Translation Day 7: the wind also hears

9 Days of Translation Checking

Today is Day 7 of this celebration of checking Luke in the Onnele translations last month.

At the end of the story of Jesus calming the storm, he and the disciples ask a few questions in Luke 8:25…

And He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were fearful and amazed, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?” (NASB)

Earlier drafts of the Onnele translations did not include anything to express the meaning of ‘even’ in the phrase “even the winds and the water.” It’s the kind of word that can probably be left out and it doesn’t make much difference. After all, if you leave the word out, the implied information of the verse still conveys the meaning of ‘even’. But during this last translation workshop, we became much more aware of many intricacies of Onnele grammar and the function of little discourse particles that are often difficult to translate. So we didn’t have to leave out an explicit expression to convey the meaning of ‘even’.

The Goiniri Onnele translation now reads like this (with literal English back translation)…

Ka wu yalile nu nanrona, “Bilip empo pone sa waiye pei?” Nu disaipol nemnum ka flilineri ka nemnalile none kore nanrona, “Empo wu yangke ommo namo, mana mee wu sa fina? Wu yire mi kelo ka rapu re yane nupi kepe nupu mi wunini.”

And he asked them this, “Belief of you, it is where?” The disciples were afraid and they were amazed and they asked one another this, “Since he does these things, man here he is who? He speaks strong talk and wind also and water even hear his talk.”

So we added re ‘also’ to the translation, but we had to be careful where it was added. If re was added after rapu yane nupi “wind and water,” then it would mean something like “water in addition to the wind.” But the meaning of ‘even’ in this verse is functioning to say that the wind and rain are not the sorts of things that they would expect to be obeying his instructions. “People, yes, but not the creation!” But no, it was true. Even the wind and the water — the wind re and the water — hear his talk.

It’s really fun in the process of translation checking to recognize that a little word like re ‘also’ can fit grammatically into the sentence at various places, but the meaning changes depending on just where it fits in. The Onnele translators were really happy to add that little word in and hear how it really emphasized the same point that the original text was emphasizing.

This verse also includes several other examples of linguistic insights that have only recently come to my attention. Knowing these things means I can advise the Onnele translators that much better…

  1. Most verbs are regularly inflected at the beginning of the word to identify the person and number of the subject. So, for example, kali ‘I ask’, yali ‘you/he/she asks’, mali ‘we ask’, pali ‘you-PL ask’, nali ‘they ask’. But what I only recently learned is that quite a few verbs can also optionally mark the direct object for singular or plural with a suffix. For the verbs yalile ‘he asked them’ and nemnaline none ‘they asked themselves’ in Luke 8:25, the -le and -ne suffixes mark a plural direct object.
  2. Some verbs can also include a prefix that doesn’t inflect with the person and number of the verb’s subject. Thus, in Luke 8:25 the verbs nemnum ‘they were afraid’ and nemnalile ‘they asked them’ both include the prefix nem-, which can be glossed as ‘around’ or ‘about’, as in ’round about’.
  3. The discourse particle kepe (and its shortened form ke) is used to mark counter-expectation. Therefore, its inclusion in Luke 8:25 also contributes to expressing the meaning of ‘even’ in “even the wind and the water hear his talk.” These little particles also seem to be used more frequently at points of mounting tension around the climax of a narrative. That makes sense if the climax is understood as the tension that comes from not knowing what to expect next in the sequence of narrative events. A climax may thus be marked by several events in sequence, each marked with this particle that signifies counter-expectation.

Tomorrow: sailing without a sail

Jesus Ran Away

Written around May 2,

and finally posted…

This past week I have been going through the final checking process for the Gospel of Luke in four related languages in Papua New Guinea. Here is one of the most interesting translation problems that we were able to resolve so far…

In Luke 5:15-16 here is what the NASB says:

“But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.”

Clearly, the intended meaning of the imperfect verbs is that these are things that were repeatedly happening throughout a period of time (including the news spreading, the crowds gathering, and Jesus slipping away). The implied information must be that Jesus would actually teach and heal the people when they came to him before he slipped away for prayer. However, in all four of the translations that we are checking, they understood this passage to mean that the people were coming to Jesus to be healed, but he wasn’t there when they sought him out because he had run away from them to be by himself and pray!

It’s not surprising that they would have this interpretation, since the second sentence begins with an adversative conjunction. Even most English versions begin vs. 16 with ‘but’, which certainly may suggest the faulty reading. But ‘but’ may often over-translate the Greek connective DE, which is better seen as the normative connecting particle for narrative when there is a shift in the subject. Expressing any more contrast begins to err in this passage.

“And from time to time he would withdraw to remote places for prayer.” (REB)

“So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” (NKJV)

The implied information is expressed well in these translations without ‘but’…

“And from time to time he would withdraw to remote places for prayer.” (REB)

“So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” (NKJV)

“As often as possible Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer.” (The Message)

Other versions include the word ‘often’, so their use of ‘but’ does not give the wrong impression (NASB, NIV, NLT, NCV, CEV).

Also, consider these excellent renditions…

“However, he continued his habit of retiring to deserted places and praying.” (ISV, Version 1.1)

“Yet Jesus himself frequently withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.” (NET)

Several versions present the faulty possible interpretation that Jesus was nowhere to be found when the people were seeking him out…

“But so much the more the report went abroad concerning him; and great multitudes gathered to hear and to be healed of their infirmities. But he withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.” (RSV)

Compare the KJV, Darby, Young, ASV, Phillips, Wuest, TEV, NAB, NRSV, GW, and ESV, which also leave the interpretive possibility open that Jesus would hide from the crowds.

Jesus didn’t run away from the crowds of people when they were coming to hear him and to be healed by him. But he did often withdraw from them to be alone with his Father in prayer.