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 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. )

See also lords (Japanese honorifics).

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 23:15)

Following are a number of back-translations as well as a sample translation for translators of Genesis 23:15:

  • Newari: “The value of the field is only 400 silver mohar. For this much, what are we complaining about? Bury [your] dead!'” (Source: Newari Back Translation)
  • Hiligaynon: “‘Sir, the land costs 400 pieces of silver. Anyway/Actually, if you (sing.) will-pay-(it), how much is that for you and for me. Okay, bury your wife now.'” (Source: Hiligaynon Back Translation)
  • English: “‘Sir, listen to me. The land is worth 400 pieces of silver. But the price is not important to you and me. Give me the money and bury your wife’s body there.'” (Source: Translation for Translators)

large numbers in Angguruk Yali

Many languages use a “body part tally system” where body parts function as numerals (see body part tally systems with a description). One such language is Angguruk Yali which uses a system that ends at the number 27. To circumvent this limitation, the Angguruk Yali translators adopted a strategy where a large number is first indicated with an approximation via the traditional system, followed by the exact number according to Arabic numerals. For example, where in 2 Samuel 6:1 it says “thirty thousand” in the English translation, the Angguruk Yali says teng-teng angge 30.000 or “so many rounds [following the body part tally system] 30,000,” likewise, in Acts 27:37 where the number “two hundred seventy-six” is used, the Angguruk Yali translation says teng-teng angge 276 or “so many rounds 276,” or in John 6:10 teng-teng angge 5.000 for “five thousand.”

This strategy is used in all the verses referenced here.

Source: Lourens de Vries in The Bible Translator 1998, p. 409ff.

See also numbers in Ngalum and numbers in Kombai.

Translation commentary on Genesis 23:15

My lord, listen to me shifts the negotiation to the final stage in which the price is now to be named. Here listen to me should be expressed by a similar wording to that used in verses 6, 11, 13. In English we may say, for example, “look at it this way,” “think about it like this.”

A piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver: in this manner Ephron states his price for the land, but with the rhetorical question that follows, he makes the price appear as insignificant. Good News Translation expresses the price with “only,” which fits the context well, “Land worth only….” In some languages the structure of the Hebrew sentence, which Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation retain as a single sentence, is too complicated; so this comment about the value of the land is made into a separate sentence: “The price of the land is four hundred silver pieces” or “That land is worth four hundred bits of money.”

It is impossible to say for sure whether four hundred shekels of silver was a high or low price, because we do not know the value of land at that time and place, nor do we know the size of the field. There is therefore little point in comparing this price with the price paid for fields in later biblical times. However, given Abraham’s position as a foreigner, and his urgent need for a burial place for his dead wife, we are probably justified in thinking that the price asked for the land was likely to have been very high, if not “an exorbitant price” (Speiser).

In translation little is gained in attempting to equate the value of a silver shekel in Abraham’s time with modern currency. In order to avoid confusion resulting from the ever-changing value of a unit of currency, it is best to translate “four hundred silver coins,” or better, “… pieces of silver.”

What is that between you and me?: that refers to the amount of money just named by Ephron. The point of the question is to minimize the amount of money. By asking this question Ephron compares the worth and importance of men like Abraham and himself to the mere four hundred silver shekels. Looked at in this way the price is of little importance; for Abraham to haggle over the price would be to admit that he was of less worth than Ephron suggested. Accordingly Abraham is prepared to pay the full price without further discussion.

In translation it may be necessary to restructure Ephron’s response so that the point of comparison is easily grasped. For example, “To men of our standing, is a field priced at a mere four hundred any great thing? Of course not”; “To men like us, what is a piece of land valued at four hundred pieces of silver? Why it is nothing at all!” “The land is only worth four hundred silver pieces. After all, what is that to men of our worth?” “The price of the land is four hundred…, but to you and me that’s nothing!”

Ephron closes his offer by repeating the refrain Bury your dead.

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. )