Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Thoughts on translation, Part 9.2: Art thou? or are you?

Song of Solomon: timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy.  

Topic two:  Art thou? or are you?  Modern English, unlike European languages, has shed its distinction between the respectful, formal "you" and the warm, informal "thou."  This has left many Bible translations sounding like they belong in a museum.  

While the King James Bible came out when these pronouns were standard usage, they had fallen from use in print by 1700 and from most spoken language by 1750.  By the mid 19th century Quakers used mainly an uninflected "thee" and still sounded quaint to their fellow Americans.*  Beyond survivals like "fare thee well," nowadays there are virtually no situations that call for using these pronouns without irony.  
"Thy" somehow sounded better than
"your," while "O my dove that art" seemed more
graceful than "O my dove that is" would be.  

*In Little Women, published in 1868, Jo's new , Friederich Bhaer, asks her to accommodate his German customs by calling him thee, which she finds awkward. But that seems to be the last we hear of it, as there is no "theeing" and "thouing" in the sequel, Little Men.

I updated almost every antiquated pronoun in the translations I chose.  And yet, I found that a few verses still sounded better with their 17th-century pronouns, like the dove, at right. 

1 comment:

  1. There is something majestic about the King James English and while it seems foreign to modern ears, there are some passages that just don't sound as lovely in modern English. I think it is wonderful that you have chosen to showcase your calligraphic skills with this particularly lovely book.