The Greek that is translated as “we have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat” or similar in English is translated in Chichewa (interconfessional translation) with the existing idiom “we have been broken off [like a twig] with respect to work, and the sun has spent its strength upon us.” (Source: Wendland 1987, p. 131)
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, translators typically select the exclusive form (excluding the landowner).
Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.
Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 20:12:
- Uma: “‘The ones who just to work at the end, only one hour they worked. Yet we, we worked all day long, shined-on by the blazing sun. Why did you (sing.) pay them the same as us?'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “they said, ‘Those people worked only for one hour but we worked all day long enduring the hot sun, and then you make the wages the same for us as for them.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “‘These last ones, a single hour is all they worked, and as for us, we endured the great heat for the whole day. And you paid them just the same as you paid us.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “‘These last, it was only-one hour that they worked while as-for us (excl.) we (excl.) endured working in the excessive sunshine the entire day. Why then did you (sing.) make-our (excl.) daily-wage -the-same?'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “‘Why did you pay us all the same, since they only worked for one hour? Not like us (excl.) who worked all day and also were all day out in the scorching heat. Why have you made our wages the same?'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
- Tenango Otomi: “They said: ‘These men were the last to arrive to work. Just one is all they worked, how come you have paid us the same as them? We have suffered through all the day working in the sun,’ they said.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
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 (tú), with the exception of Dios Habla Hoy (DHH) (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.
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.