Son of Fun with Translation


…er bite, I mean…

This is a short morsel of a blog for you, which is fitting, as I don’t want you to bite off more than you can chew. I just wanted to give you another taste of some of the challenges we face in translation…

So what’s up with all the words from the “eating” domain (bit, bite, morsel, bite, chew, taste…)? We ran into an interesting situation in translating Luke 14:24.

The Lord Jesus told the parable of the man who threw a lavish banquet and at the last minute, the ones he invited gave excuses (very lame excuses, by the way) and did not come.

You remember the story… one guy “bought a piece of land” and needed to “go look at it.” (If he buys land before looking at it, I have some oceanfront property in Tucson, I’d like to sell him!!)

The next one had to “try out” some new oxen behind the plow. (I don’t have any spare oxen at the moment, but I might like to sell this guy a used car!)

And the last one could not come for he had just gotten married. Um… why not bring his wife? And why didn’t he not know about this pending wedding of his back when he first R.S.V.P.d?

Anyway, at the end of the story, the host of the banquet invited all the poor people far and wide. And he says in verse 24,

“None of those I invited will taste my banquet.”

The issue we ran into here was with the word “taste.” In Palawano, to simply say that the invitees would not “taste” the dinner would strongly imply that the poor people who did come would merely do the opposite. That is, they would only taste the supper. They would not get to eat it… what a shame!

Verse 24 is using the figure of hyperbole (exaggeration) to make a point. These guests would not eat the food after all… they would not even get one taste of it! So how do we communicate that in Palawano?

Some English versions render this by saying that:


…shall taste”
…shall get a taste”
…shall get even the smallest taste”
…will get even a bite”
…will eat any”

But the word “taste” doesn’t work in Palawano. We don’t use “taste” as a figurative stand-in for “eat.” Okay, how about “bite”? Nope. Palawano will “bite” food, but they don’t use the word “bite” as a noun in that way, so they would never say, “Have a bite of this.”

When I got to discussing this verse with my Palawano translation helpers, it was fun and interesting. They totally understood the concept and started telling me how Palawano would express it. However, in most cases, Palawano would be much more specific than English:

For not getting the smallest portion of a beverage, they would say:

“not one drop” (Palawano: turo)

For foods that are broken apart, such as bread:

“not one chunk” (Palawano: bitas)

For food that comes in small pieces:

“not one piece” Palawano aslag)

For grains of rice:

“not one grain (Palawano: mumo)

Actually, for what it’s worth aslag means “grain,” also. But one the rice is cooked, the grain of rice is a mumo.

As we pondered this, the guys told me that there is a generic word which would fit there nicely (kimo) but it’s archaic and no one under 40 really knows or uses that word anymore.

What to do? What to do?

In the end, we went with mumo. This was the most generic, and in the Palawano mind, rice IS the meal… everything else is something to “go with” your rice. So to get “not even one grain of rice” actually powerfully communicates the same idea as English “not a single bite” or “not even a taste.” Readers will really get the idea of what this banquet host is saying.

Again we ask you to pray with us as we translate God’s Word, the milk, bread and meat for the souls of the Palawanos.

And as Palawanos hear the gospel, grown strong by feeding on God’s Word and reach out to other Palawanos, there will be many more of them to sit with us around the table at that great feast in the Kingdom of God.

I wonder what all God will serve to “go with our rice”? I’m guessing it will be pretty good.

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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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