master (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 to do this is through the usage of appropriate suffix title referred to as keishō (敬称) as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017 by either using -san or –sama with the latter being the more formal title.

These titles are distinct from nominal titles such as “master.” This is evident from the forms such as go-shujin-sama (ご主人様) “master” or “lord” which is the combination of the nominal title shujin “master,” the honorific prefix go- and the suffix title –sama.

In some cases, it can also be used as go-shujin (ご主人), i.e. with the honorific prefix go- but without the suffix title –sama. You can find that in Genesis 19:2, 23:6, 23:11, 23:15, 24:51, 32:18, 39:8, 39:9, 44:8, 44:9; 1 Samuel 25:17; and 2 Kings 2:16 and 4:26.

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

listen / hear (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 to do this is through the usage (or a lack) of an honorific prefix as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

In this verse, the Hebrew that is translated as “listen” or “hear” or similar in English is translated in the Shinkaiyaku Bible as o-ki (お聞), combining “listen / hear” (ki) with the respectful prefix o-.

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

See also Listen!.

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.

complete verse (Genesis 23:11)

Following are a number of back-translations as well as a sample translation for translators of Genesis 23:11:

  • Newari: “‘I will give you not just that cave but the whole field as well. Before my own people I give that all to you to bury [your] dead free of charge.” (Source: Newari Back Translation)
  • Hiligaynon: “He said, ‘In-front of these fellowmen of mine I give to you (sing.) the entire field including the cave. Therefore you can now bury your wife.'” (Source: Hiligaynon Back Translation)
  • English: “So, just to make the customary reply to start the real discussion about a price, Ephron said, ‘No, sir, listen to me. I will give to you the field and the cave in it, without charge, with the people here as witnesses.'” (Source: Translation for Translators)

Translation commentary on Genesis 23:11

No, my lord: there are two ways to interpret No. Hebrew Old Testament Text Project considers No to mean “Pray,” “Please,” a plea based on the explanation given in Gen 23.6. Others interpret No to be taken literally as a voiced objection to Abraham’s proposal. Translators are divided in their interpretation. Some preferring to retain No are Biblia Dios Habla Hoy, New English Bible, Revised English Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Moffatt, Traduction œcuménique de la Bible, New International Version, New Jerusalem Bible, New Jerusalem Bible. Some that translate with some form of “please” are Good News Translation (which leaves it to be understood from the style of address), Bible en français courant, New American Bible, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch. If translators chose to follow the recommendation of Hebrew Old Testament Text Project in verse 6, where a similar form is considered a polite plea or request, they should continue to do so here in verse 11. My lord is as in Gen 23.6.

If translators choose to retain the word No, it is still important to be clear about how Ephron’s counterproposal rejects Abraham’s offer to buy the cave. On the surface it appears that he rejects the offer to buy it and instead offers to give it to Abraham for nothing. But in reality the counterproposal is that Abraham must buy both the cave and the piece of ground.

Hear me suggests that Ephron will now make a counterproposal. See the comments on Gen 23.5.

I give you the field: Ephron’s use of give appears to mean “give as a gift,” “give without anything in return.” However, in the context of this negotiation, there is no doubt that Ephron does not mean this, and that Abraham is now required to turn down his offer and to make a further proposal, which he will do in verse 13. Von Rad comments: “Even today the seller avoids the coarse word ‘sell,’ which one feels to be an insult for the honored buyer. One wants to ‘give it,’ ‘bestow it,’ and thus obligates the buyer even more with such generosity. Abraham already knows from this noble gesture that he will have to pay a great deal.”

And I give you the cave that is in it: by making this offer in which he mentions the field before the cave Ephron raises the negotiation to a new level. We may translate, for example, “I give you both the field and the cave” or “I make a gift to you of both the field and the cave.” A translation that puts the emphasis even more strongly on the field says “I am happy to give you the whole piece of land in that place, with the cave that is on it.”

In the presence is literally “before the eyes.” This phrase means that those present are witnesses to the verbal transaction.

Sons of my people means “my fellow countrymen,” “my fellow Hittites,” “the people I belong to,” “those among whom I was born and raised.”

Verse 11 may be rendered “O, sir, I could not accept that. But look here please. I will make you a gift of both the field and the cave. I make them a gift to you with my countrymen as my witnesses. So now please bury your dead wife.”

Quoted with permission from Reyburn, William D. and Fry, Euan McG. A Handbook on Genesis. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1997. 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. )