The following is a representation of Psalm 90 in Southern Altai by Aidin Kurman with traditional throat singing:
Provided by Bronwen Cleaver
In Garifuna the second person singular pronoun (“you” in English) has two forms. One is used in women’s speech and one in men’s speech. In the Garifuna Bible the form used in men’s speech is typically used, except when it’s clear that a woman is quoted or in Psalms where the women on the translation team insisted that the form used in women’s speech (buguya) would be used throughout the whole book.
Ronald Ross (in Omanson 2001, p. 375f.) tells the story: “Throughout most of the translation, [the distinctions between the different forms of the pronouns] presented no problem. Whenever the speaker in the text was perceived as a man, the male speech forms were used; and when a woman was speaking, the female speech forms were used. True, the women members of the translation team did object on occasion to the use of the male forms when the author (and narrator) of a book was unknown and the men translators had used the male speech forms as the default. Serious discord arose, however, during the translation of the Psalms because of their highly devotional nature and because throughout the book the psalmist is addressing God. The male translators had, predictably, used the male form to address God, and the male form to refer to the psalmist, even though women speakers of Garifuna never use those forms to address anyone. The women contended that they could not as women read the Psalms meaningfully if God and the psalmist were always addressed as if the readers were men. The men, of course, turned the argument around, claiming that neither could they read the Psalms comfortably if the reader was assumed to be a woman.
“Initially there seemed to be no way out of this impasse. However a solution was found in the ongoing evolution of the language. There is a strong propensity for male speech and female speech to merge in favor of the latter, so the few remaining male forms are gradually dying out. Moreover, male children learn female speech from their mothers and only shift to the male speech forms when they reach adolescence to avoid sounding effeminate. However they use the female form buguya when addressing their parents throughout life. So the women wielded two arguments: First, the general development of the language favored the increasing use of the female forms. Secondly, the female forms are less strange to the men than the male forms are to the women, because the men habitually use them during early childhood and continue to use them to address their parents even in adulthood. Therefore, the female pronominal forms prevailed and were adopted throughout the book of Psalms, though the male forms remained the default forms in the rest of the translation.”
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”).
The Hebrew adonai in the Old Testament typically refers to God. The shorter adon (and in two cases in the book of Daniel the Aramaic mare) is also used to refer to God but more often for concepts like “master,” “owner,” etc. In English Bible translations all of those are translated with “Lord” if they refer to God.
In English Old Testament translations, as in Old Testament translations in many other languages, the use of Lord (or an equivalent term in other languages) is not to be confused with Lord (or the equivalent term with a different typographical display for other languages). While the former translates adonai, adon and mare, the latter is a translation for the tetragrammaton (YHWH) or the Name of God. See tetragrammaton (YHWH) and the article by Andy Warren-Rothlin in Noss / Houser, p. 618ff. for more information.
In the New Testament, the Greek term kurios has at least four different kinds of use:
In the first and fourth case, it is also translated as “Lord” in English.
Most languages naturally don’t have one word that covers all these meanings. According to Bratcher / Nida, “the alternatives are usually (1) a term which is an honorific title of respect for a high-ranking person and (2) a word meaning ‘boss’, ‘master’, or ‘chief.’ (…) and on the whole it has generally seemed better to employ a word of the second category, in order to emphasize the immediate personal relationship, and then by context to build into the word the prestigeful character, since its very association with Jesus Christ will tend to accomplish this purpose.”
When looking at the following list of back-translations of the terms that translators in the different languages have used for both kurios and adonai to refer to God and Jesus respectively, it might be helpful for English readers to recall the etymology of the English “Lord.” While this term might have gained an exalted meaning in the understanding of many, it actually comes from hlaford or “loaf-ward,” referring to the lord of the castle who was the keeper of the bread (source: Rosin 1956, p. 121).
Following are some of the solutions that don’t rely on a different typographical display (see above):
We have come to rely on another term which emphasizes God’s essential nature as YHWH, namely jukurrarnu (see tetragrammaton (YHWH)). This word is built on the same root jukurr– as is jukurrpa, ‘dreaming.’ Its basic meaning is ‘timelessness’ and it is used to describe physical features of the land which are viewed as always being there. Some speakers view jukurrarnu in terms of ‘history.’ In all Genesis references to YHWH we have used Kaatu Jukurrarnu. In all Mark passages where kurios refers to God and not specifically to Christ we have also used Kaatu Jukurrarnu.
New Testament references to Christ as kurios are handled differently. At one stage we experimented with the term Watirirririrri which refers to a ceremonial boss of highest rank who has the authority to instigate ceremonies. While adequately conveying the sense of Christ’s authority, there remained potential negative connotations relating to Warlpiri ceremonial life of which we might be unaware.
Here it is that the Holy Spirit led us to make a chance discovery. Transcribing the personal testimony of the local Warlpiri pastor, I noticed that he described how ‘my Warlaljamarri called and embraced me (to the faith)’. Warlaljamarri is based on the root warlalja which means variously ‘family, possessions, belongingness’. A warlaljamarri is the ‘owner’ or ‘possessor’ of something. While previously being aware of the ‘ownership’ aspect of warlaljamarri, this was the first time I had heard it applied spontaneously and naturally in a fashion which did justice to the entire concept of ‘Lordship’. Thus references to Christ as kurios are now being handled by Warlaljamarri.” (Source: Stephen Swartz, The Bible Translator 1985, p. 415ff.)
See also Father / Lord.
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 theo-logical 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.
In these verses, in which humans address God, the informal, familiar pronoun is used that communicates closeness.
Voinov notes that “in the Tuvan Bible, God is only addressed with the informal pronoun. No exceptions. An interesting thing about this is that I’ve heard new Tuvan believers praying with the formal form to God until they are corrected by other Christians who tell them that God is close to us so we should address him with the informal pronoun. As a result, the informal pronoun is the only one that is used in praying to God among the Tuvan church.”
In Dutch translations, however, God is always addressed with the formal pronoun.