“To Be or not To Be” How to frame the question?

“To Be or not To Be” How to frame the question? October 17, 2012

I’ve been doing lectio divina in the Gospel of John, and I found myself paying a lot of attention to the use of the verb “to be.”  (I was thinking about the I am that I am answer that God gives to Moses when asked for his name).

But then I got a bit distracted by a nerdy translation question: How do people translate Exodus 3:14 (“And God said unto Moses, I Am That I Am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you”) into languages that don’t include esse (to be) as a verb?

In Latin, you don’t have to use esse, but it’s an option.  I can say Gaius discipulus, and everyone knows I mean Gaius is a student, because the declensions of the nouns match.  I can say Gaius discipulus est if I’d like, but I don’t have to.  The Latin Vulgate translation of this verse has to reach for esse to say “Ego sum qui sum.”

But, in ASL, the esse-equivalent doesn’t exist at all.  The proper syntax for saying I am a student is “I student” or “Student I” or, for extra emphasis “I student I.”

So I have no idea how “I am that I am” would be interpreted.  I’m going to ask around, but I’m pretty sure ASL isn’t the only language without esse.  Can people think of any other examples to investigate?


I’m trying to encourage some of my multilingual facebook friends to crosspost.  They’ve been discussing translations in Arabic, Hebrew, and Japanese.  One Deaf friend made the following suggestion:

I would just do the fancy sweeping both-hands up-and-down pointing-to-self thing that you do when you’re introducing yourself formally. with a “this is obvious and this is all you’re going to get” expression on my face.

Maaan, this is why I really want an ASL video Missal.

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