Three versions of the story of the prodigal son, Luke 15

Old English:

He cwæ∂, so∂lice sum (1) man haefde twegen suna. 
∂a cwæ∂ se gingra to his fæder;
“Fæder, syle me minne dæl (2) mine æhte ∂e me to gebyre∂.”
∂a dælde (3) he him his æhte.
∂a æfter feawa dagum ealle his ∂ing gegaderude se gingra sunu.
and ferde wræclice on feorlen rice (4).
and forspilde (5) ∂ar his æhta lybbende on his gælsan; (6)
∂a he hig hæfde ealle amyrrede ∂a weard mycel hunger on ∂am rice and he weard wædla; (7)
∂a ferde he and folgude anum burhsittendan (8) men ∂æs rices. (9)
∂a sende he hine to his tune ∂æt he heolde his swyn; (10)
∂a gewilnode he his wambe (11) gefyllan of ∂am biencoddun ∂e da swyn æton, and him man ne sealde.

1. cwæ∂, 'said,' compare quoth, quotha; sum, 'some'  The OE says, "Some guy..." which doesn't sound very biblical. How would we say this today?
2. dael, 'portion'  -- we still use deal in this sense: to deal cards; new deal, raw deal, fair deal
3. dealt
4. rice, 'kingdom, country' compare mn. german Reich.
5. spill = waste
6. goods living large
7. weedless; weeds = clothes, as in the expression widow's weeds
8. literally, 'burg-sitting,' or bourgeois
of the country (note the genitive in both the article and the noun)
10. swine
11. womb now means 'uterus;' in Old and Middle English it meant the more general 'stomach.'   Do we use stomach in MnE to mean more than the organ of the digestive tract located between the esophagus and small intestine?

Middle English:

And he saide, A man hadde twei sones;
and the 3onger of hem seide to the fadir,
“Fadir, 3yue me the porcioun of catel, (12) that fallith to me.”
And he departide (13) to hem the catel.
And not aftir many daies, whanne alle thingis weren gederid togider,
the 3onger sone wente forth in pilgrymage in to a fer cuntre;
and there he wastide hise goodis in lyuynge lecherously. (14)
And aftir that he hadde endid alle thingis, a strong hungre was maad in that cuntre, and he began to haue nede.
And he wente, and drou3 hym to oon of the citeseyns of that cuntre.
And he sente hym in to his toun, to fede swyn.
And he coueitide to fille his wombe of the coddis that the hoggis eeten, and no man 3af hym.

12. catel, cattle, in the broadest sense of goods, not a herd of cows; even when cattle began to refer to animals, it was still used more broadly than it is today; cattle could even refer to camels, horses, mules and sheep. Cf. chattel, a word still used, esp. in legal terminology, to refer to possessions.  The ONormanFrench source also gives us capital.
13. departide = gave, in the sense of divided, apportioned, not the modern sense of 'left, went away.'
14. lecherously, in the more general sense of wastefully; compare the MnE word luxury.

Early Modern English (from the King James Bible):

And he said, A certain man had two sons:
And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth (15) to me. And he divided unto them his living.
And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
And he would fain (15) have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.

14. falleth, today we use -s to signal the third person sg. present tense of the verb
15. fain. There are a number of EMnE words which we no longer use on a regular basis, but still recognize.  We may use them occasionally in a comic context, or when we are mimicking "old language."  Can you think of some other words that work this way as well?


Some things to consider:

  1. Differences in vocabulary: an increase in French- and Latin- vocabulary from OE to MnE; what happens to the vocabulary between ME and EMnE? what OE words are lost in MnE? what ME words are lost in MnE?
  2. Differences in vocabulary: look for meaning changes involving narrowing, broadening, or other sorts of shifts
  3. Differences in grammar: look for changes in terms of the use of inflections for nouns, articles and adjectives; increased use of prepositional phrases in ME and EMnE to replace nominal inflection;
  4. How might a Modern English translation differ from all of the earlier versions?
  5. Using three translations of the same biblical passage can reveal some of differences attributable to change in language. But biblical texts not necessarily reflective of the language people use in everyday life.  What gets left out of the picture when we look at these sorts of examples?