son (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. When the referent is God or a person or persons to be greatly honored, the honorific prefix go- (御 or ご) can be used, as in go-shisoku (ご子息), a combination of “object of worship” (shisoku) and the honorific prefix go-.

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

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 24:5)

Following are a number of back-translations as well as a sample translation for translators of Genesis 24:5:

  • Kankanaey: “His slave answered (him) and said, ‘And what will I do then (defensive particle) if the young-lady refuses/doesn’t-want to leave her country to come-with me here? Will I then accompany your (sing.) child to go there?'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Newari: “Then that servant said to Abraham — ‘If the woman I choose will not come here with me, What then! Where should [I] go for your son, should [I] take [lit.: send] him back with me to that same land?'” (Source: Newari Back Translation)
  • Hiligaynon: “But the servant asked, ‘So, what if the woman will- not -come-with to this place? Shall I just take Isaac there?'” (Source: Hiligaynon Back Translation)
  • English: “The servant asked him, ‘If I find a woman among your relatives, what if she is not willing to come back with me to this land? Shall I take your son back there to the country you came from, so he can find a wife and live there?'” (Source: Translation for Translators)

Translation commentary on Genesis 24:5

The servant said: the servant now raises the possibility of being unable to do what Abraham is asking him to do. Good News Translation and others are correct to begin verse 5 with “but.”

Perhaps the woman …: another way of introducing this difficulty is suggested by Revised English Bible “What if the woman is unwilling…?” In a number of translations this is expressed as a question about the servant’s next action; for example, “If that girl won’t…, well what will I do?” In some languages it is also necessary to make clear that the woman is the one who has been chosen; in one translation, for example, the servant says “If I choose a girl like that, and she doesn’t want to leave … what then?”

Not be willing to follow me to this land: not be willing to may also be translated as “refuses to” (Speiser) or “does not want to” (New Jerusalem Bible). Some translations put in what the text does not actually say about the girl’s unwillingness: “doesn’t want to leave her place to come with me.” Follow me has the sense of “come back with me,” “accompany me,” “return with me.” This land refers to Canaan, the land where Abraham and Isaac are living.

Must I then take your son is literally “… cause your son to return.” Good News Translation has “Shall I send your son back?” Take means that the son accompanies the servant at the servant’s initiative. “Send” means only that the servant takes the initiative to return the son. Either translation is possible.

The land from which you came: that is, “your native land.” The expression used here may be adapted from “my country” in Gen 24.4.

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 .