bread, loaf

The Greek term that is translated in English as “bread” or “loaf” is translated in Samo, it is translated as “Sago,” which serves “like ‘bread’ for the Hebrews, as a generic for food in the Samo language. It is a near-perfect metonymy that has all the semantic elements necessary for effective communication.” (Source: Daniel Shaw in Scriptura 96/2007, p. 501ff.)

In Chol it is translated as waj, the equivalent of a tortilla. (Click or tap here to see the rest of this insight)

John Beekman (in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 180f. ) explains: “The word ‘bread’ in Scripture primarily occurs as either a specific term for bread (including the Lord’s Supper), or as a generic term for food. It is not surprising, however, the some aboriginal groups use something other than bread as the staff of life. The Chols, with their cultural focus in the cultivation of corn, use waj, a type of thin corn flake. Since a meal is not complete without this main item of food, the term has been extended to include any other foods which may be served along with waj. While bread is known to them, its use is limited to a few occasions during the year when it functions as a dessert. In translating this term in the Chol New Testament, consistent use has been made of the word waj whenever the function of bread as a basic food was in focus. John 6:35, “I am the bread of life,” was thus translated with this word. If the word for bread had been used, it was feared that the Chol would compare Christ to the desirable, but not absolutely necessary, dessert.”

Robert Bascom adds his thoughts to this in relation to other Mayan languages (in Omanson 2001, p. 260): “In many Mayan languages, ‘bread’ can be translated waj or kaxlan waj. The first term literally means anything made from corn meal, while the second term literally means ‘foreigner’s waj,’ and refers to the local wheat-based sweet breads which are so popular within the broader European-influenced culture of the region. On the one hand, waj would be a better dynamic equivalent in cases where ‘bread’ meant ‘food,’ but in cases where the focus is literal or the reference well-known, kaxlan waj would preserve a flour-based meaning (though in biblical times barley was more in use than wheat) and not insert corn into a time and place where it does not belong. On the other hand kaxlan waj is not the staff of life, but refers to a local delicacy. In cases such as these, it is even tempting to suggest borrowing pan, the Spanish word for ‘bread,’ but native speakers might respond that borrowing a foreign word is not necessary since both waj and kaxlan waj are native terms that cover the meaning (though in this case, perhaps not all that well).”

complete verse (Matthew 16:9)

Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 16:9:

  • Uma: “You still do not understand! Do you no longer remember the five breads that I fed to the five thousand people? And how many baskets of leftovers you gathered?” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “Do you still not understand? Do you not remember when I divided the five (loaves of) bread among the five thousand people and as to how many baskets full of left-overs you gathered?” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Evidently it hasn’t entered into your thinking that we (incl.) don’t have to worry about bread. Evidently you don’t know what I did when I broke the loaves so that the five thousand men might eat? Evidently you don’t also remember the baskets which you filled up with the pieces they left?” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Don’t you understand yet? Did you forget the five breads that sufficed for over five thousand people? How many baskets did you fill with what-was-left-over?” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Don’t your minds/thinking reach that far yet? Have you already forgotten those five units of bread which I broke in pieces and fed to five thousand people? Well, how many basketfuls were in excess?” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Don’t you understand about the word I speak? Don’t you remember what you saw where we had gone? When there were only five bread and five thousand men ate, don’t you remember how many baskets were left over?” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

formal pronoun: Jesus addressing his disciples and common people

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 his disciples, individuals and/or crowds with the formal pronoun, showing respect.

In most Dutch translations, Jesus addresses his disciples and common people with the informal pronoun, whereas they address him with the formal form.

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 Matthew 16:9 – 16:10

These questions are not asking whether or not the disciples really do remember, but they are rhetorical questions which are meant to rebuke the disciples for not perceiving or remembering. For this reason it may be advisable to restructure the questions of these verses as statements; for example, “You still don’t understand! You have already forgotten about the time that I fed five thousand men with five loaves of bread. After that meal you took up enough leftovers to fill twelve baskets. You have even forgotten about the four thousand men that I fed with seven loaves. After that meal you took up enough leftovers to fill seven baskets.”

Baskets in verse 9 is the same word used in the account of the feeding of the five thousand (14.20), while baskets in verse 10 is the same word used in the account of the feeding of the four thousand (15.37).

The five loaves of the five thousand refers specifically to the five loaves he used to feed the five thousand men, as has been made explicit in the example above. “How I fed five thousand men with five loaves” is also possible. The seven loaves of the four thousand can be treated in a similar fashion.

In the above example, too, we rendered how many baskets you gathered with the phrase “leftovers to fill twelve (or, seven) baskets.” Another possibility is “filled up twelve (or, seven) baskets with the bread left over.”

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Stine, Philip C. A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1988. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .