master (Japanese honorifics)

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way to do this is through the usage of appropriate suffix title referred to as keishō (敬称) as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017 by either using -san or –sama with the latter being the more formal title.

These titles are distinct from nominal titles such as “master.” This is evident from the forms such as go-shujin-sama (ご主人様) “master” or “lord” which is the combination of the nominal title shujin “master,” the honorific prefix go- and the suffix title –sama.

In some cases, it can also be used as go-shujin (ご主人), i.e. with the honorific prefix go- but without the suffix title –sama. You can find that in Genesis 19:2, 23:6, 23:11, 23:15, 24:51, 32:18, 39:8, 39:9, 44:8, 44:9; 1 Samuel 25:17; and 2 Kings 2:16 and 4:26.

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )

formal 2nd person pronoun (Spanish)

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 (), with the exception of Dios Habla Hoy (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.

complete verse (Ruth 2:10 - 2:13)

Following are a number of back-translations of Ruth 2:10-2:13:

  • Noongar: “So Ruth fell on her face and said to him, ‘What good did I do that you saw me and are merciful to me? I am a stranger.’ But Boaz replied, ‘Many people have told me everything you have done for your mother-in-law after your husband died. You left your father and mother and your heart land and came here, to a people you don’t know. May God bless you. May the God of Israel give you everything good because you come to shelter under his wings.’ Then Ruth said, ‘My lord, may I always be good in your eyes. I am not your worker, I am not like your young women, but you are good to me and speak gently to me.’” (Source: Bardip Ruth-Ang 2020)
  • Eastern Bru: “After Boaz said this, then Ruth bent down and bowed her knees in front for Boaz. And Ruth said: ‘You don’t have any responsibility toward me, so why should help me like this. I am a person from another country, so why do you still help me very much.’ But Boaz answered her: ‘I have heard already the good things you have done for your mother-in-law from the time that your husband died. And I know that you left your mother and father and the country of your birth. So you came to live with other people, people you did not know. All of these good thing you did, I ask God to give you every blessing. This God is the God of Israel. And you have believed him also. So now it is as though you were under the wing of God.’After that Ruth answered: ‘O sir! Please let me be favored in your sight. You have comforted my heart. And you have spoken well toward me as though I were one of your own servants. Even though I am not one of you servants.’” (Source: Bru Back Translation)
  • Hiligaynon: “Ruth knelt to Boaz as (a) respect and said, ‘Why are you(sg) so very kind to me wherein I am actually/as-a-matter-of-fact just a foreigner?’ Boaz replied, ‘Someone(s) has told me (about) all that you(sg) have-done for your(sg) mother-in-law since the death of your(sg) husband, how you(sg) left your(sg) father and mother and the place where you(sg) were born in-order to live with the people whom you(sg) did- not -know. So may the LORD repay you(sg) for what you(sg) have-done. May you(sg) receive a big reward from the LORD, the God of Israel, whom you(sg) seek-refuge.’ Ruth said, ‘You(sg) are very kind/nice to me, sir, for you(sg) pleased me and have-spoken kindly even-though I am not one of your(sg) servants.’” (Source: Hiligaynon Back Translation)
  • English: “When he said that, she knelt down in front of him in respect, with her face touching the ground. She exclaimed, ‘Why are you acting so kindly toward me, by paying attention to me? I am not even a Jew; I am a foreigner!’ Boaz replied, ‘People have told me all about what you have done for your mother-in-law. They told me that you left your parents and your homeland, and you came here to live among people whom you did not know before. I hope/desire that Yahweh will repay you for what you have done. You have put yourself in the care of Yahweh, like a little bird puts itself under its mother’s wings. I desire that he will reward you very greatly.’ She replied, ‘Sir, I hope you will continue to act kindly toward me. You have comforted/encouraged me, even though I am lower in status than any of your servant girls.’” (Source: Translation for Translators)

favor / please (Japanese honorifics)

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way to do this is through the usage (or a lack) of an honorific prefix as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017. When the referent is God, a god, or a person or persons to be greatly honored, the honorific prefix go- (御 or ご) can be used, as in go-kōi (ご好意), a combination of “favor” (kōi) and the honorific prefix go-.

