There are 22 thoughts on “How Joseph Smith’s Grammar Differed from Book of Mormon Grammar: Evidence from the 1832 History”.

  1. Brilliant. Thank you Interpreter for publishing Stanford Carmack’s illuminating paper.

    An observation: The translated text was viewed by Joseph Smith, through implements prepared for the purpose, in the same way that Lehi utilized a specialized, prepared tool, the liahona. Joseph supplied the faith, Moroni delivered the original record and the implements, or tools of translation/transmission. The process was divinely directed, and empowered by the priesthood of God.

    In the second round of translation, after the loss of the first 116 pages of manuscript, Joseph was allowed to use a more convenient, and for him, a more efficient set of translation/transmission tools, the seer stone, and a top hat. This was a significant, and simplified up-grade (think of the 1980’s version of mobile telephone, big as a concrete building block, versus today’s iPhone). Joseph still provided the faith, and used the tools provided to read a prepared text.

    Question: Who prepared the text? From the research presented, we can conclude that it was prepared by an individual, or individuals conversant with early modern English, circa 1500 to 1700. The text Joseph read by the gift and power of God, was written by individuals who lived, studied, spoke and wrote English between 1500 and 1700.

    Where is their translation lab? Could it be on the same campus that produced the liahona for the family of Lehi?

    For a modern-day, “LDS-independent” example of technology being prepared prior to it’s release in the physical world, and a vivid first person account of the educational laboratories, manufacturing facilities, and campuses of higher education, read, or re-read the experience of Dr. George C. Ritchie, in the book Return From Tomorrow, authored by Elizabeth Sherrill. Don’t be fearful of making this small leap of faith. For the faithful investigator, where else does the evidence lead?

    • Eric, I’ve written a paper on the question you pose regarding who prepared the text for Joseph to read in the stone. I think the BoM provides a strong textual clue in 3 Ne. 28: 32 as to the answer to this question, since the term “marvelous work” preceded by the article “a”, which is used in that verse, only has one referent in the Bible and BoM. That precise term, when used only in the singular form and not including the plural nonspecific general term “marvelous works”, occurs once in the Bible and seven times in the BoM, and it always refers exclusively to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. I propose that there were three men who could read the reformed Egyptian on the plates, one of whom had even recorded the events of 3rd Nephi and been given special responsibility by Christ for the completeness of the text. These three men had requested to be involved in furthering the gospel until the time of Christ’s coming in the last days, and were rewarded not only with being translated and not subjected to death, but being thereafter given a special assignment which would become their crowning achievement: the translation of the characters on the plates into early modern English. The BoM records these three kept in contact with Mormon and Moroni. They would have had access to the plates, and would live long enough to learn English when it developed. And, as you suggest, that would likely entail living amongst the Britons and reading what they wrote for two or three hundred years. They may have even monitored closely the efforts of the early great translators like Tyndale and borrowed from some of their vocabulary to know how to express certain concepts in English. Their task would be labor-intensive as was Mormon’s, and would last much longer. But they’d have the great honor of providing the text of the Book of Mormon which Joseph Smith would later read shining forth from the stone. If you’re interested in reading this paper on the hypothesized magnum opus of the “Three Nephites,” I’ll send it to you. I’ve discussed it with Stanford Carmack and a few other scholars who’ve expressed interest in the subject, and since you’ve raised the specific question it addresses, I thought I’d offer it to you too.

  2. Tight control has become a confusing term. One tendency is to think it refers to the nature of the translation. Skousen meant it to refer to the delivery of a translated text. On the human end, accuracy depended on the carefulness of Joseph and his scribes. There were breakdowns, as the original manuscript shows.

    Because the term tight control is confusing, I wrote the following in this short article: “For clarity, we must step back one degree and state that either ideas or words were transmitted to Joseph”.

