In Kuy the term the woman uses for what is translated in English as “sir” implies that she was older than Jesus (see verse 4:11), and the term Jesus uses for what is translated in English as “woman” in verse 4:21 reflects this, as he addresses her as “younger aunt.”
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, Jesus is addressing the woman with an informal pronoun whereas she addresses him with a formal pronoun, showing respect.
In most Dutch translations, both Jesus and the woman use the formal pronoun.
Following are a number of back-translations of John 4:11:
- Uma: “That woman said: ‘From where that living water that you (sing.) say, for you (sing.) do not even have a dipper, and the well is deep.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “‘Sir,’ said the woman, ‘where would you get/fetch water that gives life? You have, surprise, nothing for drawing it with and this well is hep deep.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And then the woman said, ‘Sir, you don’t have any dipper and this well is deep. Where are you going to get that water that gives life?” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “Whereupon the woman said, ‘Sir, you (singular) have nothing to dip-out-with and that well there is deep. Where perhaps will you (singular) get water that gives life?” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “When the woman heard, she said, ‘Master, this well sure is deep, and it seems you have no drawing-vessel. Well from where would you get that living water? (In Tagbanwa, living water refers to water at the very source of a spring).” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
- Tenango Otomi: “The woman said to him, ‘Sir, there isn’t anything for you to draw the water and the well is deep. How can you get the water which gives the new life in order to give me?” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)