Aural/oral qualities of the KJV/AV

Tim Bulkeley is looking for some help in studying the aural/oral qualities of the KJV/AV:

“My thought is to address the well-known aural/oral qualities of the KJV/AV and relate that to the possibilities of various oralities/new oralities introduced by the move to electronically mediated communications.”

I’ve attempted to look at the problem based on the concept of “chunking.” When we grow familiar with a passage we tend to run ahead and not actually read every word. This allows us to read more quickly even in the case of a seemingly “less natural” translation.

You can look at my comparison of reading fluency rates for CEV, NIV and ESV here: Reading speed of Scripture

If you’ve got some pointers for Tim on how to approach his topic, please visit his post and leave a comment: Aural/oral qualities of the KJV/AV


20 thoughts on “Aural/oral qualities of the KJV/AV

  1. John Hobbins says:

    Very nice, David.

    Irrespective of the base translation – or the source text – this is an argument for a adopting a format that allows for visual tracking.

    Visual tracking is cost-efficient and easy to manage on an electronic page. A pericope or argument can be made to begin and end on the same page. The text can be chunked according to perceived suprasegmental units, by space, lineation, and other techniques.

  2. Theophrastus says:

    The best study of of the KJV’s rhythm/stress/euphony (and how it relates to the source languages) I have seen is by Gerald Hammond in his Making of the English Bible, which I heartily recommend. Hammond’s book is out of print, but widely available through libraries. A brief sense of what Hammond accomplishes can be found in his chapter in Harvard University Press’s Literary Guide to the Bible.

    While I have not personally seen it yet, I understand that both volumes of the Norton Critical Edition of the Bible (expected in October) will have extensive material on this. (I have quite high expectations for that edition.)

  3. David Ker says:

    @J, I struggle when listening to someone read aloud because I read faster than they do. But it’s possible that in an L2 situation, listeners may follow the displayed text at a slower rate than that being read aloud.

    @T, thanks for the tip on Hammond.

  4. David Ker says:

    @J, I find myself running ahead when someone reads aloud, but in an L2 situation the opposite could be true which is a possible argument for either shorter readings or asking lectors to read more slowly.

    @T, thanks for the heads up on Hammond.

  5. asiabible says:

    Thanks to all three of you, and anticipatory thanks to anyone else who joins in 🙂

    It’s getting quite confusing all the “locations” of discussion of this 😉

    The suggestion of making reading easier/better by effective visual chunking is really interesting, an extension of the modern practice of presenting in paragraphs instead of “verses” or the older less divided text. Notice though that with each “improvement” the reader reads less and the publisher takes more and more of the reading task on to themselves.

    A Bible paragraphed and presented as you suggest John is more authoritarian than an ancient manuscript that hardly “chunked” the text at all! Maybe in that way such a Bible would counteract the postmodern turn in reading by offering a magisterial interpretation. Perhaps reintroducing something like the Geneva notes the KJV was designed to suppress 😉

  6. Peter Kirk says:

    an ancient manuscript that hardly “chunked” the text at all

    AsiaBible (that’s Tim B’s face I see, surely?), I’m not sure this is fair to ancient biblical manuscripts. They didn’t chunk with white space as paper etc was expensive. But both in Hebrew and in Greek they did quite a lot of chunking with various marginal marks etc. Some of this is preserved in modern editions of the original language texts. But I don’t think there is any single system which is supposed to go back to the original authors. Then surely, Tim, you know these things at least as well as I do?

  7. Mike Sangrey says:

    It would be interesting to ask Thai readers about “chunking”. My understanding is there is no spaces in their texts.

  8. Theophrastus says:

    Mike: It is true that the printed Thai language does not conventionally have inter-word spacing, but neither do more widespread languages including Chinese and Japanese. My experience is that the lack of spaces does not make any difference (except perhaps to foreign learners) — just as most English readers probably look at the phrase “left bank” or “United States” or “New York” as being single lexical units and not the combination of “left” & “bank” or “united” & “states” or “new” & “York.”

  9. Mike Sangrey says:

    Thank you Theo. My understanding was that there were no spaces…anywhere. I stand corrected.

    Your example phrases are the kinds that drive lexicographers into deep, philosophical discussions. 🙂 The little lexicographer weanie asks, “What exactly IS a lexical unit?”

    This reminds me of:

    “Aoccdrnig to a rseearchr at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit any porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.”

    It turns out that the reasons given are wrong. In reality, the reader assumes the text is cohesive and that the content will cohere. It’s these expectations which help out the reader.

