inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Luke 22:9)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). 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, translators typically select the exclusive form (excluding Jesus).

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

formal pronoun: disciples addressing Jesus

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, individual or several disciples address Jesus with the formal pronoun, expressing respect. Compare this to how that address changes after the resurrection.

In most Dutch translations, the disciples address Jesus before and after the resurrection with the formal pronoun.

complete verse (Luke 22:9)

Following are a number of back-translations of Luke 22:9:

  • Uma: “They asked him: ‘Where, Lord, do you want us to prepare it?'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “They said to him, ‘Sir, where do you want us to prepare it?'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And they asked Jesus, ‘Which house will we cook in, for the Feast of Passover?'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “‘Where do you (singular) want us (excl.) to go prepare it?’ they said.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “‘So where, Master, do you want us to prepare it?’ they said.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)