The Greek phrase that is translated in some English versions as “strong winds” can also be translated with an existing specialized term in English: “gales” (see the Revised English Bible, 1989).
Philip Saunders (p. 231) explains how the Kouya team arrived at that conclusion:
Acts chapter 27 was a challenge! It describes Paul’s sea voyage to Italy, and finally Rome. There is a storm at sea and a shipwreck on Malta, and the chapter includes much detailed nautical vocabulary. How do you translate this for a landlocked people group, most of whom have never seen the ocean? All they know are small rivers and dugout canoes.
We knew that we could later insert some illustrations during the final paging process which would help the Kouya readers to picture what was happening, but meanwhile we struggled to find or invent meaningful terms. The ‘ship’ was a ‘big canoe’ and the ‘passengers’ were ‘the people in the big canoe’; the ‘crew’ were the ‘workers in the big canoe’; the ‘pilot’ was the ‘driver of the big canoe’; the ‘big canoe stopping place’ was the ‘harbour’, and the ‘big canoe stopping metal’ was the ‘anchor’!”
The Greek that is translated as “(small) rudder” in English is translated in Yatzachi Zapotec as “(a small) stick,” in Mezquital Otomi as “a (little) metal,” in Rincón Zapotec as “(little) wooden hand” (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation July, 1967, p. 5ff.), and in Tetelcingo Nahuatl as “board to steer” (source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.).
Following are a number of back-translations of James 3:4:
- Uma: “So also a ship on the sea: no matter how big it is and blown by a big wind, the ship is made-to-walk wherever the will of its leader with just a small [piece of] wood that is named a rudder. [a rare Uma word, probably borrowed from some coastal language; that’s why it is described first].” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “A figure (for it) also is the rudder of a ship. Even though the body of the ship is big and even though the wind which blows it is strong, it is only a small rudder which directs the ship to wherever the one who holds the steering wheel wants it to go.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And even a very big ship which is carried by strong winds, we can control the way it goes by means of a very small instrument.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “It’s also like a ship, because even though it is large and it is propelled-forward by the swift wind, that which directs it toward where the driver wants to go, it is the small metal-piece at its rear.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “Like that too is a sailing ship. Even though it is a really big ship and the wind is really strong which can make it go, it can-be-turned-this-way-and-that by the helmsman wherever he wants to cause it to head toward because of its rudder, even though it’s such a little thing.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
- Tenango Otomi: “Now boats are big. When they meet up with a wind, they are pushed, but they don’t turn aside. Because he who steers only has to move the wheel to steer it, and the boat goes wherever he wants it to go.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)