The term that is transliterated as “Canaan” in English is translated in American Sign Language with the sign loosely referencing the act of hiding/covering one’s face in shame. The association of “shame” with the name “Canaan” comes from Genesis 9, specifically verse 9:25. This sign was adapted from a similar sign in Kenyan Sign Language (see here). (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)

“Canaan” in American Sign Language, source: Deaf Harbor

Click or tap here to see a short video clip about Canaan in biblical times (source: Bible Lands 2012)


“Brothers” has to be translated into Naro as “younger brothers and older brothers” (Tsáá qõea xu hẽé / naka tsáá kíí). All brothers are included this way, also because of the kind of plural that has been used. (Source: Gerrit van Steenbergen)

This also must be more clearly defined in Yucateco as older or younger (suku’un or Iits’in), but here there are both older and younger brothers. Yucateco does have a more general word for close relative, family member. (Source: Robert Bascom)

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Gen 42:13)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). (Click or tap here to see more details)

The inclusive “we” specifically includes the addressee (“you and I and possibly others”), while the exclusive “we” specifically excludes the addressee (“he/she/they and I, but not you”). This grammatical distinction is called “clusivity.” While Semitic languages such as Hebrew or most Indo-European languages such as Greek or English do not make that distinction, translators of languages with that distinction have to make a choice every time they encounter “we” or a form thereof (in English: “we,” “our,” or “us”).

For this verse, the Jarai and the Adamawa Fulfulde translation both use the exclusive pronoun, excluding Joseph.

complete verse (Genesis 42:13)

Following are a number of back-translations as well as a sample translation for translators of Genesis 42:13:

  • Kankanaey: “Whereupon they said, ‘Sir, we (excl.) are the children of an old-man who lives in Canaan. We would have been ten and two siblings, but the youngest was left-behind at the location of our (excl.) father and the other also is-no-more.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Newari: “They said — ‘All twelve of us are brothers. We, who live in Canaan, are sons of one man. The youngest, however, is with our father, only one [brother] is no more.'” (Source: Newari Back Translation)
  • Hiligaynon: “They replied, ‘Sir, we (excl.) (are) twelve siblings/(brothers) (in)-all, and only one (is) our (excl.) father who (is) now there in Canaan. Our (excl.) youngest-one is-left there with him. Our (excl.) one sibling/(brother) (is) no more.'” (Source: Hiligaynon Back Translation)
  • English: “But one of them replied, ‘No, that is not true! Originally there were twelve of us who were brothers, the sons of one man. Our younger brother is with our father. One younger brother has died.'” (Source: Translation for Translators)

addressing one's or someone else's father humbly / respectfully in Japanese (父)

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 father in the presence of respected interlocutor(s), chichi (父) is often used as in the case of Jacob’s sons referring to their father before Joseph (in Genesis 43:28). This form is very appropriately chosen as they refer to their father as “your servant” and bowed down before Joseph the prime minister.

In some conversations, archaic honorific forms for “father” are chosen that also contain chichi (父) and typically indicate a greater level of respect. These are o-chichi-ue (お父上) (only in Genesis 48:1), and chichi-gimi (父君) in few occasions (2 Samuel 10:3, 2 Samuel 13:5, and 1 Chronicles 19:3).

Yet another, ore often-used term is chichi-ue (父上) (see addressing one’s or someone else’s father respectfully in Japanese (父上)). An interesting contrast can be found in the message sent from Asa the king of Judah to Ben-hadad the king of Aram (1 Kings 15:19). In this utterance, commonly translated as “my father and your father” in English, Asa humbly refers to his father as chichi (父) but respectfully refers to Ben-hadad’s father as chichi-ue (父上). Similar contrasts can be found in 1 Kings 20:34 and 2 Chronicles 16:3 as well.

While chichi can carry this humbling effect in reference to the speaker’s father, in some types of dialogues/utterances such as in poetry, including prayers (e.g. Jesus teaching how to pray in Matthew 6:9) and proverbial teachings (e.g. “honor your father and mother” in Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16 et al.), chichi is used without the humbling effect.

(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.

Translation commentary on Genesis 42:13

The brothers begin their reply by repeating that they are brothers. They now volunteer more information about their family.

We … are twelve brothers: the Hebrew does not have an equivalent to English “are” or “were” in this sentence. It says “Your servants twelve brothers.” Note Revised Standard Version has are, and Good News Translation “were.” New English Bible, which has “are,” has been revised by Revised English Bible to “were.” The context favors the use of the past tense here, and this is followed by most modern translations.

The brothers must give an account for the two who are not present. They explain Benjamin’s absence first.

And behold, the youngest is … with our father: the particle behold (Hebrew hinneh) functions in this context to focus attention on a most critical piece of information; however, most translators do not attempt to represent it.

And one is no more: the sense of this is that one brother is dead, as stated in Good News Translation and Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, although most translations do not say so directly. For example, Bible en français courant and New English Bible say “has disappeared,” Revised English Bible “is lost,” Biblia Dios Habla Hoy “is no longer with us.”

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 .