You Drink What?

milkSometimes language twists are funny.

A man from the Sepik region thought I was eating some peanuts, but I was actually eating a handful of granola. This was interesting to him, so I explained that granola is made primarily of oats. Now oats is not a crop that is grown here, so I needed to explain what oats are. I also told him that this granola did have peanuts in it. It also had raisins, another food he didn’t know, so I had to explain those, too. Then I said many Americans pour milk over cereal like this for breakfast.

His face crinkled. It was if he was thinking: No way. Did he really just say what I think he said? I can’t believe it. There’s just no way Americans do that.

Then I realized what he thought he heard me say. I told him, “No susu bilong meri. Susu bilong bulmakau.” “Not milk from a woman. Milk from a cow.”

“Oh!” he said, and no wonder. I have never yet seen a cow here in the Sepik region. The only cow’s milk we have here is powdered and imported from New Zealand. In contrast, mothers nurse their babies in public here all the time. They don’t use bottles to do it, either.

Now suppose I’m translating the part of the Old Testament where the land of Israel is described as “flowing with milk and honey.” What kind of milk is that talking about? I always assumed cow’s milk. Is it? If it is, would someone here read that and think of breast milk instead? Probably. What does that do to the translation? Should it be translated to explicitly say “cow’s milk” instead of just “milk” to relay the proper implied meaning? But am I even right in thinking that cow’s milk is implied to begin with?

Or what about I Corinthians 3:2, where Paul says he gave the Corinthians milk instead of meat. What kind of milk is implied there? Do we have to explicitly say what kind of milk Paul metaphorically gave to them, or can we just leave it ambiguous?

I don’t have the answers to any of those questions. I’m just glad to clear up the misunderstanding about what kind of milk we Americans put on our breakfast cereal. We’re already strange enough as it is.

Photo by Linnaea Mallette. Public Domain.

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1 Response

  1. Carol Oostdyk says:

    Good *food* for thought!

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