That’s a good thing?

Pastor Cutsau, Jeremias, Pastor Papa

Pastor Cutsau, Jeremias, Pastor Papa

I am finishing up my time in Guinea-Bissau for now. I worked with the (Portuguese) Kriol translation team on their translation of Luke, Galatians, Ephesians, and Titus. The team (shown) is doing a great job, but there were some challenges. Luke 1:7 is supposed to say  that Elizabeth was barren, but they said that while their word for barren might be used for animals, it would not be polite to use for people. They translated it as Deus ka da Isabel bambaran, which means “God hadn’t given Elizabeth a bambaran, which refers to the cloth a woman uses to carry an infant on her back. You see that all over the place around here. Luke 6:44 in Kriol says, “You wouldn’t pick guavas [very similar to figs] from a thorn bush, or cashews from a thorn tree.” Where Luke 20:42-43 says, “Sit at my right had until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet,” we didn’t have a word for “footstool,” so the translation says, “…until I put your enemies under your feet so you can rest your feet on them.”

Luke 24:13-35 is about the post-resurrection Jesus talking with two men on the road to Emmaus, and they didn’t realize at the time who he was. When they found out, in verse 32 they say to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road?” Except the translation said, E punta ŋutru: “Nta korson ka findinuba ki ora na kamiñu ki na papia ku nos?” “They said to each other: ‘So is that why our hearts weren’t irritating us at that time on the road when he was speaking to us?'” It took a while to sort it out, but they hadn’t caught on that “our hearts burning within us” was supposed to be a good thing in this context. After we reached a better understanding of the meaning of this verse, they were able to adjust it to be accurate.

The Apostle Paul uses a lot of reasoning in the Epistle to the Galatians to get his message across to his audience. However, a different audience in a different context might have a hard time making sense of what he is saying. Galatians 5:11 is supposed to be saying, “Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.” The translation said, Ami, ermons, si N na fala inda pa jinti sedu sirkunsidadu, pa ke ku N pirsigidu? Ne manera N ka na fala di krus pa ka N ofindi ningin. This in English would beBrothers, if I am saying just for people to be circumcised, why am I persecuted? In this way I am not talking about the cross in order not to offend anyone.” This required a lot of discussion. Paul was using a conditional, counter-to-fact argument about what he was not doing. I asked some questions about how to express conditional sentences. I found out to say “If I had 100,000 cfa, I would buy a cow” (Si N tenba 100,000 cfa, N ta kumpraba un vaka.) Using that example, we were able to make this verse say, “…If I were not talking about the cross of Christ, nobody would be persecuting me.”

There are always lots of stories to tell about translation, but I will stop with this for now.

About David Frank

descriptive linguist, linguistics consultant, translator, editor
This entry was posted in Bible translation, travel. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to That’s a good thing?

  1. Martin Lonski says:


    Cheryl spent a year about 1974 half ways up the Amazon river. It is from her that I learn the painstaking work you go through to make sure His Word is translated correctly.

    Praying that you will be alert to His leading in doing things right.

    Hope your day goes well.

    Marty & Cheryl Lonski


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