Tyndale’s editors: The KJV and the mysterious sound patterns of translation
Walter Benjamin, in The Task of the Translator,
says: “But do we not generally regard as the essential substance
of a literary work what it contains in addition to information—
as even a poor translator will admit—the unfathomable, the
mysterious, the ‘poetic,’ something that a translator can
reproduce only if he is also a poet?”  I would like
try to make this “unfathomable” and “mysterious” a bit less
mysterious, at least in a small way.
To do this, we turn to Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
In it we will watch sounds and patterns of sounds and see
how the translators of the KJV revised Tyndale to improve
the sound quality of Tyndale’s translation. This improvement
did not affect the meaning so much, or, at least, that is
not what we are at first to discuss, but rather the improvement
was only to disallow stumbling over which words were important
to stress, where to pause and where not to, and the like. Then comparing this to the NKJV, we will see how a translation
that attempted to preserve the “devotional and lyrical qualities”
 of the KJV did not achieve their purpose so well, but
rather, ended up, by not watching the sound patterns closely
enough, the stress-sound patterns, weakening the force of
the argument, or shifting it, and indeed, even “changing”
the “meaning”. The lessons learned from this exercise apply especially
to any translation work done with original texts that are
themselves elaborate sound creations, such as the bible,
songs, and poems. And so we go now to the letter to the Romans as it moved
from Tyndale 1525 to the King James 1611 . About 80-90%
of the King James version is Tyndale’s work. We have selected
some familiar passages, among many which might have been
looked at. We begin with the opening of the letter.
To do this, we turn to Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In it we will watch sounds and patterns of sounds and see how the translators of the KJV revised Tyndale to improve the sound quality of Tyndale’s translation. This improvement did not affect the meaning so much, or, at least, that is not what we are at first to discuss, but rather the improvement was only to disallow stumbling over which words were important to stress, where to pause and where not to, and the like.
Then comparing this to the NKJV, we will see how a translation that attempted to preserve the “devotional and lyrical qualities”  of the KJV did not achieve their purpose so well, but rather, ended up, by not watching the sound patterns closely enough, the stress-sound patterns, weakening the force of the argument, or shifting it, and indeed, even “changing” the “meaning”.
The lessons learned from this exercise apply especially to any translation work done with original texts that are themselves elaborate sound creations, such as the bible, songs, and poems.
And so we go now to the letter to the Romans as it moved from Tyndale 1525 to the King James 1611 . About 80-90% of the King James version is Tyndale’s work. We have selected some familiar passages, among many which might have been looked at. We begin with the opening of the letter.
In this, the most obvious change made because of sound and how it will affect the reader’s move towards reading, is the deletion of “that make mention.” For we notice that in the sentence “in the holy scriptures that make mention of his son”, by the time we get to the word “mention” we are ready again to stress something, and the word to take is “mention”. Compare this to how the KJV translators cleaned it up: “concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” There is no doubt that one is rising from “concerning his” up to stress “Son” or “Jesus” or “Christ”, all of which are worthy of stressing more than “make mention” or “mention.”
Another passage shows the KJV translators’ (or “cleaners-up”) of Tyndale’s stress patterns.
Here it is impossible not to know what to stress in the KJV “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints”, as compared to Tyndale. In Tyndale do we say, “to all of you Rome-beloved”?
Again in this passage we see the same cleaning up of stress confusion as we saw in Romans 1:1-3:
In Tyndale’s, to most it would seem one can’t have “and to them which are” and not want to stress something. So perhaps one stresses “no”—that would be my first instinct. But in the KJV, one can’t but be pushed by the KJV translators into every stress, with their neat and predictable parallelism: I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.”
The exact same Tyndale shortcoming shows up in Romans 1:16, again straightened out by the KJV:
“Namely” is not at all important—the key words are “Jew” and “Gentile”. The KJV translators moved to eliminate our possibility of giving stress to “namely”.
Again at the beginning of chapter two:
In this passage, by changing Tyndale’s “same self things” to the very nice and strong spondee: “same things” the KJV shortened the phrase , which was already pretty well done by Tyndale in that it tended to focus the sound on “doest” and “same self things.” But the KJV economizes and has the memorable line, “doest the same things.”
In this passage, the KJV added, to be able to, by an unavoidable parallel of structure, make a stronger pattern:
Doubtless, there is less doubt over how much advantage a Jew hath, and circumcision, when one forcefully answers the question about them not with the rather tepid and unsure: “Surely very much”, but with the first word stressed “much.” Note that is probably a short low vowel in “much” that falls through “every” to the long “a” in the last word “way” of “much every way.” Very smooth.
