cardinal directions

The cardinal directions “east” and “west” are easy to translate into Maan here since the language uses “where the sun comes up” and “where the sun goes down.” For “north” the translator had “facing toward the sun rising to the left,” and for “south” she had “facing toward the sun rising to the right.” So the listener had to think hard before knowing what direction was in view when translating “to the north and south, to the east and west.” So, in case all four directions are mentioned, it was shortened by saying simply “all directions.” (Source: Don Slager) Likewise, Yakan has “from the four corners of the earth” (source: Yakan back-translation) or Western Bukidnon Manobo “from the four directions here on the earth” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo back-translation).

Kankanaey is “from the coming-out and the going-away of the sun and the north and the south” (source: Kankanaey back-translation), Northern Emberá “from where the sun comes up, from where it falls, from the looking [left] hand, from the real [right] hand” (source: Charles Mortensen), Amele “from the direction of the sun going up, from the direction of the sun going down, from the north and from the south” (source: John Roberts), Ejamat “look up to see the side where the sun comes from, and the side where it sets, and look on your right side, and on your left” (source: David Frank in this blog post).

In Lamba, only umutulesuŵa, “where the sun rises” and imbonsi, “where the sun sets” were available as cardinal directions that were not tied to the local area of language speakers (“north” is kumausi — “to the Aushi country” — and “south” kumalenje — “to the Lenje country”). So “north” and “south” were introduced as loanwords, nofu and saufu respectively. The whole phrase is kunofu nakusaufu nakumutulesuŵa nakumbonsi. (Source C. M. Doke in The Bible Translator 1958, p. 57ff.)

“West” is translated in Tzeltal as “where the sun pours-out” and in Kele as “down-river” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel).

In Morelos Nahuatl, “north” is translated as “from above” and “south” as “from below.” (Source: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)

The Hebrew text that gives instructions where to place items in the tabernacle with the help of cardinal directions (north and south) had to be approached in the Bambam translation specific to spacial concepts of that culture.

Phil Campbell explains: “There are no words in Bambam for north and south. In Exodus 26:35, God instructs that the table is to be placed on the north side and the lamp on the south side inside the tabernacle. The team wants to use right and left to tell where the lamp and table are located. In many languages we would say that the table is on the right and the lampstand is on the left based on the view of someone entering the tabernacle. However, that is not how Bambam people view it. They view the placement of things and rooms in a building according to the orientation of someone standing inside the building facing the front of the building. So that means the table is on the left side and the lampstand is on the right side.”

See also cardinal directions / left and right.

large numbers in Angguruk Yali

Many languages use a “body part tally system” where body parts function as numerals (see body part tally systems with a description). One such language is Angguruk Yali which uses a system that ends at the number 27. To circumvent this limitation, the Angguruk Yali translators adopted a strategy where a large number is first indicated with an approximation via the traditional system, followed by the exact number according to Arabic numerals. For example, where in 2 Samuel 6:1 it says “thirty thousand” in the English translation, the Angguruk Yali says teng-teng angge 30.000 or “so many rounds [following the body part tally system] 30,000,” likewise, in Acts 27:37 where the number “two hundred seventy-six” is used, the Angguruk Yali translation says teng-teng angge 276 or “so many rounds 276,” or in John 6:10 teng-teng angge 5.000 for “five thousand.”

This strategy is used in all the verses referenced here.

Source: Lourens de Vries in The Bible Translator 1998, p. 409ff.

See also numbers in Ngalum and numbers in Kombai.

Translation commentary on Joshua 8:12

Joshua placed a smaller group of five thousand men in ambush west of Ai, between it and Bethel, which was 3 kilometers west of Ai. The account of the ambush found here is distinct from that of verse 3. Whereas verse 3 speaks of thirty thousand men, this verse is more modest and speaks of only five thousand. It is not being true to the text to translate “another five thousand men” (Living Bible). The translator must always be conscious of the problems keeping parts of a discourse consistent with each other; however, one must never employ translational techniques as a means of covering over obvious textual difficulties.

He took … and put must not be understood to imply that Joshua accompanied the men. The meaning is “Joshua ordered about five thousand of his men to hide west of the city….”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Newman, Barclay M. A Handbook on Joshua. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1983. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .