STILL MORE Fun with Translation


IF YOU HAVE TO WASH THE DISHES…

I remember a fun Shel Silverstein poem we used to read to the girls. It’s from the classic book, A Light in the Attic:

If you have to wash the dishes
(such an awful, boring chore)
If you have to wash the dishes
‘stead of goin’ to the store
If you have to wash the dishes
…and you drop one on the floor
Maybe you won’t have to
wash the dishes any more


SUCH AN AWFUL BORING CHORE…
So what does washing dishes have to do with Bible translation? Good question.

The other day I was working with 4 Palawano translation helpers, drafting Luke 11:30 where the Lord Jesus rebukes the hypocritical Pharisees for being like people who “wash the outside of the cup and plate” but leave the “inside” unwashed.

So what’s so hard about translating that? Well, different languages organize the work in unique ways. This falls under the area of semantics, which is what words mean or refer to. What word(s) does a particular language use to refer to things?

For example, in English, we speak of the “tip” or the “point” of a nail, but in Palawano it is the “mouth.” The sharp edge of a knife in Palawano is the “eye” and the dull back edge is the “spine.” In English, people have “feet” And cats have “paws”; in Palawano, both have tiked (feet).

So it stands to reason that Palawano terms for the various parts of cups and plates will not be the same as those used within the system of English semantics.

‘STEAD OF GOIN’ TO THE STORE…
It turns out that in Palawano, the “bottom” of a cup and the “back” of a plate are both the embot. This word means the “bottom” of some things, including the uh, bottom of a person upon which they sit. The “inside” of the cup is the seled (inside). Duh! you say. But what we call the “surface” of a plate is also the seled (inside). So in Palawano, you don’t serve the food and put in on the plate; you put the food in the plate!

So what do you think Palawano would call the “outside” of a cup? Hint: it’s not the liwan (outside). It’s the timbew (surface). Timbew is usually used for the top surface of something, like a table top. But in the case of cups, you set that embot of the cup on the timbew (surface) of the table, but that outer surface of the cup, which is perpendicular to the table, is the cup’s timbew.

IF YOU HAVE TO WASH THE DISHES…
So we wound up with something like “washing the bottom of the plate, but leaving the inside dirty” and “washing the bottom and the surface of the cup, but leaving the inside dirty.” A little more wordy than the Greek, but Palawano semantics required this in order to make sense.

YOU WON’T HAVE TO WASH THE DISHES ANYMORE…
But the whole verse is not about washing dishes, anyway. It was about putting on appearances, it’s about pretending to be devout but having a heart full of sin, it’s about the folly of rigorously following external rituals of religion as an end in themselves, but not having a real relationship with God.

So that’s why we are doing this translation… so the Palawanos can learn the truths God has for them in his Word. So they can learn to focus on the internal and spiritual, rather than the mere external and ritual.

And let’s take the Lord’s words to hear and wash the inside of our “cups” and “plates”, too!


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About billdavisthoughts

From San Diego, CA. I've been a missionary and Bible translator in the Philippines for over 30 years and have travelled as a language learning consultant to 15 countries. I play piano and guitar. I write, read voraciously and love to work on word puzzles. Married for 35 years, we have two daughters and two grandchildren.
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