inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Luke 5:5)

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 5:5)

Following are a number of back-translations of Luke 5:5:

  • Uma: “Simon said: ‘Teacher, we (excl.) worked all last night, but there was not even one [uses classifier for animals] in our (excl.) nets. But even so, I will still throw it, since you (sing.) commanded us (excl.).'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “Simon answered he said, ‘Sir, we have persevered the whole night but we have caught nothing. But because you say it now, we will throw them out.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And Simon answered, ‘The whole night we were netting and we didn’t even catch one; but if that’s what you say, we will net again.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “‘Yes, Sir/Lord,’ said Simon, ‘but you-should-realize (self-sympathy particle) that we (excl.) have worked-the-entire night (lit. done-to-the-limit the night) net-fishing and we have gotten emphatically nothing. But if you (singular) say so, we’ll (excl.) go-ahead-and (lit. even-if we) lower our (excl.) nets anyway.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Simon replied, ‘Master, we wasted-a-lot-of-effort all-last-night, and we didn’t even get one. But because you are the one saying it, we will again drop our net.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)