examine / test (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.

The concept of “examining” or “testing” is translated in the Shinkaiyaku Bible as o-shirabe (お示し), combining “examine” (shirabe) with the respectful prefix o-.

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


The Greek, Latin and Hebrew that are translated as “(become) pregnant” in English is rendered as “got belly” (Sranan Tongo and Kituba) as “having two bodies” (Indonesian), as “be-of-womb” (Sinhala), as “heavy” (Balinese), and as “in-a-fortunate-state” (Batak Toba). (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)

In Kafa it is translated as “having two lives” (source: Loren Bliese), in Southern Birifor as tara pʊɔ or “to have stomach,” in Kamba as “be-heavy” (source for this and above: Andy Warren-Rothlin), and in the Swabian 2007 translation by Rudolf Paul as kommt en andere Omständ, lit. “be in different circumstances.”

In Mairasi it is translated as “have a soul [ghost].” (Source: Enggavoter, 2004)

complete verse (Genesis 38:25)

Following are a number of back-translations as well as a sample translation for translators of Genesis 38:25:

  • Kankanaey: “When they brought-out Tamar, there was that-which-she-caused-to-be-told to her parent-in-law saying, ‘The owner of this ring, belt and cane, that is the father of this fetus of mine. Identify please who is the owner of these.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Newari: “When she had been found and was being brought, Tamar sent word to her father-in-law like this — ‘The one of whom these are is the one by whom I am pregnant. Do you know of whom this symbol, this string and this stick are?'” (Source: Newari Back Translation)
  • Hiligaynon: “But when- Tamar was- now -being-brought, there-was someone she sent/[lit. commanded] to Juda to say, ‘Here (is) the what-is-used-as-a-mark and its what-is-tied-to, as-well-as the staff/walking-stick. The owner of these is the father of my being-pregnant-with. Recognize whose this (is)/[lit. for whom this].'” (Source: Hiligaynon Back Translation)
  • English: “But as they were taking her outside of the city, she gave the ring and walking stick to someone, and told him to take them to Judah, and say to him, ‘The man who owns these things is the one who caused me to become pregnant.’ She also said to tell him, ‘Look at this ring, and the cord that is attached to it, and this walking stick. Whose are they?'” (Source: Translation for Translators)

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.

Genesis 38 in oral adaptation in Fang

Following is a back-translation of Genesis 38 from a song presented in the traditional Fang troubadour style (mvét oyeng) as part of a project by Bethany and Andrew Case. (For more information about this, see Case / Case 2019)


Eeeeǃ Oh wow, the storiesǃ

Stories are beginnings like fish traps, Ndong Nkum [the narrator’s stage name], I don’t know.

The little chimpanzee who is distracted says, “I’m going to the village now, I don’t see anything, and the stories have already started.”

We have something strange right hereǃ [common expression of surprise]

Verse 1 – …that Judah says that he is leaving the village of him and his brothers, Judah is going.

When Judah had gone, and had separated from his brothers, he went to live with a man there named Eraa, a man of the family of Adulan.

2 – He went to meet a young Canaanite woman there named Súa.

And he married her there, he married.

3 – After he married her, they had sexual relations and bamǃ beginning to have children, a son, so they named him Er.

4 – Night after night, bamǃ they had relations again, and again she had a son, and they named him Onan.

5 – A small time later, they had relations again, bamǃ and for the last time again she had a another son, and they named him Selah. ‎‎

Selah was Judah’s last child. ‎‎He was born during that time when Judah was living in Kezib.

‎‎6 – And so it happened that afterward Judah married his firstborn, who was named Er, to a woman, a beautiful young woman whose name was Tamar.

7 – And so it happened that Er did evil things, his evil way no longer agreed with Yavé’s will.

So Yavé killed him, kill.

8 – After Er died, Judah called Onan [and said] to him, “Oh, Onan…” Your brother has died, take the widow his wife, you and she will carry on the family as we have been doing.

