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I'm looking for a modern translation of the Bible (ideally in the public domain) that retains the distinction between second-person plural and second-person singular. In Early Modern English (the language of the King James Bible) when speaking to a single person, "thou", "thee", "thy", and "thine" were used. When talking to a crowd, "ye", "you", "your", and "yours" were correct. These days the plural form and "ye" are universally replaced with the "you" forms. Since both Greek and Hebrew make this distinction, it's useful to know which form the original language used. (A rule of thumb is that the plural is nearly always used in the New Testament letters.) We lost something when English simplified to "you".

I know that the ASV was pretty strict about using the right number for second-person pronouns. But it was published before the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls and uses lots of other archaic language, so I'd like to find something newer. Many of the more modern versions either do not use the archaic forms or only use them for addressing God. So they aren't useful for my purpose.

Is there any modern English translation that does distinguish between singular and plural second-person pronouns?


Why I ask

My pastor has been been talking about the importance of community in the Bible and a few weeks ago he pointed out this deficiency in Modern English. He's from Florida (via Kentucky) and pointed out that Southern American English has a solution to this problem: "y'all". As a semi-serious joke, I'd like to produce a version of the Bible that I will call the Southern American Version™ or SAV for short. It turns out that I can mechanically produce this from the ASV. Here's 1st Peter 2:9-10 (SAV) as an example:

9 But y'all are a elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that y'all may show forth the excellencies of him who called y'all out of darkness into his marvellous light: 10 who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

That comes out ok, but other passages just sound outdated and strange. 2nd Corinthians 3:1-3 (SAV):

1 Are we beginning again to commend ourselves? or need we, as do some, epistles of commendation to y'all or from y'all? 2 Y'all are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men; 3 being made manifest that y'all are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in tables that are hearts of flesh.

Y'all got any suggestions?

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Working on this project has taught be more English grammar than I imaged I'd ever need to know after leaving elementary school. –  Jon Ericson Feb 10 '12 at 1:40
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This sounds kinda like the Cotton Patch Gospel. –  Bruce Alderman Feb 10 '12 at 6:52
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NWT uses small block caps to indicate plurality. Not perfect, but it does the job. Here in the Irish midlands, ye would be the preferred plural form. In Dublin, Northern Ireland, and parts of Scotland, youse is normal. In parts of Northern England, singular thou is still used. –  TRiG Mar 12 '12 at 19:03
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My father, who is a linguist, claims that the theologians overwork the importance of the number of the second person pronoun. The community/individual dialectic is certainly a critical one in Scripture, but it is easy to go to far in studying it in the details of the pronouns. –  Kazark Apr 4 '12 at 15:26
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5 Answers

I would take a look at the NRSV. Depending on which version you get (there is a Catholic NRSV as well) you will commonly find a "you all" or "all of you" instead of simply "you." Although rather than being a "word-for-word" or "thought-for-thought" translation, it is somewhere in between. It does a fairly good job of making grammatical distinctions where important and providing the theological or historical idea where that is more important.

Also... the NKJV does a lot of what you might be looking for as well.

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics—Stack Exchange! Thanks for the answer, but I don't think either one does the second-person plural regularly, at least not for my test passages. (See 2nd Corinthians 3:1-3: NKJV. The NRSV does better, with "you yourselves" but it's not enough in my opinion.) –  Jon Ericson Mar 14 '12 at 16:04
    
You yourselves is actually because of the grammar in the Greek, not specifically because it is plural, but because of the construction, so I see what you're saying. Are you getting your comparisons for test passages directly from the KJV? –  iesou Mar 14 '12 at 18:40
    
Nevermind... I see you used the ASV –  iesou Mar 14 '12 at 18:52
    
I'm doing a naive conversion of "you" => "y'all" and "thou" => "you" from the ASV. But then I have to figure out how to deal with a whole mess of outdated words like "begat" and "guideth". It's a fun, goofy little project for me that, I hope, will end in a unique gift for my pastor. –  Jon Ericson Mar 14 '12 at 18:57
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The lack of second person plural is one of the least significant differences between Hebrew and English. It almost never leads to confusion, since context resolves the referent in nearly all cases. The suggestion of using y'all is no good, as y'all has backwoods connotations in English that the plural you doesn't have in Hebrew (or Greek).

Douglas Hofstadter has considered this issue regarding translation from French, where the second person plural "vous" and the second person singular "tu" are similarly distinguished, and further have a formal/informal connotation. His solution was to use a capitalized you, "You", for the second person plural.

This solution works for Hebrew. In reading aloud, a tonal difference can indicate the initial capital. So "You" would be pronounced "YOU" with high-tone (stress), while "you" is pronounced in the normal tone.

While doing the Wikisource translation, I will try to consistently use this convention for the Hebrew from this point on. I'll fix up the translated Hebrew to follow this convention also.

EDIT: The confusion brought up here with the capitalization convention regarding God is giving me second thoughts about this--- people will get confused. I think it is somewhat better to italicize plural you, youf,you, youf, to give the four forms: singular/plural generic-masculine/femininef. Further, the "f" subscript need only be used when there is confusion (as in the handful of feminine God references in the uncorrected Masoretic).

