Translation Day 5: Remove the head of the one with no head

9 Days of Translation Checking

Today is Day 5 of this celebration of checking Luke in the Onnele translations last month. Did you find the verse in Luke that could be translated this way in the Onnele languages…

La mana ikaklo onnele, mana namo God ese yupapaki ikaklo empo wu yukaine wone yire wone ese yuna.

If a man has no head, this man God will remove the head of him that he says he himself holds.

The verse is Luke 8:18b. Here is the sentence in the NASB with its immediately preceding context…

[16] “Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light. [17] For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. [18] So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.”

The pidgin source text that the Onnele translators used to produce their first draft was much more literal than their own translation. For Luke 8:18b it said…

Sapos man inogat sampela samting, dispela man God bai kisim ol samting long em olsem em yet i tok nating olsem em i gat.

If a man does not have some things–this man–God will take the things from him that he himself says nothingly that he has.

Sorry to make up a new word in the back translation, but I hope ‘nothingly’ gives you an idea of how the pidgin word nating is used here. I might have glossed it as ‘carelessly’, ‘erroneously’, or ‘unthinkingly’, but these are all a bit too specific for the way nating is used here more generally.

Anyway, in both Tok Pisin and Onnele, we can’t just say ‘has’ and “more will be given.” These verbs require some kind of object, so that is why the Tok Pisin includes sampela samting ‘some things’ and ol samting ‘the things’. The pidgin Bible, Buk Baibel, also includes these objects in this verse. However, it is somewhat questionable if the Tok Pisin use of ‘things’ here is general enough to refer to the kind of knowledge that the preceding context makes clear that this verse is talking about. If one really keeps the context in mind, it can communicate that meaning. But reference to “having things” most frequently refers to physical objects, not knowledge, so the final sentence might easily be misinterpreted in Tok Pisin to refer to material goods.

For the Onnele translators, this was certainly the case as they considered what this verse would mean if they translated it too literally. It would most definitely refer to material possessions. Papua New Guinea was catapulted into the technological age of steel axes, cars, and mobile phones without passing through the industrial revolution. Not everyone has joined the various millenarian movements and cargo cults that have sprung up over the past 100 years or so as people have sought to understand how they might plant the seeds of bigger and better cargo. But most people still have unanswered questions about poverty, riches, and the kingdom of God. If the grammar of Onnele demands that objects follow the verbs in this verse, at least they don’t have to add objects that will err in the direction of one of the biggest hangups for Papua New Guineans.

If the immediately preceding context of Luke 8:18 is clear that this passage refers to knowledge or understanding, then the Onnele translators were right to be more specific in the object that their language constrains them to supply for this verse. And while it sounds funny to our English ears, it’s perfectly normal and understandable to refer to a person without understanding as a mana ikakro onnele “a person who has no head.”

Goiniri Onnele:

La mana ikaklo onnele, mana namo God ese yupapaki ikaklo empo wu yukaine wone yire wone ese yuna.

Literal back translation:

If a person [has] no head (= understanding), this person God will remove the head of him (= his understanding) that he says he himself* holds.

* The Onnele translation is actually gender inclusive here, not to be PC, but because Onnele only has one pronoun wu for 3rd person singular. It can be used for ‘he’, ‘she’, or ‘it’.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at what it means in Onnele to have only one liver. It’s found in the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8.

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One Response to “Translation Day 5: Remove the head of the one with no head”

  1. CGross Says:

    We are glad you took the time to record these processes. My eight year old daughter and I use lots of imagery in our language to discuss spiritual things. Sharing the marvelous ways other people express the same things makes even the words we use more meaningful to us.
    Thank you for this gift.


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