Onan accepted.

9 – Then it happened there that when Onan accepted, instead of continuing as these things normally are, it began to be that when he and she were going to lie together, he began to spill his sperm in the bed.

‎‎In doing this, Onan did it on purpose, spilling his sperm on the bed.

Onan said that if he and Tamar had children with the widow of his brother, the children would not be his, and for this jealousy he did this, this thing.

10 – Therefore Yavé was offended there saying, “Akyeǃ How this man is so jealousǃ (or what great jealousyǃ)” That’s when Yavé also killed Onan.

The person who does evil does his own evil.

The person who does good does his own good.

“The person who is bad,” is the one that said it, for that reason you’ve seen what happened to Onan and his brother.

Because everything that one does, that thing he will return with it.

11 – Then it came about that Judah called his daughter-in-law and said, “Oh daughter-in-law, while the person who is named Selah is still small and hasn’t yet become an adult, go for the time being to the village of your parents.”

Then because of that Tamar went back, she went to live in the village of her parents.

She was there, and there she was waiting, and while she lived there, she lived there, during her time there she dressed in widow clothes.

Brothers-in-law, greetings, aaǃ

Judah didn’t say it just to say it, to his daughter-in-law for her to go live in her village,

12 – after his first son died, the second also died, and Judah began to think that if the third married Tamar he would die.

That’s why he planned it like that, saying to Tamar that she should go live in the village of her parents.

‎‎Tamar was already living with her parents while we discuss and talk.

Then it came about that, day after day, Tamar was counting the days. ‎‎Judah didn’t know that Tamar was calculating the years. ‎‎That “the person that I left there can now be of the age of a person who could be my husband.” Then she saw the time passing.

13 – And it came about that, when Tamar heard the news that her father-in-law was going to cut his animals to remove their skins to sell them, sheep skins.

After she heard it, then Tamar said, “I have seen your hookǃ”

The day of reckoning has arrived, the marriage of the daughter-in-law with the father-in-law.

It happened that Tamar, her two husbands died when Judah said “may this person not finish killing all my sons, and may she go live in her village.”

When Judah stayed there, he stayed and his wife also died.

And it came about that Judah was a widower for a long time, and he had already taken off his widower clothes. Then Tamar heard that her father-in-law was going to cut animals.

When she heard that he was going to cut animals, on the road to Timnat, there was his flock.

14 – Then she went out and she said, “now I myself am going to wait for this man, I have seen his hook.” That’s why she went to be in the crossroads of Enaim, the road that goes to Timnat.

Then the girl completely changed her clothes well, chen chen chen.

After she had completely changed, chen chen chen, she covered her face up to the eyes, just “staring eyes staring eyes, have you seen for me an antelope passing here?” so she was sitting there with her face covered, and it’s there that her father-in-law met her.

15 – “Hello pretty girl,” she said, “Hello.”

16 – He said, “Can you and I be like husband and wife?”

She said, “If you and I were like husband and wife, what will you do for me?”

17 – He said, “Well, then I will send you one of the goats of the animals that I have there.”

She said, “And when you send me that goat, will you first give me a guarantee, a guarantee that I will keep so that when you send me that goat, then I will return to you these guarantees?”

18 – He said, “Yes.”

Then he took the guarantees and gave them to her.

Then he took the ring and gave it to her, the ring that was like a seal to him with the cord that was with that ring, and the staff that he had in his hand.

He said, “Here are these things.”

Then Judah and his daughter-in-law lay like husband and wife, lovers.

After that it turned out that Tamar became pregnant.

20 – Then Judah left to where he was going and when Tamar was left alone, bawawawa, she ran to her house, she changed her clothes from her body and dressed herself again in the widow clothes like she had always been.

And she was [there].

Day after day.

Then Judah sent [someone] to go and give the goat.

