formal pronoun: crowd and Pilate

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Tuvan uses a formal vs. informal 2nd person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Unlike other languages that have this feature, however, the translators of the Tuvan Bible have attempted to be very consistent in using the different forms of address in every case a 2nd person pronoun has to be used in the translation of the biblical text.

As Voinov shows in Pronominal Theology in Translating the Gospels (in: The Bible Translator 2002, p. 210ff.), the choice to use either of the pronouns many times involved theological judgment. While the formal pronoun can signal personal distance or a social/power distance between the speaker and addressee, the informal pronoun can indicate familiarity or social/power equality between speaker and addressee.

Here, the crowd and Pilate address each other with the formal, respectful pronoun.

everyone who claims to be a king

The Greek that is translated as “everyone who claims to be a king” or similar in English is translated in Huixtán Tzotzil as “all who mistakenly think they are a king.” Huixtán Tzotzil frequently uses the verb -cuy to express “to mistakenly think something” from the point of view of the speaker. (Source: Marion M. Cowan in Notes on Translation 20/1966, pp. 6ff.)

complete verse (John 19:12)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 19:12:

  • Uma: “When Pilatus heard those words, he searched for a way to free Yesus. But the Yahudi people jeered again, they said: ‘If you (sing.) free him, you (sing.) are not a friend of Kaisar! That Yesus said that he is a king. So, he opposes Kaisar!'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “From then on Pilatus really looked for a way so that he could free Isa. But the leaders of the Yahudi kept shouting, they said, ‘If you free this man, you are no longer the friend of the Leading King. Whoever calls himself a king, is an enemy of the Leader King/Emperor.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Then Pilate’s desire to free Jesus increased, however the Jews began to shout again. They said, ‘If you let that man go, you are the enemy of our (incl.) King Caesar who is in Rome. Because a person like this who makes himself a king is the enemy of Caesar.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “When Pilato heard that, he put-forth his efforts (lit. ability) to free Jesus. But the Jews, they continued to shout, ‘If you (sing.) free that person, it will be understood that you (sing.) are not a friend of the Emperor. Because the one who makes-himself -a-king, he certainly opposes the Emperor.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “When Pilato heard that, he was much more thinking how he might cause Jesus to be freed. But those Judio all shouted out again saying, ‘If you cause this person to be freed, it’s certain that you don’t side with the Impiradur. Of course whatever person makes-himself-out-to-be-a-king, he is opposing the Impiradur.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “From that moment Pilate tried to find a way to release Jesus. But the Jews shouted, ‘If you release that man then you are not a friend of the ruler in Rome. Whoever claims to be a ruler is an enemy of the ruler in Rome.'” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)


Some languages do not have a concept of kingship and therefore no immediate equivalent for the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic that is translated as “king” in English. Here are some (back-) translations:

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  • Piro: “a great one”
  • Highland Totonac: “the big boss”
  • Huichol: “the one who commanded” (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Ekari: “the one who holds the country” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Una: weik sienyi: “big headman” (source: Kroneman 2004, p. 407)
  • Pass Valley Yali: “Big Man” (source: Daud Soesilo)
  • Ninia Yali: “big brother with the uplifted name” (source: Daud Soesilio in Noss 2007, p. 175)
  • Nyamwezi: mutemi: generic word for ruler, by specifying the city or nation it becomes clear what kind of ruler (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)
  • Ghomála’: Fo (“The word Fo refers to the paramount ruler in the kingdoms of West Cameroon. He holds administrative, political, and religious power over his own people, who are divided into two categories: princes (descendants of royalty) and servants (everyone else).” (Source: Michel Kenmogne in Theologizing in Context: An Example from the Study of a Ghomala’ Christian Hymn))

Faye Edgerton retells how the term in Navajo was determined:

“[This term was] easily expressed in the language of Biblical culture, which had kings and noblemen with their brilliant trappings and their position of honor and praise. But leadership among the Navajos is not accompanied by any such titles or distinctions of dress. Those most respected, especially in earlier days, were their headmen, who were the leaders in raids, and the shaman, who was able to serve the people by appealing for them to the gods, or by exorcising evil spirits. Neither of these made any outward show. Neither held his position by political intrigue or heredity. If the headman failed consistently in raids, he was superceded by a better warrior. If the shaman failed many times in his healing ceremonies, it was considered that he was making mistakes in the chants, or had lost favor with the gods, and another was sought. The term Navajos use for headman is derived from a verb meaning ‘to move the head from side to side as in making an oration.’ The headman must be a good orator, able to move the people to go to war, or to follow him in any important decision. This word is naat’áanii which now means ‘one who rules or bosses.’ It is employed now for a foreman or boss of any kind of labor, as well as for the chairman of the tribal council. So in order to show that the king is not just a common boss but the highest ruler, the word ‘aláahgo, which expresses the superlative degree, was put before naat’áanii, and so ‘aláahgo naat’áanii ‘anyone-more-than-being around-he-moves-his-head-the-one-who’ means ‘the highest ruler.’ Naat’áanii was used for governor as the context usually shows that the person was a ruler of a country or associated with kings.”

(Source: Faye Edgerton in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 25ff.)