In Telugu different verbs for humans drinking and animals drinking are required.

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (John 4:12)

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 the first part of this verse (“our father Jacob” in English translations), translators often select the inclusive form, whereas for the second part (“gave us this well” in English translations) the exclusive form.

Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.

The Yagua translators (who, along with the translations into Malay, Sundanese, and Balinese, chose the exclusive for both parts of the verse) justify this by saying “Our choice here is exclusive assuming that the Samaritan woman to maintain the independent and factious spirit which this account shows existed between Jews and Samaritans.”

Source: Paul Powlison in Notes on Translation with Drills, p. 165ff.

Another opinion on using the inclusive pronoun for this verse and the remainder of the story:

“The Samaritan woman, in my view, is trying to get the better of Jesus; she appeals to Jacob (v. 12) and to ‘our fathers’ (v. 20) as to authorities higher than Jesus. If this is true, then it was important for her to show that those authorities were acknowledged by Jesus also. Therefore, we can imagine her to have thought or said ‘Your and my ancestor’ (v. 12) or ‘ancestors’ (v. 20) — inclusive pronoun in both verses.

“As for the phrase ‘who gave us the well’, there is certainly much truth in the consideration: “Since the well was in Samaritan territory, presumably she would use the exclusive form.” Yet, the inclusive can be defended here also, I think. With the remark that Jacob and his sons drank from the well, she is pointing back to a time anterior to the present antithesis between Jew and Samaritan; the well was given to ancestors of both peoples. Moreover, she comes to fetch water from the well and Jesus hopes to quench his thirst with its water. “The well is of common interest for both you and me,” she may have meant. It seems possible to find a third appeal to higher authority in v. 25. The woman has acknowledged Jesus as a prophet, but to the Messiah even a prophet has to bow; he, the prophet, as well as she, will have to be shown all things by the Messiah. Accepting this interpretation, we again have to use the inclusive ‘we’, Yet there is a difference with the verses first mentioned. In v. 12 and v. 20 the pronominal first person plural was used in phrases connected with the past; v. 25 points to the future, to the time when the Messiah will come and teach. A consciousness among the Samaritans of a Messianic belief common to both Jews and themselves is a necessary presupposition of the interpretation of v. 25 given above. So we are led to the preliminary question whether such a consciousness existed in Jesus’ times.”

Source: J. L. Swellengrebel in The Bible Translator 1959, p. 37.

formal pronoun: Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well

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 Gbaya, where God is always addressed with the second person plural pronoun ɛ́nɛ́, the common way to address superiors, the woman addresses him with the less courteous nɛ́ in verse 4:9 but then switches to the courteous plural form ɛ́nɛ́. (Source Philip Noss)

In most Dutch translations, both Jesus and the woman use the formal pronoun, whereas in Afrikaans and Western Frisian Jesus addresses the woman informally and she addresses him with the formal pronoun.

complete verse (John 4:12)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 4:12:

  • Uma: “This well is an inheritance from Yakub, our ancestor long ago. He himself drank water from here, so also his children and his livestock. Do you (sing.) think that your (sing.) life surpasses Yakub, that you (sing.) can give water that is better than the water from this well?'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “This well was left to us (excl.) by our (incl.) forefather Yakub. His whole family and including their animals drank from this well. Is it that your authority exceeds that of Yakub?'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Our ancestor long ago Jacob, is the one who made this well, and he drank here, and his children drank here, and their domestic animals. Are you greater than Jacob?'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Are you (sing.) do-you-suppose more-important/greater than our ancestor Jacob? Because it was emphatically he who bequeathed this well, and that’s where-he and his children -drew-water what they and their livestock were-drinking.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Can you yet exceed our (incl.) ancestor Jacob who caused us (excl.) to inherit this well, this well from which they drew water for themselves to drink and also his livestock?'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Our ancestor Jacob left the well here for us. He got water here for drinking. And his children drank it and also the stock he owned drank the water. Are you greater than he then?'” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)