asking politely (Japanese honorifics)

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way to do this is through the usage (or a lack) of an honorific prefix as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

In these verses, the Shinkaiyaku Bible uses as o-kini mesu (お気に召す), combining “please” or “do me a favor” (kini mesu) with the respectful prefix o-.

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )

see / sight (Japanese honorifics)

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way to do this is through the usage (or a lack) of an honorific prefix as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

In these verses, the Hebrew and Greek that is translated as “see” or “sight” or similar in English is translated in the Shinkaiyaku Bible as o-me (お目), combining “eye” (me) with the respectful prefix o-.

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Josh 9:25)

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 this verse, the Jarai and the Adamawa Fulfulde translation both use the exclusive pronoun, excluding Joshua.

formal 2nd person pronoun (Spanish)

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Spanish uses a formal vs. informal second-person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Spanish Bibles all use only the informal second-person pronoun (), with the exception of Dios Habla Hoy (third edition: 1996) which also uses the formal pronoun (usted). In the referenced verses, the formal form is used.

Sources and for more information: P. Ellingworth in The Bible Translator 2002, p. 143ff. and R. Ross in The Bible Translator 1993, p. 217ff.

See also the use of the formal vs. the informal pronoun in the Gospels in Tuvan.

Translation commentary on Joshua 9:24 - 9:25

In a redundant manner the writer brings the account to a close with a final dialogue between Joshua and the Gibeonites. Once more they explain the reason for their deceptive conduct (verse 24): it was only in order to avoid being killed that they had lied to the Israelites.

The use of sir in Good News Translation is to indicate the tone of the men’s response to Joshua. In languages where honorifics are obligatory, or where there is a definite distinction made between a lower and a higher person in conversation, special attention should be given to the proper categories of language to be used in the dialogue. It is obvious, of course, that the men of Gibeon would be addressing a superior, while Joshua would be speaking to person of lower status than himself.

We learned translates an emphatic Hebrew idiomatic phrase: “we were told repeatedly” (see Traduction œcuménique de la Bible) “were fully informed” (New American Bible).

In translation it may be more effective to invert the order of the men’s explanation to Joshua. For example:

• “We did it, sir, because we feared for our lives. Moses served the LORD your God, and we know what the LORD promised to him and to all the people of Israel. He promised to give you the whole land, and he commanded you to kill the people in it.”

Or:

• “… feared for our lives. We know that the LORD your God will make true his promise to Moses his servant. He told Moses, ‘I command you to take the whole land and to kill all the people living there.’ ”

They throw themselves on Joshua’s mercy (verse 25), and he protects them from the Israelites, who want to kill them (verse 26). Right (verse 25) translates two Hebrew nouns (Revised Standard Version “good and right”). In such a context the two nouns are basically synonymous, and the use of a single noun is perhaps more effective in contemporary English. For other languages it may be more natural to maintain the two synonyms or else shift to an idiom.

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 .

behold / look / see (Japanese honorifics)

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way to do this is through the usage (or a lack) of an honorific prefix as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017. When the referent is God or a person or persons to be greatly honored, the honorific prefix go- (御 or ご) can be used, as in go-ran (ご覧), a combination of “behold / see” (ran) and the honorific prefix go-.

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )

See also

imperatives (kudasai / Japanese honorifics)

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way Japanese show different degree of politeness is through the choice of an imperative construction as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

In these verses, the honorific form kudasai (ください) reflects that the action is called for as a favor for the sake of the beneficiary. This polite kudasai imperative form is often translated as “please” in English. While English employs pure imperatives in most imperative constructions (“Do this!”), Japanese chooses the polite kudasai (“Do this, please.”).

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )