Friday, October 28, 2016

Knox on Translation

“Much more serious was the problem, what to do about ‘thou’ and ‘you’. I confess I would have liked to go the whole hog and dispense with the use of ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ even where the Almighty is being addressed. They do these things in France, but I felt sure you could not get it past the British public.” -On Englishing the Bible

5 comments:

Jerry Mc Kenna said...

For someone like myself, an older person who loves older literature, the 'thees' and 'thous' aren't a problem and given the pervasiveness of quotes from both Shakespeare and the King James Bible in English, most of use are familiar with the old language. When I read the phrase 'suffer the little children ...', I know what it means. Where I agree with Knox is that many English speakers aren't familiar with the old language. I've met adults from Spanish speaking families whose pronunciation is perfect but who have very small vocabularies. I worked for a telephone company as in international operator and customers trying to call a brother in Germany, in the US military, didn't know the English name for Germany.

Many of those people may not read Spanish at an adult level so we need to devise Bible translations that leave out the lovely old words. I can also imagine the need to create translations for countries where English is the preferred 2nd language, such as India.

Michael Demers said...

I read somewhere you don't call God "You" but "Thou" simply as a matter of respect.

Jason P said...

Michael demers thats garbage.

We address God as you in Mass constantly.

To say calling God you is wrong is to call the Infallibility of the Church and the judgment of the Pope into question....

Not good.

CarlHernz said...

The use of "thou" and "you" has to do with the fact that English once acknowledged the difference between the pronoun "you" in the singular and "you" in the plural when used in the "second-person." (For those who aren't familiar with what a "second-person pronoun" is, it is a pronoun you use when referring to a person that you are directly addressing in conversation.)

In most languages, including Hebrew, Greek, and Latin-based languages, there is a difference between saying "you should do this" (meaning "you" as in "one person") and "you should do this" (meaning "all of you" as in "more than one person").

To illustrate, at John 3:7 Jesus says to Nicodemus: "Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’" The first use of the second-person pronoun is singular but the second one is plural. It actually means: "Do not be amazed what I am telling you, Nicodemus. All people must be born from above." Translations into older forms of English (such as the King James Version) rendered this as: "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." "Thee" is the singular form and "ye" is the plural.

As language usage changed the world over, English held on to the singular second person in referring to God only, and mostly only in Bibles and liturgical prayers. Though it sounds more "formal," oddly "thee" and "thou" are actually "informal"("thee" is the oblique case of the nominative "thou").

Because it was "old" usage and Bible translation into English (until recently) has been quite behind in reflecting common language usage, people merely attributed the singular informal pronoun as "proper" of "formal" address that belonged to God (because that is what people were hearing in Church and reading in Bibles, thinking it was "holy" or special language in reference to God). It is a mistake many people still make today. The formal pronoun in English is (and has always been) "you" or "ye."

It is actually a matter of taste (mixed with a common ignorance of grammatical person pronouns), but language is what users make of it. Though incorrect, the singular "informal" is considered the "formal" in the vernacular, and this is why so many people like it. It is comforting, and brings to mind a time when they were younger and people used to singular informal pronoun in addressing God. "You" became used as the "informal" in the common speaker's usage as a result, and thus a problem arose in English speech usage.

But it was dropped in English partly because of this confusion in common usage. In Hebrew and Greek, God is addressed using "informal" pronouns. "Formal" pronouns are used to show that there is distance and unfamiliarity, and this had been confused now due to people mistaking "thou" for formal address to God. "Thou" is familiar, not formal. Therefore in English the second-person singular was dropped and absorbed into "you."

The Catholic Church has never made a doctrinal or dogmatic reference to English language usage in address to God. The use of "you" instead of "thou" is an English phenomenon limited to English speakers and the normal evolution of a living language. The Church does not dictate how the fundamentals of any language must and must not grow. Therefore one's use of an archaic address for God is a personal preference, neither morally correct or a sin if refused. Besides the "infallibility" of the Church and that exercised by the Holy Father has reference only to doctrinal matters and moral teachings, not to particulars such as these.




Biblical Catholic said...

"I read somewhere you don't call God "You" but "Thou" simply as a matter of respect."

This is a common misunderstanding.

There is a belief by some that the use of archaic language is more formal, and therefore, more respectful, but in fact, not only do the Biblical languages make absolutely no distinction between the pronouns used to refer to God and the ones used to refer to human beings, but in fact, 'thee' and 'thou', are not MORE formal, but LESS formal.

'Thou' is the familiar form, that's what one would call his best buddy, not one's superior.

In the 17th century, the Quakers were unpopular and despised for many reasons, but one of the chief reasons was that they called everyone 'thee' and 'thou.'

When speaking to members of the clergy the proper form of address would be 'vicar' this or 'bishop' that, when addressing the nobility, the proper form of address would be 'sir' or 'lord' of whatever their title might be, when addressing the king the proper form of address would 'his highness' or 'his majesty', but the Quakers when addressing all of these people, referred to them simply as 'thee' and 'thou'. This was interpreted as a sign of disrespect, not respect.

Thus, you have it exactly backwards, 'thee' and 'thou' were the informal pronouns, they were the LESS respectful and more familiar terms.