The Greek that is translated into English as “crucify” is translated into Naro with xgàu which literally means “to stretch” as is done with a skin after slaughtering in order to dry it. The word is also widely accepted in the churches (source: Gerrit van Steenbergen). Similarly, Balinese and Toraja-Sa’dan also translate as “stretch him” (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel) and in Rendille as lakakaaha — “stretched and nailed down” (source: Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 33).
In Ghari it becomes “hammer to the cross” (source: David Clark), in Loma “fasten him to a spread-back-stick” (source: Bratcher / Nida), in Sundanese “hang him on a crossbeam” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel), in Aguaruna “fasten him to the tree,” in Navajo “nail him to the cross,” in Yatzachi Zapotec “fasten him to the cross” (source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.), in Nyongar “kill on a tree” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang), and in Apali the different aspects of the crucifixion have to be spelled out: “nail to a tree piece put cross-wise, lift up to stand upright (for the crucified person) to die (and in some contexts: to die and rise again)” (source: Martha Wade).
In British Sign Language it is signed with a sign that signifies “nails hammered into hands” and “arms stretched out.” (Source: Anna Smith)
“Crucify” or “crucifixion” in British Sign Language (source: Christian BSL, used with permission)
The Greek that is translated as “soldier” in English didn’t have a direct equivalent in Enlhet so it was translated with “those that bind us” (source: Jacob Loewen in The Bible Translator 1969, p. 24ff. ) and in Nyongar it is mammarapa-bakadjiny or “men of fighting” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).
Following are a number of back-translations of John 19:32:
Uma: “so, the soldiers really went to break the legs of the two people who were crucified with Yesus.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
Yakan: “Therefore the soldiers went there and broke first the lower-legs of the two companions of Isa nailed on the post.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
Western Bukidnon Manobo: “So he sent his soldiers, and they went there and they broke the legs of one of those who were nailed with Jesus. And then they broke the legs of the other.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
Kankanaey: “That being so, the soldiers went and fractured the legs of the two were who crucified (lit. crossed) with Jesus -in-the-middle.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
Tagbanwa: “Pilato consented, therefore the legs of those two who were there with Jesus were broken by the soldiers.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
Tenango Otomi: “The soldiers went to break the legs of one person. Then they went to where Jesus was hanging and saw that he was already dead. Therefore they didn’t break his legs.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
No indication is given why the soldiers first broke the legs of the men on either side of Jesus before going to Jesus himself. It may be that Jesus already appeared to be dead, and the soldiers wanted to put to death the men who were obviously alive.
In some languages one cannot translate the word broke without indicating how the legs were broken. As already suggested, it was accomplished by a severe blow with a heavy instrument, probably with a large mallet, a sledge hammer, or a club.
Who had been put to death with Jesus is more literally “who had been crucified with him.”
Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on the Gospel of John. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1980. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .