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More Bits of the Bible in English dialects …and what to call this stuff December 26, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, Dialect versions, Scripture Engagement.

Yo’n often wondther’t, aw darsay, why wi durn’t o talk th’ same lingo! Well! aw lippen
ther are various explanations, an’ ‘ere’s one fro’ th’ owd book, as sarves as a soart o’
link between Noah’s new start an’ th’ foundin’ o’ th’ Jewish nation.

Brooks, Rev. Joseph Barlow, Th’ Amazin’ Stories o’ th’ Bible (i’ th’ Lankisher Dialect) (1937)

There are over 7000 languages in the world, and many of those consist of a variety of dialects that are also very much part of people’s local identity. Samples of text from Th’ Amazin’ Stories o’ th’ Bible are available here as part of a collection called the Salamanca Corpus but neither these nor the 1938 edition of Th’ Good News accordin’ to Mark : Arrang’t an’ thranscrib’t fer Northerners, i’ th’ Lankisher appear to be available in print or in copies circulating in used bookshops.

I’ve recently blogged about the Gospels in Scouse, which was endorsed by the (then) bishop of Liverpool, the Cockney and Aussie Bibles, endorsed by the (then) Archbishop of Canterbury, the (then) Archbishop of Sydney and the (then) deputy prime minister of Australia.

One version that I’d heard of but not looked at was Clarence Jordan’s Cotton patch gospel which in a later imprint included an introduction from the former president Jimmy Carter. Clarence Jordon’s, Cotton Patch Version was billed as “a modern translation with a Southern accent, fervent, earthy, rich in humor.” and is infamous for not only for the style of language in his retelling but for also substituting the place names to southern USA locations, and switching the names of the a few people such as the twelve disciples: Rock, Jack, Jim, Andy, Phil, Tom, Bart, Matt, Jim Alston, Simon the Rebel, and Joe Jameson.

The three other titles pictured above don’t have such prestigious endorsements. Dew Yew Lissen Hare by Colin Riches uses Norfolk dialect, Andrew Elliott’s Geordie Bible is in the local dialect of Tyneside, and for those readers of this blog who are unfamiliar with the Black Country of Kate Fletcher’s 1986 dialect work, it refers to coal rather than ethnicity and an area of the UK’s West Midlands covering Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall. I also previously blogged about an older 1968 Black Country Nativity and about “Gods Brainwave: The Story of Jesus doing the job his old dad sent him to do” by Bernard Miles a retelling of the gospel in the language of the Chiltern Hills, originally commissioned for radio by the BBC’s Religious Broadcasting department.

One characteristic of the various ‘retellings’ of Bible stories in English dialects that I’ve encountered is that they would make many a number of people, especially Bible translation consultants, nervous about referring to them as translations.

Fortunately “ A guide to Bible Translation: People, Languages, and Topics“, published by UBS in 2019 provides another term used by scholars for these works: “Adaptive retellings”. The article on this is an edited version of an earlier article by SIL’s Freddy Boswell, “Classifying cotton patch version and similar renderings as adaptive retelling rather than translation

Each retelling seems to be full of anachronisms, often add unnecessary detail an dialogue, and are as Boswell notes “Lexically, very expressive”. Are they meant to be taken seriously? Yes and no. They are meant to be fun but also engage people who wouldn’t necessarily read much if any of the “proper” translations but are intended to set the stage for something deeper.

There is a lot to consider (hence a nice long academic article) but in point 11 of his conclusions Boswell stated “Perhaps it goes without saying, but I will state the obvious: I believe the Adaptive Retelling approach definitely qualifies as a legitimate, useful, and potentially highly successful entry point for delivering God’s Word to a language group”.

It’s the day after Christmas as I write this blog and I’m not sending any work emails until the new year, but I do look forward to asking a few colleagues what they think of this approach and in one contexts they consider it might be appropriate.


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