Thursday, August 31, 2006

And the Word Became Ink


Lou's comments on thinking about type-faces and God resonates with some work I'm currently doing on English translations of the Bible. As an aside I've been noting how different type-faces are employed to help communicate different things about faith, and how they implicitly say certain things about the theology of scripture.

Tyndale's 1536 New Testament (the first English Protestant New Testament) was radical in its down to earth translation ("Tush, ye shall not die!" says the Serpent to Eve) and for the first time introduced paragraphs for ease of reading. But it lacked chapter and verse numbers and was set in blackletter type face which still made it more difficult to read, somewhat undermining Tyndale's hopes of making the Bible accessible to plough-men.

By 1560 the Protestant Geneva Bible had added chapters and verses for the first time, and it reset the text in a Times font which made it much easier to read. They also added marginal notes. The Geneva Bible was a very accessible Bible study tool and during the English Civil war it was issued in a pocket book form and became known as the 'Soldier's Bible'.

ultimately its type face, its translation, and its notes proved too radical and so the 1611 King James Bible conservatively returned to blackletter types, cut out the notes, and toned down the translation. Here once again was a view of scripture as venerable religious object.

The use of different type faces to help nuance the meaning of the Bible is by no means a Reformation concept. Anglo-Saxon monks at Jarrow deliberately used newer Carolingian miniscule type faces to communicate something about their connection with the latest religious learning on the continent, in contrast to other Biblical texts in Anglo-Saxon England and in Ireland which were dependent on older Celtic script forms.

One could continue the comparisons in modern translations...

For the nerdy there's a great site here with lots of facsimiles for comparison.

And on the earlier use of type faces by the Anglo-Saxons there are some useful pointers on the Carolingian Miniscule Wikipedia entry.

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