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 4:18)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 4:18:

  • Uma: “because you (sing.) have been married five times, and that man/husband of yours(s) there [out of sight] is not your (sing.) own man/husband. So, your (sing.) words earlier are very true.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “For you have had five husbands but your companion that you are one with now is not your husband. What you said is true.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Because five already have married you, and the man with you now is not your husband.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “because you (sing.) have-gotten-married five times, and your (sing.) housemate now, he is not your (sing.) spouse.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Because five men already have married you. Well, that one now, he’s just your man, not your husband. What you said there was true all right.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Because now it is the fifth husband you have lived with. And that one you are living with now isn’t your husband. So it is apparent that you speak what is true.'” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)