    I wonder what would happen if one took the CEV and (say) the ASV and “messed” up the words in much the same way as the above paragraph. In fact, I would be very interested in the comparison of reading speed between a Bible text and another text written by a modern author. There would have to be many examples and many test takers so to be statistically valid. However, it wouldn’t be that hard to come up with a double-blind test.

    For example, “You will be shown a text. Read it. You then will be shown two words and asked to pick the one that most closely reflects what you read. You will be timed on how long it takes you to pick the right word, so you will need to do that quickly. You will not be timed on reading the text. You’ll need to comprehend the text so you’ll be able to pick the right word quickly. The texts will be chosen from various classics, both modern and older. The texts will be composed of jumbled words [like the above example]…etc….”

    Then the researcher will actually time the reader on the texts. The comparison will be between the different kinds of text. It seems to me this would show how comprehensible the texts are since it depends on the cohesive properties of the text.

  10. Mike Sangrey says:

    Perhaps I could add that another requirement of “reading the text” in my example clinical test is that the jumbled text must be read out loud and errors would be counted. This could be blindly recorded and tabulated later.

  11. Theophrastus says:

    Mike — not sure why you stand corrected — the only spacing in conventional Thai writing is between lines. You can find printed Thai newspapers online.

  12. Tim Bulkeley says:

    Peter, yes, sorry that sentence was hyperbolic 😦 I don’t know the emoticon for shame! The changes in chunking and in extra textual cues have not at all been unidirectional, and are fascinating to track.

    [BTW the BBB system tried hard to identify me as asiabible this time too, but this time I persisted and asserted my normal identity 😉 though it required typing my name several times, the alterego is firmly entrenched somewhere.]

  13. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    As Peter mentioned, and Peter and I have discussed this in the past, there was a form of punctuation in some early manuscripts. In fact, I was discussing this with Larry Hurtado last night He mentioned the following features in early Christian texts that varied from pagan texts –

    1) codex vs scroll
    2) wider line spacing
    3) punctuation, a raised dot
    4) nomina sacra

    These features make the text easier to read, but also identify the text as Christian.

    I add to these

    5)paragraphing and enlarged intitial letter
    7)breathing marks found in some early manuscripts

    So, although there was little word spacing, breathing marks and the diaresis do mark the beginning of a word.

    Dr. Hurtado remarked that there had been word spacing in pre-Hellenistic Greek manuscripts but it had been replaced by scripto continuo.

    In Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics, both practices exist side by side. The Bible and other texts are published with word spacing, but private letters, and some Cree published materials do not have word spacing. The text with word spacing existed before the Syllabics were used without word spacing.

    I believe, but cannot support with evidence at this moment, that word marking does facilitate reading. Hence the diaresis and breathing marks.

  14. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I need to explain about the breathings – since there are two uses for this term.

    Rochelle Altman argues that Greek was written in breathings. She says,

    “Mistakenly called writing in scripto continuo, Greek was written by “breathings,” the number of syllables that could be said in one breath. Hence, the narrow columns of Greek Biblical MSS. On exceptionally wide column writings, such as Aristotles Constitutions, there are spaces between the “breathings.””

    But when I mentioned breathing marks earlier, I refer to the rough or smooth breathing marks which were not needed to differentiate words, that is the reader knew easily enough which it was, but it did serve to mark the beginning of a new word.

    In Cree, the preaspiration marks are also not necessary, full phonemic representation is not essential and often the addition of diacritics in a consistent fashion is not wanted. However if the diacritics serve some other purpose, to disambiguate homophones, or indicate word breaks, then they may be added.

  15. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    They didn’t chunk with white space as paper etc was expensive.

    PS Hurtado argues, and I concur, that the expense of papyrus was not a reason for the adoption of the codex. I believe this carries over to word spacing as well. The line spacing and margins are significantly wider in some early Christian manuscripts than elsewhere so there was lots of white space – it just wasn’t between words.

  16. Gary Simmons says:

    Alexandrinus seems to occasionally make spaces within lines. (See, e.g., Luke 23:33-24:5, page 43b).

    Suzanne, would Alexandrinus be one of the documents that seem to write one breath’s worth per line?

    Follow-up question, just to stimulate conversation: about how many syllables could one be expected to read a manuscript on one breath? How many syllables could a scribe be expected…?

    Using my pronunciation style, I can read a line and a half or two lines per breath. But that’s only if I’ve just rehearsed the verse and stumbled through it.

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