Translating Body Parts into Nya Huba, part one

Body parts can be very interesting in translation, especially when it is a matter of figurative language. The reason is that different cultures attribute different faculties to body parts. In order to communicate meaningfully and accurately, one body part may have to be substituted for another in translation, or the reference to a body part might have to be dropped because it would communicate the wrong thing.

If you question whether such a practice is legitimate translation, bear in mind that if you are reading an English Bible you may not have any idea what body parts are being referred to in the original Hebrew or Greek. For example, in the original Hebrew, where all of the English translations of Nehemiah 9:17 that I checked—including the KJV, RSV, ESV, NIV, TEV, and NLT—say that God is “slow to anger” (or “slow to be angry” or “slow to become angry”), the idiom used in the original Hebrew is that God is “long of nostrils”.

In the original Greek, Revelation 2:23 says literally, “I am he who searches kidneys and hearts.” No English translation since the King James has translated νεφροὺς as ‘kidneys.’ The KJV reads, “I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts.” Most people today would not know that rein is an archaic English word for kidney. The RSV and the ESV both say “I am he who searches mind and heart” while the NIV has it the other way around, “I am he who searches hearts and minds.”

This latter example above comes from Dave Brunn, another translation consultant with me here in Nigeria, who has been lecturing to the translators on translation principles based on his book One Bible, Many Versions (2013 IVP). His book is recommended reading.

Now on to the Nya Huba translation, which I am consultant-checking in Nigeria. The translation of 2 Corinthians 6:12 into Nya Huba may seem to readers of the English Bible to introduce a body-part figure that is not in the original, but on closer inspection you will see that Nya Huba retains the reference to a body part that has been dropped in all English translations since the King James. A back translation of the Nya Huba for this verse is “We did not refuse you, but you refused to receive us with one stomach.” Why make reference to the stomach? It makes sense in Nya Huba. But English translations will say something like “You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections” (the wording of both the RSV and ESV, and the NIV is similar). The TEV uses the image of “closing your hearts” here. But the Greek literally says, “You are not restricted by us, but restricted in your bowels,” reflected in the KJV as “Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels.”

By the way, In 2 Corinthians 7:15 the Greek says, “And his [Titus’] bowels are abundantly toward you,” but I haven’t found an English translation of this verse that translates “bowels” as “bowels”—not even the KJV. The RSV substitutes “heart” here: “And his heart goes out all the more to you.” Other English translations drop the body part figure and use a word like “love” or “affection.”

You know how the King James Version uses the expression “gird up one’s loins” in passages like Luke 12:35, Ephesians 6:14 and 1 Peter 1:13? This of course is a literal translation of the Greek expression “bind up the waist”. Well, Nya Huba has an expression just like that. To express the idea “prepare yourself”, they use an expression that means “tie up your waist”. Unfortunately, the Nya Huba translators didn’t feel like they could use that expression in 1 Peter 1:13, which speaks of girding up the loins of your mind. They did use the expression, though, in Luke 12:35, Ephesians 6:14, and in a few other places. The Nya Huba translation of Luke 12:35 reads, “Stay with waist tied and your lamp lit.” English translations since the RSV drop the figure of tying up one’s loins/waist and use nonfigurative language in these places, with a word like “prepare”.

About David Frank

descriptive linguist, linguistics consultant, translator, editor
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