inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Gen 47:18)

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.

addressing someone respectfully in direct speech in Japanese

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.

This is evident in these verses in the Shinkaiyaku Bible from the form anata-sama (あなた様) “you” which is the combination of the nominal “you” anata and the suffix title –sama.

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

second person pronoun with high register

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 a second person pronoun (“you” and its various forms) as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017. The most commonly used anata (あなた) is typically used when the speaker is humbly addressing another person.

In these verses, however, the more venerable anata-sama (あなた様) is used, which combines anata with the with a formal title -sama.

(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 47:18)

Following are a number of back-translations as well as a sample translation for translators of Genesis 47:18:

  • Kankanaey: “When the next-in-line years arrived, they went again to Jose and they said, ‘Sir, we (excl.) are not able-to-conceal/deny that our (excl.) money is already used-up and you (sing.) have already taken our (sing.) animals. There is already absolutely nothing that we (excl.) are able-to-give you (sing.) excepting our (sing.) bodies and our (sing.) land.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Newari: “The next year they came again and courteously requested — ‘We will not hide our matter from you. All our money has been spent, all our domesticated animals have become yours. Now we have nothing else except our bodies and fields.” (Source: Newari Back Translation)
  • Hiligaynon: “After one year, the people again came to Jose and said, ‘(It is) not hidden from you (sing.) that we (excl.) do-not-have money anymore and our (excl.) livestock/animals are-there with you (sing.) now. Nothing at-all has- been-left/remains with us (excl.), aside-from ourselves/[lit. our ownselves] and the land.” (Source: Hiligaynon Back Translation)
  • English: “The next year they came to him again and said, ‘We cannot hide this from you: We have no more money, and now our livestock belongs to you. We have only our bodies and our land to give to you. We have nothing else left.” (Source: Translation for Translators)

Translation commentary on Genesis 47:18

When that year was ended … following year this may be rendered, for example, “At the end of a year,” “The next year,” or “A year later.”

We will not hide from my lord … all spent: although the speakers are plural, they address Joseph as my lord, not “our lord,” as we might expect. Note that Good News Translation shifts to “you, sir.” Money is literally “silver.”

And the herds of cattle are my lord’s: this may be rendered “our herds [cattle] all belong to you, sir” or “all our animals are in your hands.”

There is nothing left in the sight of my lord: that is, “there is nothing left that we can exchange with you for food.” This is sometimes expressed as a rhetorical question: “What can we give you now for our food?”

But our bodies and our lands: bodies may need to be expressed as “ourselves” and lands as “our fields,” “our farms,” or “our gardens.” In some languages this may be expressed as “nothing but our backs and our soil” or “we have only ourselves and our land left.”

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 .