Moving to the fourth chapter:
Here we simply have the KJV more obviously parallel: “delivered-offenses” is to “raised again-justification.” There is a nice duplication of the sounds “f” both voiced and voiceless in “delivered” “offenses” and “justification.”
Here again we have the KJV cleaning up some of Tyndale’s wordiness.
The line “Because therefore that we are justified by faith” is, of all the parts in Tyndale’s translation, the one that could most quickly be called a mistake in the rhythm. Because we have this long series of obvious places to stress following it, none of them too far from each other—indeed, almost equidistant:
“Because therefore that we are justified by faith, we are at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom we have a way in through faith unto this grace where in we stand and rejoice in hope of the praise that shall be given of God.” The KJV simply fixes this by beginning: “Therefore being justified by faith…” and continuing in its same rhythms, never erring in what should be stressed most heartily, and disallowing misspeaking, by the placement.
A similar spacing is seen below.
Here, the KJV moved “therefore”, in order to force us to always stress “sin” and “reign.” There are more choices in Tyndale, because “sin” and reign” are next to each other, and right in the middle of a clause, not at the end, say, where they would have a chance of functioning more mightily in, say in a spondee, if it were: In you mortal bodies let not therefore sin reign. As Tyndale stood, one could very easily want to stress “therefore.”
Here Tyndale had some mistakes in paralleling, maybe because of his following so closely to Luther.
But the equation is not "wages of sin" = "eternal life" and "death" = "gift of God", rather it is as the KJV fixed it to be: "wages of sin" = "gift of God" and "death" = "eternal life."
Another example is in the famous part from Romans 7.
Paul here, his key word is “not”—he sees how it should be, even such as a man who sees the other side of a gorge, and knows perfectly well that all he needs is a bridge, but does not find it. Thus, he looks, he has the knowledge, the “how to perform that which is good” but in the end, he comes always to “I find not.” Thus, the order of the moves in his heart is preserved in the language arrangement of the KJV: “how to perform that which is good” precedes the conclusion of the matter: “I find not.” The KJV also has this wonderful verb-not pattern throughout the passage that focuses us even more to that “find not” by moving through these verb-nots: “allow not” “do I not” “would not” and the final “find not.” Note, Luther also does this.
And here in chapter nine we have an example, showing probably that Tyndale’s following of Luther was not taken by the KJV translators.
Here we have a pattern of five beats repeated three times in the KJV of “of-him-that- [one syllable verb]-eth”; namely: “of him that will-eth” “of him that runneth” and in the last, with “him” replaced by “God”: “of God that sheweth.” It’s very nice, and pleases us in that part of our brain that was pleased as a child hearing the meticulously patterned and magically sound-aware Dr. Seuss: “My hat is old / My teeth are gold / I have a bird / I like to hold. / My shoe is off. / My foot is cold.”  We have, besides “My” “My” “I” “I” “My” “My”, “ha” “ha” “h”, “old” “old” [pause] “old” [pause] “old.” Not to mention the voiced and voiceless movement of “t” “d” “t” “d” “d” “d” … “t” “d” with the shoe off during the “…”. We also have the “f” sounds to dwell in that “…” space.
This same attention to sound we see in the KJV’s revision of Tyndale:
In the KJV we have a little more sound patterning even than Tyndale, who has some, with the KJV consonants: “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”
We should note here, having ended this little look at the KJV’s attempt to make even more music of the musical Tyndale, that we have not reviewed much of what is probably the most powerful sound patterning, that of the vowels, simply because we are not so sure of Middle English pronunciation. But even without much knowledge of this, one can watch the very careful vowel engineering of both the KJV and Tyndale. To draw it simply, the vowel sounds are not jerky, but they flow. That is, using the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet)  to sketch the vowels, one expects this, where the top dotted line means open or high vowels, and the bottom, closed or low vowels. The KJV is something like:
The simple fact is, if one does not watch the flow, one can easily end up as, for example, the NKJV does so often, with:
Now before we end, we will quickly review a few places comparing the KJV to the NKJV to show that not watching how sound patterns fall can affect meaning. In Romans 1:14- 15 we have:
The “as much as in me”, note, emphasizes “So, as much as is in me.” Or, at least, in the NKJV, by its placement, the force of the verb “is” lessens. One will not naturally say “So, as much as is in me.” But with the KJV, one is likely to say: “as much as in me is” following the stress-unstress pattern set out, as is so basic to English.
We should note the theological implications of this, of course. One’s conversation will lean more on the one hand with the NKJV perhaps towards whether or not Christ dwells in one or if another preposition is better, or how he exactly dwells in one, and on the other hand with the KJV, one’s conversation will perhaps lean more towards the truth or doubt concerning the dwelling of Christ in the heart; it is this latter conversation that we might say the KJV translators had in mind, and perhaps texts such as: Romans 8:10 “If Christ be in you” and “if any man be in Christ” (2 Cor 5:17)”Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith” (Eph 3:17) “Christ liveth in me:” (Gal 2:20), “[the mystery] which is Christ in you” (Col 1:27), as well as “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” (Jhn 6:56; see also John 17:23) and “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4; see also 4:16). This leaning, and the consequent careful patterning of the sound in the KJV is not unlikely especially given the Protestant understanding that Scripture interprets scripture, and the many footnotes in early Protestant bibles referring one passage to another.
We look at another verse, Romans 2:1.
Here we notice the difference in meaning again. The KJV has this ending “est” patterned throughout—the translators have watched this. They have also watched where the verbs are, that the emphases are inevitably at least: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.” Thus, judging is condemning, by the strong beat of “judgest… judgest… condemnest… judgest” and then quickly, as quickly as the one who is judging should look at his own actions and see what he has done, so comes “judgest doest.” The NKJV did not do any of this patterning, and indeed, they moved through some vowels so as to almost make them distracting, for example in “whoever you are who”, rather than focusing the reader and listener always on “judge”, “judge” “condemn” “judge.” The NKJV also lacks the sharp parallelism of the KJV’s “thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself” with “in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself” so that one could more easily set “another” with “condemn”, perhaps, than “yourself”, at a minimum, it is, because of sound patterns, much harder to dislocate this parallel in the KJV:
Thou judgest another
Thus, one perhaps moves the conversation a bit more on the one hand with the NKJV to a warning to one not to condemn another because if you do, you are condemning yourself, towards, on the other hand with the KJV, a warning to constantly remember that “thou doest the same things” and to constantly be aware that one stands oneself under condemnation if one tarries in this sort of judgment. It is hard here not to remember, as the KJV translators must have, Jesus’ parallel teaching in Matthew 7:2 “with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”
What shall we say then? Benjamin said: “…a translation, instead of resembling the meaning of the original, must lovingly and in detail incorporate the original’s mode of signification, thus making both the original and the translation recognizable as fragments of a greater language, just as fragments are part of a vessel.”  Perhaps the words “mode of signification” can be used fruitfully now that we have set forth our evidence and we can enter into a discussion and conclusion. For it seems that the mode of signification both Tyndale and the KJV translators held to, was not only if a translation “got the meaning across”, but how it went about it. Thus, “lovingly and in detail”, those are good words to gather us towards the “how.” For just as “grace”, which can sound cold and clinical simply a legal reckoning, can be used to translate  and  and  or one can warm up and tell how the grace is by translating the words instead “tender mercy”, so important can be the how, and not just the what.
We stated above that the lessons learned from this comparison of Tyndale, the KJV and the NKJV apply especially to any work done with texts that are themselves elaborate sound creations, such as the bible, songs, and poems. So at a minimum, it seems, if we have a text we wish to translate and we notice it is full of elaborate sound patterning and this is even weaved through the meaning, so also then we can try to translate with, if not the same pattern, certainly some sound patterning, such as we have in the language into which we are moving the original text; that is, we find a way to add in the how, if the how is something with which the original text is closely concerned. We might even go so far as to suggest that if attention to the how is not there in the original text, one shouldn’t bother translating it.
Second, when we revise a translation, as the KJV translators did of Tyndale’s, we can try to respect the first translator’s attempts, and at least not make the sound patterns worse, or clunkier. And third, we can keep in mind that the entire knowledge and application of this “mystery”, this “unfathomable”, affects meaning.
* Thanks to E. Suominen and Prof. Edelheit for reviewing a draft.
1 Benjamin, Walter. ”The Task of the Translator” (1923). 9 August 2008 at http://social.chass.ncsu.edu/wyrick/debclass/benja.htm
2 “Preface to the NKJV” (Thomas Nelson 1990) p. vi
3 For further reading on this, see Nicholson, Adam. God's
Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (New
4 We took Tyndale’s text from Tyndale’s New Testament (1534 edition). David Daniell (ed) (London: Yale 1989). Throughout in the footnotes, we give you Luther’s text of 1545, for any who would like to watch this one translator, to whom Tyndale held so closely (see, for example, the footnotes in Tyndale, William (tr). The Pentateuch (1534) (London: Centaur Press 1967)):
5 7 allen, die zu Rom sind, den Liebsten Gottes und berufenen Heiligen: Gnade sei mit euch und Friede von Gott, unserm Vater, und dem HERRN Jesus Christus! (Luther)
6 14 Ich bin ein Schuldner der Griechen und der Ungriechen,
der Weisen und der Unweisen.
7 16 Denn ich schäme mich des Evangeliums von Christo nicht; denn es ist eine Kraft Gottes, die da selig macht alle, die daran glauben, die Juden vornehmlich und auch die Griechen. (Luther)
8 1 Darum, o Mensch, kannst du dich nicht entschuldigen, wer du auch bist, der da richtet. Denn worin du einen andern richtest, verdammst du dich selbst; sintemal du eben dasselbe tust, was du richtest. (Luther)
9 Tyndale seems to have wanted this; he mentions it in his list of possible improvements, of 1530: “Count [my translation of the Bible into English] as a thing not having his full shape, but as it were born before his time, even as a thing begun rather than finished. In time to com (if God have appointed us thereunto) we will give it his full shape, and put out, if ought be added superfluously, and add to, if ought be overseen through negligence; and will enforce to bring to compendiousness that which is not translated at the lengthen, and to give light where it is required, and to seek in certain places more proper English, and with a table to expound the words which are not commonly used, and shew how the scripture useth many words which are otherwise understood of the common people, and to help with a declaration where one tongue taketh not another; and will endeavour ourselves, as it were, to seeth it better, and to make it more apt for weak stomachs” (p. 390-1, in Tyndale, William “Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures” (Cambridge: Cambridge U Press 1848) on 10 August 2008 at http://books.google.com/
10 1 Was haben denn die Juden für Vorteil, oder was nützt die Beschneidung? (Luther)
11 25 welcher ist um unsrer Sünden willen dahingegeben und um unsrer Gerechtigkeit willen auferweckt. (Luther)
12 1 Nun wir denn sind gerecht geworden durch den Glauben,
so haben wir Frieden mit Gott durch unsern HERRN Jesus Christus,
13 12 So lasset nun die Sünde nicht herrschen in eurem sterblichen Leibe, ihr Gehorsam zu leisten in seinen Lüsten. (Luther)
14 23 Denn der Tod ist der Sünde Sold; aber die Gabe Gottes ist das ewige Leben in Christo Jesu, unserm HERRN. (Luther)
15 15 Denn ich weiß nicht, was ich tue. Denn ich tue
nicht, was ich will; sondern, was ich hasse, das tue ich.
16 16 So liegt es nun nicht an jemandes Wollen oder Laufen, sondern an Gottes Erbarmen. (Luther)
17 Seuss, Dr. One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (New York, Random House 1960)
18 18 So erbarmt er sich nun, welches er will, und verstockt, welchen er will. (Luther)
19 On 10 August 2008 found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_phonetic_alphabet
20 Benjamin, Walter. “The Task of the Translator” (1923). 9 August 2008 at http://social.chass.ncsu.edu/wyrick/debclass/benja.htm
21 Used dozens of times in the Hebrew bible, such as Genesis 6:8 “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” also Genesis 18:3, Genesis 19:19, Genesis 34:11, Genesis 47:25, 29, Psalm 45:2, 84:11, Prov. 3:22, Jeremiah 31:2, and many other places.
22 Used hundreds of times in the Hebrew Bible, especially in the Psalms, usually translated “tender mercies” or “lovingkindnesses”, the latter often thought a term the KJV translators invented for the purposes of finding a word to translate this Hebrew word into English.
23 Used dozens of times in the Hebrew bible, such as Genesis 43:30 “And Joseph made haste; for his mercies did yearn upon his brother”, and also Deuteronomy 13:17, 2 Samuel 24:14, 1 Kings 8:50, Nehemiah 9:19, Psalm 25:6, 40:11, 51:1, 69:16, 77:9, 79:8, 103:4, 106:46, 119:77, 119:156, 145:9, Isaiah 46:3, 47:6, 54:7, 63:7, 15, Jeremiah 16:5, 42:12, etc.
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