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Very interesting, Dave. Thanks for this. I am particularly struck by the idea that we do not necessarily use "thou" in prayer because it is more respectful, but because it represents a close relationship with God.

Oh, and Typepad doesn't seem to like the URL for Our Thoughts.

Good stuff Dave. You said: "Thus the Early Modern English of Shakespeare and the KJV was still a language in transition." Of course languages always are in transition. I guess you are saying that at the time the KJV was translated the language was in a period of faster transition than usual?

Thanks for this. I am particularly struck by the idea that we do not necessarily use "thou" in prayer because it is more respectful, but because it represents a close relationship with God.

More precisely, people during the time of Shakespeare and King James used "thou" because it represented a close relationship with God. But now, the Church's rationale is the opposite. Unless you speak Spanish, French, or German, in which case you use the familiar form because it still reflects familiarity.

What's interesting is that this same phenomena occurred in the Dead Sea Scroll community. My translation even uses a different font for archaic terminology used in prayers and like with respect to God. I always found that kind of interesting.

"But now, the Church's rationale is the opposite."

I'm not sure about that.

"In our day the English words thee, thou, thy, and thine are suitable for the language of prayer, not because of how they were used anciently but because they are currently obsolete in common English discourse. Being unused in everyday communications, they are now available as a distinctive form of address in English, appropriate to symbolize respect, closeness, and reverence for the one being addressed." Elder Oaks, in the Ensign

Though I nitpick with these as well, I find Elder Oaks rationale different than that I had ascribed to the Church, ie. "we use them because they're more respectful" which we know is wrong, historically.

Oaks divorces it from historical usage.

Ben, does Elder Oaks really mean what he says, that we use thee and thou because they are obsolete in current spoken English? That strikes me as odd because the Church is quite happy to employ current spoken pronouns and forms of address for prayer in other languages. It's not like the rationale for prayer should vary across languages.

I'm more inclined to think no one is interested in changing or challenging an established practice, which then gets justified in various ways (Elder Oaks' attempt being one such justification) that don't really explain or justify the practice. One might as well say, "Thee and thou just sounds more prayer-like than you and your."


I suspect that the reason Elder Oaks gives defends not changing the practice more than anything else. Regardless of original reasons the practice developed in the church, over time there have been other reasons to continue it. It probably boils down to an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" view overall. I certainly don't think our continuing with the tradition is because God finds the idea of us referring to him a "you" instead of "thee" abhorrent.

Geoff, I actually find "thee and thou just sound more prayer-like" to be a workable practical justification. The same way the songs in the LDS hymnal (sung to organ or piano) sound more worshipful than the music one might hear in a contemporary Christian service. We just get used to the Mormon way of doing things.

I have heard an argument that middle and modern English reflect a "Creolization" of old English. It is common to lose grammatical, morphological markers in Creole languages, which develop when there is no common language between two co-existing populations (as we had with the Norman French and the Saxon peasantry). Under these circumstances, word order often becomes the most important grammatical marker (as we have in English).

It probably boils down to an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" view overall.

Speaking only for myself, I'm not sure it ain't broke. Is the language supposed to narrow or widen the distance between ourselves and God? The Oaks quote

...to symbolize respect, closeness, and reverence for the one being addressed.

provides contradictory answers: "closeness" on the one hand, but "respect" and "reverence" on the other. Those are distancing terms to me. But I know of others who don't find them to be such. Part of why I'm so weird, I guess.

Ben S.,

In the portion you quoted, Oaks does say that thee and thou are used "to symbolize respect." So what you had ascribed to the church: "we use them because they're more respectful" is correct.

It's a side issue whether the respect allegedly stems from the historical usage or from the obsolescence of the words. The fact is that respect is first on the list of what thee and thou are meant to show.

That's true Beijing, but don't forget the rest of the list. He also says "closeness" which to me is not like addressing a boss but more intimate. I can respect my parents and still adress them intimately.

I have little doubt that it's primarily tradition, but re-interpretation of tradition isn't necessarily wrong.

What I liked most about it is that he doesn't fall into the trap of arguing historical usage.

I'm just going to write how I talk. When I pray, I instinctively use thee and thou, but just once, I wish somebody would get up and give a talk on prayer and say, "God doesn't care how you address Him. He doesn't stop listening and start slapping the person who says "you."

There are so many converts and newly activitated (did I spell that right, it looks funny) in our ward, I worry they will worry too much over doing it right and completely lose the spirit. They will think God is mad and judging and unkind.

Spare me.

Interesting habit we have of 'formalizing' the informal. Isn't that what we do with the terms 'Brother' and 'Sister'. In the early church days, they were very tender and relational words truly depicting a sibling, i.e. "Brother Jospeh". Now we use these titles very formally- as very serious titles on letterheads and at the pulpit.

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