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Wouldn't a capitalization convention cause confusion in biblical translation, where it is customary to capitalize references to God? In this scheme a "you" addressed to God would never be capitalized, but a "you" addressed to the people always would be. I think this would confuse me. –  Gone Quiet Apr 4 '12 at 13:13
    
@MonicaCellio: Oh, good point! I did not consistently do the capitalization thing in regard to God, because there are some places where you aren't sure about whether the pronoun refers to God or not, and I wanted to preserve the ambiguity. –  Ron Maimon Apr 4 '12 at 17:37
    
@MonicaCellio: One could use you (italics) for God consistently, and this might be ok. I am wary of this because of the two or three places where the pronoun is not for sure God. –  Ron Maimon Apr 4 '12 at 17:48
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I would rather not treat pronouns referring to God in a special way, because as you said there are some ambiguities. But if you were to use capitalization for something else, readers might think you're doing the usual capitalize-God thing, which would throw them off. So if you're going to use typography to distinguish singular/plural, something like your suggestion of italics would be better (assuming a non-plain-text format). I don't mind "y'all", or even "yous", but any word of that sort is going to come across as informal. (Doesn't bother me; might bother others.) –  Gone Quiet Apr 5 '12 at 2:15
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@MonicaCellio: It will bother you, I'll make up a passage: The Amorites have risen, and Israel's daughters are taken captive, their tears upon their hem. Their tears like water down a stream. Their eyes redden, and they call to God: God, awaken from your slumber and release us from captivity. Our hopes have faded. And God answered them, saying "I have heard y'all, and I shall release yous's chains". –  Ron Maimon Apr 5 '12 at 17:17
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Different languages have different distinctions. The idea that something is "lost" is not entirely true. As another person commented, the purported "loss" is solved by context. All languages use redundancy, e.g. agreement, which makes sure that the message gets across.

Your pastor is right to note the importance of community in the Bible, and the lack of it in modern, North American culture, including the church. But that is a problem of such scope that it cannot possibly be solved, or even helped much, by a focus on pronouns, especially when there are explicit texts in the NT which address the issue very clearly and in which nothing is lost to the lack of a plural second person pronoun in English.

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! Thanks for the reminder that we don't always have to go back to the original language in order to understand Bible passage. I wanted to note here that my question was motivated less by a desire to understand the Bible and more by the desire to have a little fun with my pastor. It's also an interesting project to fool around with. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Apr 9 '12 at 17:07
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The New World Translation of The Holy Scriptures uses the capitalized YOU and YOUR convention to distinguish the second person plural. It's also, in my personal opinion, an excellent translation because it strives to convey the original thought accurately, rather than by paraphrase. It also disguishes between a number of tenses more accurately for example "Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom" (NW) versus "But seek first the kingdom" (NIV) at Matthew 6:33.

The text is available online here: http://www.watchtower.org/e/bible/index.htm

And some background information is available here: http://www.watchtower.org/e/20080501a/article_01.htm

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics.SE! Do you know what license governs making copies and changing the NWT? A public domain translation has the advantage of being free from copyright restrictions. Also, there are some potential problems with that translation's accuracy. But otherwise, this is a helpful suggestion. (+1) –  Jon Ericson May 1 '12 at 19:17
    
Jon, you point to John 1:1 "The word was God" (KJV). Granted, this is the traditional rendering of the verse but that does not mean it is the correct rendering. NW is not the only translation that renders John 1:1 that way. Please see: watchtower.org/e/ti/article_08.htm#john1 for other examples. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania holds the copyright but they distribute hardcopies free of charge (the printing is supported by voluntary donations). Thanks for the +1! –  John May 1 '12 at 20:11
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I encourage you to take a shot at answering the question I linked to. Comments aren't really the best place to sort through such questions. (Also, I see the only answer is pretty one-sided and it would be great to have the opposite viewpoint represented.) –  Jon Ericson May 1 '12 at 20:35
    
@JonEricson. For some reason, none of the Watchtower Society's stuff is available under free-content licenses. –  TRiG Jun 12 '12 at 22:33
    
@John. The publishers are the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, and copyright is held by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. Note the difference between Watchtower and Watch Tower. –  TRiG Jun 12 '12 at 22:35
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I've recently created a Google Chrome plugin that does this on a few bible websites: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/texan-bible-2nd-person-pl/hecahobcfkfdpifomfgoikegbeeiolmd

It's also an option here: http://biblewebapp.com/app/

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Hello and welcome to BH. This is very cool! ("This" being the web app, which I'm using from Firefox.) The detailed lexicon pop-ups are very handy. But I'm not seeing where the 2p-singular/plural distinction is being made; what did I miss? –  Gone Quiet May 22 '13 at 14:49
    
Open up the options panel (gear) and click the Texas icon :) Note, it's just NT for now, but I'll get the OT in there in a few days. –  John Dyer May 23 '13 at 19:33
    
Ah, that explains it -- I went straight to Tanakh, which is my area of interest. (Texas? Cute. :-) ) –  Gone Quiet May 23 '13 at 20:22
    
Wow! That's awesome. I'm giving you a big ol' +1 for your works which is exactly what I was looking for! I'd love to accept and make a big deal your answer... but it's not really a full answer. Maybe you could copy-n-paste the details text you wrote up for the app. But even better would be if you explained how you managed it. Did you learn something new about the Biblical languages? I'd love to hear more. In any case, a hearty "Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics to you!" –  Jon Ericson May 24 '13 at 23:17
    
This is so funny- I remembered this from your blog, and was going to mention it. Major shout out here: If you haven't read Dyer's book "From the Garden to The City," you are missing out. This dude is one of the coolest people out the right now! –  Affable Geek Jul 14 '13 at 3:07
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