November 4, 2016

Translating the Lord's prayer into a language with no word for bread: "Give us this day our daily seal."

From an article that's not at all mostly about language or bread or prayer, "GREENLAND IS MELTING/The shrinking of the country’s ice sheet is triggering feedback loops that accelerate the global crisis. The floodgates may already be open" by Elizabeth Kolbert:
Nuuk sits on the southwest coast. It was founded in the early eighteenth century by a Danish-Norwegian missionary named Hans Egede, and for most of its existence was known as Godthåb. When Egede arrived, he discovered that the native people had neither bread nor a word for it, so he translated the line from the Lord’s Prayer as “Give us this day our daily seal.” Today, a giant statue of Egede presides over Nuuk much the way Christ the Redeemer presides over Rio.
I recommend the article for its main topic too, but I wanted to break out that translation question that interested me so much. I'd like to see other examples of translating the Bible for people with no word for bread. Bread is important in the Bible, as a food and as a metaphor. Jesus calls himself "the bread of life." Did that become "the seal of life" in Greenland? That hints at another question: Does comfort with metaphor vary from one language to another? 

35 comments:

rhhardin said...

Here's a word for word translation of the Bible, as Cicero says should not be done:

Here are the sons of Shem
for their clans, for their tongues,
in their lands, for their peoples.
Here are the clans of the sons of Noah for their exploits,
in their peoples:
from the latter divide the peoples on earth, after the flood.

And it is all the earth: a single lip, one speech.
And it is at their departure from the Orient: they find a canyon,
in the land of Shine'ar;
They settle there.
They say, each to his like:
"Come, let us brick some bricks.
Let us fire them in the fire."
The brick becomes for them stone, the tar, mortar.
They say:
"Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower.
Its head: in the heavens.
Let us make ourselves a name,
that we not be scattered over the face of all the earth.

YHWH descends to see the city and the tower
that the sons of man have built.
YHWH says:
"Yes! A single people, a single lip for all:
that is what they begin to do! . . .
Come! Let us descend! Let us confound their lips,
man will no longer understand the lip of his neighbor."

YHWH disperses them from there over the face of all the earth.
They cease to build the city.
Over which he proclaims his name: Bavel, Confusion,
for there, YHWH confounds the lip of all the earth,
and from there YHWH disperses them over the face of all the earth.

- Des Tours de Babel, in _Difference in Translation_ p.168

Notice that Bavel cannot be translated. To give its common meaning, confusion, as well, is not to translate the passage, but to explain it.

In English, you need Bavel as a name, and confusion as a remark on the original language's common meaning.

rhhardin said...

Give us this day our daily snow.

So many choices!

rhhardin said...

Speaking of a thousand words for snow, English has a thousand words for sorrow.

computer analysis

tcrosse said...

Apart from metaphor, how does the Eucharist function without bread or wine ? There must be plenty of cultures which have neither.

rhhardin said...

Some DVD, guy with girlfriend receiving communion, takes wafer.

"How long does this take to work?"

Marty said...

Since Althouse recommends this article for the main topic, and not just the bread mind experiment, I decided to take a look. I mean, it's by Elizabeth Kolbert for the New Yorker, an climate alarmist with a marvelous pedigree.

Logic not necessarily being a characteristic of alarmism (of any kind), I was struck by this:

"Once feedbacks take over, the climate can change quickly, and it can change radically. At the end of the last ice age, during an event known as meltwater pulse 1A, sea levels rose at the rate of more than a foot a decade. It’s likely that the “
'floodgates' are already open, and that large sections of Greenland and Antarctica are fated to melt. It’s just the ice in front of us that’s still frozen."

So, if that's true, then why, I wonder, do so many alarmists reject Bjorn Lomborg's logical advice that humanity should be focusing on mitigation and not prevention?

If we were that make that the daily bread of our collective thinking, perhaps we could actually do something useful.

mr said...

Apart from metaphor, how does the Eucharist function without bread or wine ? There must be plenty of cultures which have neither.