    The translation that the Lord carried out appears to be a mixture of literalist equivalence, functional equivalence, and conceptual equivalence, to use terms employed in Gardner 2011. Among other things, the expert implementation of New Testament phraseology leads us beyond the literal. (To be clear, I do not agree with the conclusion of Gardner 2011 that Joseph rendered the English-language text from revealed ideas.)

    Historical accounts may be more likely to involve literalist equivalence. Doctrinal expositions may be more likely to involve functional equivalence. Determining those details has not been my focus, yet the translation seems to have been dynamic, ranging between literal and free.

  3. Brant Gardner says, “We need a mechanism that explains how Joseph could be the translator and still read what he saw on the interpreters or his seer stone.”

    The words Joseph saw were revealed in language he would use:

    “These commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.” (D&C 1:24.)

    “The Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.” (2 Nephi 31:3.)

    Therefore, even though he read the words, we can say that he is their translator.

    • In other words, if someone besides Joseph had done the translation, the words they saw would have been somewhat different from those Joseph saw, because the words would have been given in *their* language rather than Joseph’s.

      • Of course, the point of the whole paper is to show that Joseph’s words weren’t necessarily the same as those used in the Book of Mormon. So when I said “The words Joseph saw were revealed in language he would use,” I probably should have said “The words Joseph saw were revealed in language that would make sense to him as the translation of this ancient document.” Tricky stuff.

        • Jack, I don’t purport to speak for Stanford Carmack, but I think one might validly infer from the points Stan makes in his paper that Brant Gardner’s conclusions are wrong. Gardner doesn’t accept the “tight control” thesis that Skousen and Carmack are showing is substantiated by very compelling evidence. In other words, they’re showing that Joseph Smith didn’t modify or influence the wording of the critical text of the Book of Mormon. It wasn’t put into his own words, nor did he adjust it to his own understanding. He simply read what was written in the stone/interpreters.

          • Scott, unfortunately, the vocabulary we use to discuss the process by which we received the English text of the Book of Mormon gets messy. When Skousen and Carmack speak of tight control, it is in the reading of the text and the writing. This is problematic only in that one assumes that this speaks about translation. It doesn’t. It is transmission. Skousen and Carmack suggest that there was a translation from the plate text into English, but that it occurred some time prior to when Joseph received the text that was read.

            When we look at the translation, the question is whether that English text is tightly controlled from the plate text or whether there was some more functional translation. Nothing in the discussion about EME vocabulary or grammar touches on the question of the nature of the translation. It simply suggests that whatever kind of translation it was, someone other than Joseph did it. Past that, all questions of the relationship between the plate text and the English text remain.

          • I am not sure that this distinction between translation and transmission is entirely helpful. Transmit comes from latin and originally meant to ‘send across.’ Translate comes to English as a past participle through French, of the latin words trans and fer meaning to carry across and is nearly identical in latin meaning to our modern English word transport which also comes from latin and means, carry across. Certainly translate, transmit and transport have more nuanced modern English meanings, but they all refer to a process of taking something from one place to another. In the case of the modern meaning of translate, the transfer is of meaning from one language to another. When I have translated written documents from written English to French and vice versa, I have generally done it by myself and poorly. When I have communicated verbally with French people in France and in the Pacific French territories, I have normally done that one on one. But when I have communicated with French speakers in various African countries, there have often been three players in the process as we sought to understand one another. That is, I spoke in French to attorneys in DRC who had no English, but my assistant needed to help me understand the African accented French reply before I could proceed with the conversation. In Cote D’Ivoire, one Islamic French speaking attorney and I only communicated effectively if I spoke in French and he replied in his faltering English.

            Joseph and Emma both said that the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God. Joseph was a key player in that process. Stanford’s great work demonstrates that there were more players involved in the process of translation than we are accustomed to with secular translation. Part of the meaning of the statement that the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God now clearly means to me, that God organised a process. I do not think that makes the word translation inaccurate here.

  4. Stan

    Compelling evidence! Thank you. I thought that the “personal which” argument was especially strong.

  5. Great work, Stan. I especially appreciate not only your careful scholarship, but your willingness along with Royal Skousen to follow the evidence wherever it leads on the question of whether Joseph Smith was reading reformed Egyptian and “translating” it into his familiar English vernacular as a bilingual translator would do, or simply reading already-translated Early Modern English illuminated in the stone(s)/interpreters and dictating the text to the scribe. Many Book of Mormon enthusiasts and some scholars have resisted the latter model, which is supported (conclusively, in my mind) by the research Royal and you have done, and this fact adds an air of courageousness to your findings. I personally feel this resistance to your model stems from a desire among many to preserve the somewhat romantic and apologetics-driven notion that Joseph Smith can’t be what we purport him to be if he’s not the God-gifted linguistic translator who’s depicted in LDS paintings reading from golden plates. Because Joseph called himself a translator (probably having no better shorthand term to describe himself; “dictator” wouldn’t suffice), they want him to have exercised editorial prerogatives in rendering the text instead of accepting the evidence that the translation work had already been completed when Joseph peered into the hat.

    I think this research also has ramifications for our conception of what interpreters (the Urim and Thummim kind) do. It appears an ancient and lost text, already-translated, is transmitted into them by the power of God, and from them, by that same power, the words shine forth in darkness for the seer to read.

  6. Does this really make bofm historicity more probable, given the utter lack of evidence for nephites or lamamites in the americas? The church, with all its money should really put its money where its mouth is and fund some archaeological digs down in central america. Let’s see if limited geography has some legs? Otherwise, if EmodE is really in the bofm, pre-edited versions, then the logical place to look would be the bibles and other books JS had access to. Also, there are variants in the first edition of the book of mormon. How do we know which one is the correct one when JS was editing what went to the printer during the printing process? He also freely edited his work for the later editions. If god supposedly pre-translated the bofm, why all the subsequent edits?

    • With respect, JamesT, I don’t think you’ve been keeping up with the research of the Critical Text Project of the Book of Mormon. That the pre-edited BoM is full of EmodE has been so well established by Skousen and Carmack that even BoM critics have retreated back to previous arguments which they deem potentially more fruitful. And, none of the Bibles that existed in English at any time, let alone the ones Joseph “had access to”, have contained the same EmodE forms found in the BoM.

      Moreover, to assert that proving BoM historicity is solely dependent on proving Nephites and Lamanites existed in the Americas presupposes all sorts of non-sequiters. Does other existence of historicity not count, for some reason? Do you suppose you’ve successfully explained away the discovery of Nahom, and a truly unique place fitting the description of the first Bountiful, exactly where the BoM describes their locations? What about the strong Aramaic, Hebrew and Egyptian linguistic presence in the Uto-Aztecan language family in Mesoamerica and the southwest U.S.? How about the writings of Ixtlilxochitl, 200 years before the BoM was published, describing BoM events, etc., etc.?

      Moreover, how does one prove the existence of Nephites or Lamanites with an archaeological dig? The Olmecs didn’t call themselves Olmecs, nor did the Zapotecs called themselves Zapotecs, nor did the Maya call themselves Maya. Are we likely to find a sign that says, “Here resided the Lamanites” written in English or Spanish? If written in Mayan, how would we know the Mayan glyph for “Lamanite”? Are you sure Lamanites called themselves Lamanites? Since the writing of Nephites and Lamanites weren’t carved into stone, do leather or paper writing surfaces survive in the moist, rotting jungle and forest soils of Mesoamerica? They don’t, and neither do bodies. Using archaeological evidence, the Israelites still can’t be proven to ever have lived in Egypt as the Bible describes, nor did the great Battle of Hastings, which took place in 1066 CE, leave behind any relics. The horse-driven Huns left behind no horse bones. Does this prove their nonexistence?
      Here’s why Joseph’s edits, which we have and are aware of, happened. Because Joseph was a very unlearned man, and he thought the Book of Mormon was full of bad grammar which he didn’t know was acceptable EmodE from centuries before his time. He also didn’t know that the BoM contained abundant Hebraisms and chiasmus, and he didn’t understand any of the ancient knowledge contained within the Jacob 5 allegory, either. In fact, Joseph’s lack of understanding of so much of the BoM’s content is one of the great, ironic proofs that he had no authorial input into it.

    • Umm, I am not intelligent enough to form a solid opinion on what this all means without any training in this field, but I am intelligent enough to see multiple references to comparing the language to the Bible… one of your complaints

    • “Utter lack of evidence?” Methinks you should read Sorensen, “Mormon’s Codex” before you make that statement. Almost all the archeological evidence we have is post 400 AD; thus is irrelevant. There are very few written texts that survive; and none before 1000 AD; aside from monument inscriptions.

      Further, there are literally hundreds of ruins/cities that have simply not been touched for a variety of reasons. One, for instance, is a city where there exists a stele showing what looks an awful lot like Israelites meeting the local people–white skinned, bearded, etc. Right on the coast where the people of Mulek landed. Why hasn’t this place been studied more? Because the city is currently and has been for a while been pretty much a battleground between drug cartels and no one can get there safely.

      Stories like these abound. And the Church DID fund for several years digs down in Central America; much of what we do know about Mesoamerican history comes from Church funded digs back in the 60’s and 70’s. I don’t think Mexico allows it anymore.

      The point of the EmodE stuff is that it isn’t in the Bibles Joseph Smith had. The King James version, which is what was around, is not EmodE. Joseph, nor anyone else, could not have learned it from the KJV.

      As for variants in the first edition of the BofM, that’s what Skousen is all about. He’s sorted through everything and come out with pretty much the authoritative text as delivered to Joseph.

      Why the subsequent edits? Because the Book of Mormon is very good Hebrew and Early Modern English; it’s pretty bad modern English. Changing it to read better for us is only natural. Joseph was very unlearned when the first translation was made; he faithfully copied whatever was revealed to him. But the Joseph of later days was very educated indeed; knowing Hebrew and others. He was much more literate, and could therefore go back and make the BofM much more accessible to the regular English reader.

      So why not just translate it into perfect proper English in the first place? I suspect the main reason is simply to show that Joseph couldn’t have written it. Plus, and this is my guess, Early Modern English is probably better for Hebraic stuff than today’s English. A simple comparison of the KJV and some of the modern translations I think demonstrates that for all the modern version’s technically better translations, the KJV sounds and reads better.

      Look, EmodE is a total surprise to everyone. It’s one of those “Say Whaaaa?” moments. I think Carmack and Skousen have a really compelling case that the Book of Mormon text as translated was early modern English– a dead dialect at the time of translation, and one not known or spoken. It’s still legible (unlike reading Spencer or Chaucer in the original), but nevertheless it’s a dead dialect. I suspect the Book of Mormon is the last work written in EmodE.

      So everyone is now asking “Why?” And “how?” I can’t write an EmodE text. Who can? Maybe what, 100 people, all of them academics? Same question for Joseph Smith’s time: Who could write a distinct EmodE text? He couldn’t, as this article shows. I doubt Oliver Cowdery could.

      This whole EmodE thing makes the “oh Joseph wrote the text” I think impossible. Or anyone else in 1829. The text is here, it must be explained. If it’s not a translation of an ancient document, then who had the ability to write a lengthy EmodE text with all the Hebrew structures/fine details that have been previously discovered (things like chiasmus, the ancient coronation pattern, covenant patterns, etc) as well as extensive knowledge of ancient MesoAmerican culture and practices (stuff like cement and peculiar Mayan-style combat, for instance)?

      EmodE in the Book of Mormon adds another strenuous requirement to the list of things that the author of the Book of Mormon must have known, if you say it’s a fake. The list of candidates who could have been the author of the Book of Mormon seems to be vanishingly small, if nonexistent. Even a committee seems highly unlikely.

      Brigham Young is reported to have said once that “The Book of Mormon was either of God or of the Devil, but man had nothing to do with that book!”

      I think the evidence is growing clearer and clearer that no one in 1829 or thereabouts could have written the Book of Mormon. It’s simply not possible.

  7. This is an excellent rebuttal to those who say that that Early Modern English could have been fossilized in Joseph Smith’s grammar. Now they will be forced into their same old meme of “it doesn’t mean anything if it is not peer reviewed.”

    • I can attest that it was peer reviewed. (Of course, some would not consider the fact that the article passed peer review as prima facia evidence that either (1) the wrong peers did the review or (2) the peers were somehow deficient in intellectual or ethical honesty.)

      • Deficient peer review can be laid bare by crucial substantive gaps in a paper’s treatment. When non-experts neglect prior on-point scholarship, that can lead to lamentable inaccuracies.

        Fortunately, this paper benefited from two reviews by competent linguists whose criticisms were carefully considered and incorporated, eliminating some of its deficiencies, reducing the potential to mislead.

  8. Stan:

    Thanks so much for another article that analyzes the relevant data to confirm the intriguing fact that Joseph Smith received the very words of the Book of Mormon from God. Your work, together with that of Royal Skousen, gives me great confidence as I study the Book of Mormon. The words in the Earliest Text, as defined in the Oxford English Dictionary with an emphasis on the Early Modern English period, are helping me gain a greater understanding of the glorious message the Lord has given to his children for our day.

    I’m sure I don’t appreciate all the work you have put into this effort, but because of your research, I believe I am understanding more clearly some of the plain and precious truths Joseph Smith received from God.

  9. Mr. Carmack, thank you for addressing the idea that Joseph Smith spoke a dialect of Early Modern English. It’s fascinating that even the word choices in the Book of Mormon suggest that Joseph did not write the book.

    I know this was a quick study, but it would be beneficial to do a similar study on Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and other potential Book of Mormon writers. I also think it would be helpful to show some 1830 results as a control.

    Since this study rules out Joseph (or any contemporary for that matter) writing the Book of Mormon, the one hypothesis that still needs to be ruled out is Joseph memorizing a text. I was thinking that when someone repeats a memorized text of any length, they will eventually make a mistake. When the dictator attempts a correction, how do they do so? Is there a pattern that is common among different people? Would Joseph’s corrections be different than any other person’s? I see this as a possible avenue to show that the Book of Mormon wasn’t memorized but dictated. I’m not a qualified person to make these judgements. But someone who works with texts and the process of diction would be qualified. Perhaps this has already been addressed elsewhere.

    Thanks again for the provoking article.

  10. I find this to be a particularly compelling and cogent discussion of important data, greatly undermining the widespread notion that the Book of Mormon was dictated in Joseph’s own language. Clearly something else is going on. Thank you for the extensive analysis and the data-heavy approach. The conclusions are not driven by some desperate apologetic agenda (Joseph dictating inspired information in his own language, bad grammar and all, poses no serious problem and is what many Book of Mormon believers had long been taking for granted). Rather, it is a careful consideration of detailed data that demands considering a surprising new possibility, that specific words were being given somehow that provide a general KJV feel while often reflecting archaic norms slightly before the KJV translation. There is a surprising archaic linguistic fingerprint in the text that we’ve been ignoring all along, and it doesn’t appear to be Joseph Smith’s or anything he or those close to him could have concocted in any plausible scenario.

    FWIW, I also looked at the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants to see if some of the unique EModE-like features of the Book of Mormon identified in your work were also present there, and was surprised at how significant the differences were. See “Did You Notice? What the Doctrine and Covenants Tells Us About the Earliest Text of the Book of Mormon” and “Another Test: The 1835 Doctrine and Covenants Use of Command Syntax and What It Tells Us About the Language in the Book of Mormon,” both from Aug. 2015 at Mormanity.blogspot.com. Those were just preliminary, quick explorations. I look forward to more thorough analysis from you and others in the future.

    Thank you for this fascinating contribution!

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