How language develops – the Lord’s Prayer

Proofreading_and_editing_blog_105Standard religious texts can show us a lot about how language develops. Most old manuscripts and books are can only be compared in general terms, but they cannot be used in a side by side comparison, as they record completely different circumstances.

With an easily identifiable text, dated often with great accuracy, the contrasts become plain.

Leaving aside the detailed linguistic & theological discussions, for example about the translation of the line “Forgive us our trespasses/debts/sins”, it is interesting to see not only how spelling changes, but also how the words chosen by the translators vary as they try to get the message across to the audience of their day.

Here are some translations of the opening lines of the Lord’s Prayer.

West Saxon Gospels, 10th Century: Faeder ure thu the ear tom heofonum, si thin nama gehalgod.

Wyclif Bible, 1380: Oure fadir that art in heuenes halewid be thi name.

Tyndale Bible, 1534: O oure father which arte in heven, hallowed be thy name.

King James Bible, 1611 & Book of Common Prayer, 1662: Our father which art in heauen, hallowed be thy Name.

Book of Common Prayer, revised in 1928: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name.

The New Testament in Modern English, 1963: Our Heavenly Father, may your name be honoured.

The New English Bible, 1970: Our Father in heaven thy name be hallowed.

New English version, adopted by the Church of England in 1977: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Revised English Bible, 1989: Our Father in heaven, may your name be hallowed.

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About The Proof Angel

I am a freelance editor and proofreader, working with a wide range of clients from large companies to individuals. I can help you to communicate clearly by carrying out a final check, or by suggesting ideas get your message over. I also have a sideline in textiles, as The Rainbow Angel.
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8 Responses to How language develops – the Lord’s Prayer

  1. The development of language fascinates me. Thank you for this interesting article.

    • It was a bit difficult to produce. I collected it in Word, and of course spell check had a lot to contribute, sometimes when I wasn’t looking. Then I copied it into WordPress. More corrections. There are some forms of help you don’t need, aren’t there?
      I think one of the most interesting aspects of this is how the modern versions don’t really change much. It seems people just have to tinker around to make their mark. But I am biased – I like the old Book of Common Prayer version!

  2. I have to admit, for this particular prayer, that is the version I prefer, although I like my general Bible reading to be more contemporary, but some things can’t be bettered. I read a few phrases in a novel about medieval times which were translated into Old English. If you know a little German you can see the Saxon influence in some of it, but it is harder to pick it up here. For that reason this post is all the more interesting. I love language. But then – I’m a writer too.

  3. elainecanham says:

    It’s a bit like that old joke, isn’t it? Send reinforcements the general’s going to advance, turns into send three and fourpence the general’s going to a dance. Thanks for the post, it’s fascinating seeing all the influences.

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