In the modern world? Bread and wine can be found everywhere, wouldn't you think? I suspect that wherever Christianity goes, it takes bread and wine with it.

Rob said...

In gluten-free California, "Give us this day our daily kale."
In Trump Tower, "Give us this day our daily pussy."
At Clinton headquarters, "Give us this day our daily lie."

buwaya said...

"So, if that's true, then why, I wonder, do so many alarmists reject Bjorn Lomborg's logical advice that humanity should be focusing on mitigation and not prevention?"

Its related to why alarmists reject simple logical and cheap things like nuclear power.

Because its not about fixing anything, its about creating monopolized revenue streams based on privileges granted through political influence.

David said...

Wapo ran an article last June about how Nuuk had experienced it's highest temperature ever. It had a high of 75 degrees one day that month. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2016/06/10/greenland-witnessed-its-highest-june-temperature-ever-recorded-on-thursday/

Tucked in at the end of the article was this: "(Official weather records in Greenland only date to 1958, and historical records indicate that on June 23, 1915, the temperature may have reached 86 degrees (30.1 C) in Ivigtut.)" (Parenthetical in original.)

Fernandinande said...

"Give us this day our daily seal."

"Replacement or Refund if Defective"

Just_Mike_S said...

I wonder what kind of feedback loop caused a once forested "green" Greenland to now be covered in a miles thick sheet of ice? http://bit.ly/2eIaW1B

gbarto said...

If you study Norse history, you learn that settlements were built in Iceland and Greenland during the Medieval Warming period in places that are now buried in ice and snow. It's funny the fear we have of a world that our ancestors managed to survive nearly a thousand years ago.

Ann Althouse said...

@gbarto From the linked article:

"The first people to migrate to Greenland are known as the Independence I. This group made its way to the island, probably from Canada, about forty-five hundred years ago and settled in a particularly inhospitable territory some four hundred miles northeast of where egrip sits today. The “Atlas of the North American Indian” notes that the Independence I people “lacked two elements later Arctic dwellers would consider essential: adequate clothing and reliable fuel for fire in a treeless landscape.” Somehow they managed to eke out a living for almost a millennium. Then they disappeared.

"The Independence I people were followed by a group called Independence II, which also vanished. Meanwhile, people known as the Saqqaq arrived in western Greenland. They lasted almost two thousand years, and were replaced by what archeologists call the Dorset. Recent DNA analysis of their remains suggests that both the Saqqaq and the Dorset died off without descendants. From around the time of the birth of Christ to around the time of Charlemagne, Greenland was, it appears, uninhabited."

campy said...

It's funny the fear we have of a world that our ancestors managed to survive nearly a thousand years ago.

It was easier for them. They didn't have rethuglicans to contend with.

narciso said...

when one goes from worshiping god to the environment, my short hand is the skydragon, after an ridiculously overwrought national geographic special, where they predicted fleets of locusts ravaging europe, scirocco's destroying vegas, and other consequences of agw,

gilbar said...

"after an ridiculously overwrought national geographic special, where they predicted fleets of locusts ravaging europe, scirocco's destroying vegas, and other consequences of agw"

it's important to remember that All these plagues are directly caused by mankind's many evils. Only compact florescent lights (and writing the name YHWH in lamb's blood over your doorway)can save your family.

traditionalguy said...

OK, Jesus was against the Atkins diet. But at least he made 60 gallons of good wine for the already drunken wedding party folks.

Keep in mind, the Global Warming Scam is entirely based on FAKED data. It is a group seance, not a science.

sinz52 said...

IIRC, Albert Schweitzer substituted "manioc" for "bread" in Christian writings, when he was doing missionary work in the part of Africa that we now call Gabon.

And don't bother trying to sway the conspiracy theorists who think that thousands of world scientists are all engaged in a plot to fool us for some nefarious purpose. They wouldn't believe global warming is real even if they saw Florida and Long Island submerged with their own eyes. Because they don't want to deal with the consequences, if it is real.

