised Land; as Robinson points out, here it probably means “the earth” (so Revised Standard Version, New American Bible, Bible de Jérusalem, and others). In translation, however, it is not necessary to say explicitly “and live a long time on earth”; all that is needed (in English, at least) is “and live a long time.” Salmond takes it in the restricted sense of the land in which one lives, that is, one’s country, but this seems rather improbable.

It is important that the translation not sound as if the commandment quoted in verse 2 is the first commandment. The translation must emphasize that it is the first commandment that has a promise with it. In some languages it is necessary to begin with a statement of this fact, “The first commandment that has a promise added is the one that says, ‘Respect your father and mother.’ The promise that is added to it is, ‘So that all may go well with you and you may live a long time in the land.’ ” Sometimes commandment needs to be expanded to something like “commandment that God gave.”

So that all may go well with you may be rendered by “so that you will prosper in everything” or “so that everything that is good will happen to you.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1982. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .