Readability and German Bibles

Open Access
Shrefler, Nathan Laurence
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 10, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Barry Richard Page Jr., Committee Chair
  • Carrie Neal Jackson, Committee Member
  • Steve L Thorne, Committee Member
  • Sinfree Bullock Makoni, Committee Member
  • Luther
  • Bible
  • Lexical Density
  • Readability
The primary goal of this dissertation is to compare two German Bible versions in terms of readability and related linguistic features: the classic translation of Martin Luther and the more modern translation Hoffnung für alle. Both versions, at the times of their publishing, claimed to be done in a style consistent with the ways in which contemporary Germans used their language – that they were, in effect, very readable. I will be focusing specifically on aspects of the texts that contribute or detract from the ease of reading. I examine identical sections from the two Bible versions, including the four New Testament Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. In order to compare the readability of these two texts, I explore four linguistic areas via the use of corpus analysis: 1) lexical density, 2) clausal complexity, 3) nominalization, and 4) lexical bundles. Each of these areas is analyzed based on markers that can be searched for within the corpus, relying mainly on part-of-speech tagging of content words and conjunctions, suffix markers of nominalization, and the frequency of recurring lexical bundles. Using the patterns established via corpus analysis, I discuss the implications of those patterns for readability. There has been much criticism and praise of both versions of the Bible to be discussed here. Most criticism, however, is based on limited linguistic data. It is the aim of this project to compare the two versions via statistically prevalent linguistic aspects of readability found in the two texts. Critique based on a systematic study of readability will contribute to the vast literature already present on Bible translation, as well as to the literature engaged in the study of Luther and his works. Results show that Luther was the more readable text for its contemporaries from all aspects of statistical analysis used here.