"Apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken at the right time" The translation of biblical metaphors in Hausa and Swahili


Dr. Henrike Firsching

Research Area:


This research project is a comparison of different translations of biblical metaphors in various editions of the Bible in the African languages Hausa and Swahili. Starting from Hebrew and Greek metaphorical expressions several translations in Hausa and Swahili are evaluated.

The effect of a metaphor is “understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another” (Lakoff/Johnson 1980:5). In order for this cognitive process to function some culture specific knowledge of source and target domain is necessary. This poses a major challenge to the translator whose task is to find a way of transferring a metaphor into a language with a different cultural background.

The choice of a translation method is among other factors determined by the objectives of the translator: A translation aiming at maximum formal correspondence to the source text will try to stick to the original metaphor whereas a translation striving to naturalness of expression in the receptor language is likely to use paraphrases. Therefore a comparison of different editions of the Bible in Hausa and Swahili requires an analysis of the background of the translation processes: Under which conditions did the translations develop? Which texts did the translators use as source?

The aim of this research project is to show different methods of translating metaphors ranging from a strict formal equivalence and thereby maintenance of the metaphor to a quite free paraphrase that “sacrifices” the metaphorical expression. In this spectrum several ways of translating metaphors manage to carry across the meaning of the original expression und thus achieve a similar effect in the receptor language. Examples for this can be found in Hausa and Swahili Bibles. An expression like “χαλιναγωγων γλωσσαν αυτου” (to bridle one’s tongue) from James 1:26 for instance, might turn into “kame bakinsa” (Hausa: to hold back one’s mouth), “kuzuia ulimi wake kwa khatamu“ (Swahili: to hold back one’s mouth with bridles), „kuutawala ulimi wake“ (Swahili: to discipline one’s tongue).