When they went to give the goat to Tamar, they didn’t find Tamar, the girl was no longer there.

21 – They said, “She was sitting in the field (space between the towns).

There the pretty girl that always sat in the space between villages at the crossroads of Timnat there, where is she?”

They said, “There is none of that kind of thing in this town.”

The people of that town responded to him.

22 – Then he returned with the goat and said to his friend, “the person that we talked about isn’t there.”


And it happened that, that person is not there.

I’ve already asked the people of the town about the girl that they say lies with men there, where is she?

The people of the village say that there is none of that kind of woman there.

23 – They don’t see her, and he said, “Well, may she keep those things.”

But then we should know that I’ve sent the goat.

You did not find her, right?

24 – Day after day, three months passed, three months of the white men.

They said, “Eee, Tamar is pregnantǃ”

Then the news [lit. voice] ran there, kpewewewew and came to Judah.

̊”Judah, have you heard it?”


“Your daughter-in-law is pregnant.”

She is taking advantage of the men there.

Judah became very angry, “Kyee, what is this thing happening like this?”

“How can it be? this girl has gone to do shameful things”

He said, “Take her, takeǃ Take herǃ You will burn herǃ

In the flame of fire, tup tup tup.”

25 – They said, “yes,” then they grabbed Tamar.

They said, “They’re going to burn her in the fire.”

Tamar said, “Waitǃ I have some thing here.

Look, here I have the ring and the cord that goes with that ring, and I also have the staff.

I say that you will go to ask my father-in-law Judah for me, saying ‘the person who got me pregnant, he is the owner of the things that I have here in my hands, the things that I have here.

The person who got me pregnant is the owner of the things.’

Go ask him if he recognizes these things.”

And they took these things and said to Judah, “Aaa, look at the staff, behold the staff, here is the ring, and the cord that goes with the ring also.”

Your daughter-in-law Tamar says that, “Do you recognize these things?

The person who got her pregnant, he is the owner of these things.”

26 – Judah said, “Whatǃ I acted badly, and Tamar, she acted rightly.

Because I did that, I promised her that my son Selah would marry her.

The time that he should marry her has passed, and I didn’t send for her so that Sela would go to be her husband, that’s why my daughter-in-law has done this, this thing.

Therefore, my deed has been bad, and the deed of my daughter-in-law has come out good.”

In the end, Tamar was pregnant.

27 – After she got pregnant (lit. The getting that she got pregnant), when it came to be that she was coming to give birth, she had twins, they were twins that were in her womb.

One of them, the one that came out first, put his hand out.

28 – The person who attended the woman tied a cord on his hand, tie-tie, and said, “You came out first.”

29 – She was still standing there, saying, “You came out first” [when] suddenly the second one, bwimǃ he came out instead.

Then it happened that, after the first baby came out, the one with the hand came out again last.

Then they said to the firstborn there, since you were the one who opened the way, therefore they called him by the name Perez.

30 – The other that came after, they said, “Well then, your name is now Serah.”

Translation commentary on Genesis 38:25

In verse 25 Tamar makes her final effort to resolve the conflict that rages about her.

In some languages it may be necessary to provide a transition to verse 25; for example, “They went to get her, and as they were bringing her….”

She sent word … father-in-law is literally “She sent to her father-in-law saying.” It is evident from verse 26 that Tamar sent the pledges with someone to confront Judah. Accordingly it may be necessary to translate this verse: “While they were bringing her to the entrance of the town, she sent someone to her father-in-law with the things he had given her as a pledge.”

And she said: her message accompanying the pledges was “The man who owns these things has made me pregnant. Look and see whose seal on the cord and whose walking stick these are.” Examples of different ways this is rendered are “Do you see these things…? I am pregnant, but the man who made me pregnant, these two things belong to him. Look at them! Who do they belong to?” and “I am pregnant by the man who is the owner of these things. Look carefully at these things … Who do you think they belong to?”

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. )