Karen said...

Lots of interesting translation questions. Japanese actually has no word for forgiveness, so translations are complicated. Also, in Japanese, nouns are not quantified unless by adjective, so gods in Japanese is the same as God.

Charlie said...

Bible translators try to use culturally equivalent words, such as corn or rice, for bread. Non-European languages present many other translation challenges. To quote a friend:

"The book of Ephesians is abounding in phrases [consisting of nouns connected by the word of]. A few examples in just the first chapter are: forgiveness of sins, riches of God’s grace, mystery of his will, praise of his glory, word of truth, gospel of our salvation, Holy Spirit of promise, down payment of our inheritance, redemption of God’s possession.

"[Many languages which are] not in the same language family as English and Greek, require us to re-cast these two words connected by 'of' because these languages have no word for 'of,' nor do they have nouns for actions or emotions like 'praise, truth, love, salvation and promise.' ...those nouns need to be translated as verbs with subjects and sometimes objects. For example, the 'gospel of salvation' might need to be re-stated as 'the good news that tells how God saves us.' "

Gahrie said...

The Earth is in the middle of an ice age that began 2,38 million years ago. We are currently in the Holocene, which is a warm interval, called an interglacial, in that ice age that began aprox. 12,000 years ago.

Modern humans appeared about 200,000 years ago and spent about 190,000 years of that wandering around in small bands, picking lice off of each other. Then aprox. 10,000 years ago. agriculture began. This allowed the production of surplus, which lead to specialization and civilization.
Global warming is partially responsible for civilization.

Gahrie said...

And don't bother trying to sway the conspiracy theorists who think that thousands of world scientists are all engaged in a plot to fool us for some nefarious purpose.

The purpose is grants.

Paul Snively said...

"Lamb of God" was found to be problematic in cultures without sheep, such as the Inuits. Lutheran Bible translators who translated into Inuit used "Baby seal of God" instead, to convey the same basic idea, although this obviously doesn't map well to the ancient Hebrew tradition of animal sacrifice that "Lamb of God" most definitely conveyed to its original Jewish readership.

D. B. Light said...

Speaking of the Lord's Prayer in other languages, check out this video of Baba Yetu, the prayer rendered musically in Swahili. It's amazing. This is my favorite version [acapella, with two voices]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17svtURunUk

wholelottasplainin' said...

Paul Snively : are you completely toasted in your pic?

Michael McNeil said...

If you study Norse history, you learn that settlements were built in Iceland and Greenland during the Medieval Warming period in places that are now buried in ice and snow. It's funny the fear we have of a world that our ancestors managed to survive nearly a thousand years ago.

I'm afraid not. While the Little Ice Age drastically impacted Greenland's growing season — ultimately driving out its Norse inhabitants — nevertheless, little greater areas of Greenland were (and are today) (permanently) ice covered than were when the Vikings arrived around a millennium ago. FYI, territory not inundated by permanent ice in Greenland today just about equals the size of the U.S. state of Montana. The three areas of European settlement during the Norse era in Greenland — the so-called Eastern Settlement, Western Settlement, and Middle Settlement — all took place (then and now) in ice-free regions of the country.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Oh, seal, the animal That makes a bit more sense. Glad I read the comments.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

When I was a little kid, I asked what daily bread meant. My mother explained that it was food, in general, not just bread. And I was all, like, then why does dad complain about having to go to work to feed us?

Rusty said...

buwaya said...
"So, if that's true, then why, I wonder, do so many alarmists reject Bjorn Lomborg's logical advice that humanity should be focusing on mitigation and not prevention?"

Its related to why alarmists reject simple logical and cheap things like nuclear power.

Because its not about fixing anything, its about creating monopolized revenue streams based on privileges granted through political influence.


TaaDaaaaa!

Owen said...

That New Yorker was hilariously weak on the science and quite charming on the personal observations of people and places. I have been near Greenland (Baffin Island) and it is both hauntingly beautiful and impossibly harsh. Yet the Inuit have coped and prospered, at least until the Kabloona (Modern White Male etc etc civilization) arrived.

Kolbert got a nice expenses-paid trip to write a story that she already had in her laptop under the Progressive Template file icon.

I apologize for not speaking to the topic of cultures differentiating in their use of and sensitivity to metaphor, but I think the question is not well framed. IMHO metaphor IS language. As the alphabet is made of fossilized symbols, so almost every word contains the bones of some tangible thing or concrete act. It gets obscured because the word is asked to do other work: we can't stop to admire the image of a tongue hidden in "language," we need to convey higher-level abstractions. We use the old soil as compost to support new efflorescence, new pictures specific to our purpose.

So my hypothesis is, metaphor is universal but obviously each group adjusts its specific figures based on the environment and experience. Metaphor is about likenesses, a target idea coupled to a source picture, and if a century ago you talked to an Inuit about "bread," you'd have given him nothing to work with.

But now? Best bread I ever had was in the kitchen of Koo-noo-I-Palik as he carved a soapstone walrus.

mikee said...

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. 'They've a temper, some of them — particularly verbs: they're the proudest — adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs — however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'

'Would you tell me please,' said Alice, 'what that means?'

'Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. 'I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'

'That's a great deal to make one word mean,' Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

'When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'I always pay it extra.'

'Oh!' said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.

'Ah, you should see 'em come round me of a Saturday night,' Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side, 'for to get their wages, you know.'

(Alice didn't venture to ask what he paid them with; and so you see I can't tell you.)

'You seem very clever at explaining words, Sir,' said Alice.

Lewis Carrol, Through the Looking Glass

Andrew Pardue said...

Ok so the interesting thing is that "Give us this day our daily bread", the word bread is easy but "daily" is problematic translation from the greek Epiousios. The word epiousios occurs no where else in greek literature outside of the gospels.

From wikipedia:

The challenge in translating epiousios goes at least as far back as 382 AD, well over 1,000 years prior to the creation of the world's first printing press and the Gutenberg Bible in the 1450s.[13] In that era, St. Jerome was commissioned by Pope Damasus I to renew and consolidate the various collection of biblical texts in the Vetus Latina ("Old Latin") then in use by the Church. Jerome accomplished this by way of going back to the original Greek of the New Testament and translating it into Latin, and over hundreds of years later his research and translation became known as the Vulgate. In the identical context—that is, appearing in the Lord's Prayer—Jerome translated epiousios in two completely different ways: via linguistic parsing as supersubstantial in Matthew, while retaining the traditional but linguistically controversial daily interpretation in Luke.

Epiousios
So one wonders what the inuit would do with "Give us today our supersubstantial seal"

Rick67 said...

In 1999 spent three weeks in Kerala, India, a "mission immersion experience" with my seminary. We attended a pastor's conference at which we witnessed a friendly debate over Bible translation. The leader of this Baptist group pointed out there is no snow in Kerala, so when they translate "shall be as white as snow" (Isaiah 1:18) into Malayalam they go with "as white as milk".

Not quite what you are asking for. But this is a genuine problem with all translations, including the Bible.

Nancy Reyes said...

In the two non European languages I am familiar with, in cultures where bread was not traditionally eaten, in the Our Father, the generic word for "food" is used.
In the our Father, the reference is to both the food one eats every day, and the daily spiritual food/nourishment for our souls.

Here in the Philippines, we speak Tagalog and eat rice 3 times a day, So in Tagalog we use "aming kakanin".... ka means a general noun, kain is the base root to eat. The word for cooked rice (Kanin) comes from the word.

Prayers also sometimes use "tinapay" (bread) especially in referring to the sacrament.

In Shona (the main language of Zimbabwe, where I once worked) they use "zvokudya", which again means food (Kudya mean eat). The main food there is sazda, i.e. dry corn meal porridge. They use the word "Bread" for bread.