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )

Translation commentary on Ruth 2:13: A Cultural Commentary for Central Africa

In Chichewa, Ruth shows enough deference by addressing Boaz as “my lord” (mbuye wanga ‘my master/uncle’), and she does not have to go on to refer to herself as “your maidservant” (which might well be interpreted literally in this context). This also eliminates any possible confusion with her subsequent words: ” . . . though I am not one of your maidservants.”

Source: Wendland 1987, p. 175.

Translation commentary on Ruth 2:13

Again, the answer which Ruth gives in verse 13 represents a type of poetic structure. The verse consists of three lines with the following meter: 3 + 2, 2 + 2, 3 + 2; and the literal translation of these units may be given as // You are most gracious to me, my lord / for you have comforted me // and spoken kindly to / your maidservant // though I am not / one of your maidservants. // Though it would certainly be interesting to be able to reproduce something of the poetic structure of verse 13, rarely can one do so. Not only is the passage very short, but it does not have the type of content (elaborate figures of speech and condensation of information) which is typical of most poetry.

You are very kind to me may be rendered in some languages as “you are very good to me,” but in Hebrew this is literally “I have found favor in your eyes.” (See comments on verse 10.) Though this Hebrew expression does seem rather elaborate, it is essentially not different in meaning from a modern English expression, “Thank you, sir.” See 1 Samuel 1.18; 16.4; see also Joüon, Commentaire, page 56; so rightly A.B. Ehrlich, Randglossen zur hebräischen Bibel VII, 1914, ad loc.; W. Rudolph and G. Gerleman, op. cit., ad loc.; compare also Baumgartner, s.v. chen: “Ausdruck des Dankes.” The translators of New English Bible apparently felt that Ruth’s expression of thanks is sufficiently expressed in the remaining part of the verse, and therefore they employed for this first expression merely “Indeed, sir.”

Some translators feel that the imperfect tense of the Hebrew verb “to find” must refer to some future event or must express a subjunctive mood, but this seems far from necessary. For the translations, see NAB, BJ, and Dhorme. For the commentaries, see especially those of Haller and Hertzberg. For the instantaneous aspect of the yiqtol form of the verb matsaʾ, see Joüon, par. 113 and 111. The only English translation doing justice to this aspect is the one by Moffatt: “I am finding favour with you, my lord….”

What is rendered as sir in Good News Translation is in Hebrew literally “my lord” or “my master.” It is, however, merely a conventional term of respectful address, and the translator should employ the equivalent form in the receptor language. In some instances this will mean the use of an appropriate honorific or a form of address indicative of the difference in status between Ruth and Boaz. There may be certain complications in languages which employ the same word for “master” or “sir” that they use for “Yahweh.” These complications have been dealt with elsewhere. See also Translator’s Handbook on Luke on 1.6.

The phrase speaking gently represents what is in Hebrew literally “have spoken to the heart of your servant.” In Hebrew the use of the third person, “your servant,” emphasizes the respect which Ruth shows for Boaz. In modern English it is much better to use the first person, by speaking gently to me.

Speaking gently may be rendered in some languages as “speaking kindly to,” “speaking with good words to,” or even, idiomatically, as “speaking with smiling eyes,” or “speaking with a soft face.”

Even though I am not the equal of one of your own servants is literally in Hebrew “though I am not like one of your servants.” This expression makes perfectly good sense, and there seems to be no reason why one should follow some of the ancient versions which employ different textual bases. Septuagint reads: “See, I’ll be as one of your servants,” by deleting the negation marker loʾ. In an effort not to delete a word of the text, it has been proposed several times to change the vocalization into luʾ, a particle with the meaning “if only,” “oh that!” or “would that!” The whole results in a translation such as is found in NAB: “would indeed that I were a servant of yours!” A similar translation has been proposed in a note in NEB (it is impossible to know the source of the translation in the NEB). Haller, op. cit., ad loc., is in favor of this interpretation, whereas more recent commentators are rightly unwilling even to change the vocalization of the Hebrew text. To emphasize that this is an expression of Ruth’s humbleness, Good News Translation translates the equal of.

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Ruth. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .