Tricky translations | Inquirer Opinion
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Tricky translations

/ 04:03 AM October 20, 2021

In another time and place, my nickname was “Nacho.” This wasn’t drawn from corn chips but my religious name “Ignacio Maria.” When asked what drew me to monastic life, I reply that a historian’s life is almost monastic. History is a solitary profession that requires patience for long hours of research, and perseverance for longer hours spent reading, re-reading, and reflecting.

Why did I choose a Benedictine monastery to retreat in? It is a reading order, in love with the Word and with words. We read all the time (chanting or reciting texts four times a day), other times someone reads to us. Meals were taken in silence, except for a reader on a lectern, our bodies nourished by food, mind and soul nourished by readings. This romantic view of monastic life kept me there for over five years, the love for learning was an irresistible temptation.


I remembered the late National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera who told me that Filipinos were not allowed to own bibles in the Spanish period. Friars feared that Filipinos left to themselves with a bible would make interpretations that stray from Catholic teaching. No wonder Rizal bought a Bible when he first arrived in Spain. Rizal could read the Latin Vulgate, New Testament in Greek, and dipped into the Old Testament in Hebrew. This thought led me to compare the Lord’s Prayer in the 1593 Tagalog translation with the latest Filipino version.

“Doctrina Christiana en lengua Española y tagala corregida por los Religiosos de las ordines Imprenta con licencia en S. Gabriel de la orden de S. Domingo, En Manila, 1593” is one of the earliest books published in the Philippines. Only one copy is known to exist, now preserved in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, that has made it available online for free. The book is significant because the basics of Christian doctrine were printed in both the Roman alphabet and baybayin. “Doctrina” is the “Rosetta Stone” that documents late 16th century Tagalog and unlocked the secret of baybayin. Contrary to popular belief, Spanish missionaries did not destroy and erase pre-colonial culture, they actually preserved many aspects of Philippine culture, especially Philippine languages in early friar dictionaries, vocabularies, and grammars.


In the “Doctrina,” you will find the Lord’s Prayer in the original Spanish and a Tagalog translation published:

In the Roman alphabet: “Ang ama namin. Ama namin nasa langitca ypasamba mo ang ngala mo, mouisaamin ang pagcahari mo, ypasonor mo ang loob mo // dito salupa para sa langit, bigya mo cami ngaion nangamincacanin. Para nang sa araoarao. Atpacaualin mo ang amin casalana yaiang uinaualan bahala nami sa loob ang casalanan nang // nagcasasala sa amin. Houag mo caming aewan nang dicami matalo ng tocso. Datapouat yadia mo camisadilan masama. Amen. Jesus.”

In baybayin, transcribed as: ”ama namin nasa langit ka ipasamba mo ang ngalan mo mowi sa amin ang pagkahari mo ipasunod mo ang loob mo dito sa lupa parang sa langit bigyan mo kami ngaion nang aming kakanin para nang sa arawaraw At pakawalin mo ang aming kasalanan yayang winawalang bahala namin sa loob ang kasalanan nang nagkasasala sa amin huwag mo kami iwan nang di kami matalo nang tukso datapuwat iadya mo kami sa dilang masama Amen Sesus.”

Comparing the 1593 “Ama Namin” with two Filipino versions published by the Philippine Bible Society (copyright 2018):

From Matthew 6:9-13: “Ganito kayo dapat mag-pray: Ama namin sa langit, sambahin ang pangalan mo. Dumating sana ang kaharian mo. Masunod sana ang kalooban mo dito sa lupa tulad ng sa langit. Bigyan mo po kami ng pagkain sa araw-araw. Patawarin mo kami sa mga kasalanan namin, tulad ng pagpapatawad namin sa mga nagkakasala sa amin. At ’wag mong hayaang matukso kami. Pero iligtas mo kami sa masama.”

From Luke 11:2-4: “Sinabi ni Jesus sa kanila, ’Kung magpe-pray kayo sabihin nyo: Ama sambahin ang pangalan mo. Dumating sana ang Kaharian mo. Bigyan mo po kami ng pagkain sa araw-araw. Patawarin mo po kami sa aming mga kasalanan dahil pinapatawad po namin ang bawat nagkakasala sa amin. At ’wag mong hayaang matukso kami…”

Translations are tricky. When “The Parable of the Unjust Steward” in Luke 16 is translated into Filipino as “Ang parable ng madiskarteng manager.” It made me laugh. What more (Mark 15:17-18) rendered in Filipino as: “Sinuotan nila si Hesus ng violet na robe at nilagyan nila ang ulo nya nang koronang gawa sa matinik na halaman. Tapos pinagtripan nila si Hesus. Sinaluduhan nila sya at sinabi Mabuhay ang Hari ng mga Jews.” I’m not the target market for the 21stC Filipino version of the Bible.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Benedictine, Bible, History, transaltion
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