There are 16 thoughts on “Is the Book of Mormon a Pseudo-Archaic Text?”.

  1. Gardner: “As for the language being archaic, that is only true for part of the text. More recently, Carmack has discussed aspects that are later than Early Modern English and closer to Joseph’s time, and including some syntax and vocabulary that cannot be found until after Joseph’s time. So the issue is not nearly as clean as you are stating it (though I believe you are accurately summarizing the way it was presented in Carmack’s earlier papers).” [emphasis added]

    Readers should know that when Gardner writes that only “part of the text” is archaic, part should be read to mean ‘the vast majority’.

    When one writes something like “part of the world”, “part of the country”, etc., the default interpretation of “part of X”—where X is large, as the Book of Mormon text is, with its approximately 270,000 words—is some indefinite amount that is less than half. This is the impression Gardner conveys here: that less than half of the Book of Mormon text is archaic in formation. The informed are able to interpret “part” differently in this case, but others will tend to think in default terms. As an experienced author, Gardner is aware of this.

    He also suggests in the above paragraph that my recent characterization of Book of Mormon language differs materially from what I have expressed in earlier papers. From what I can tell, he means that in years past I have said that the Book of Mormon was solely an Early Modern English text, but that I have now changed my stance to admit modern elements. This is wrong, and Gardner probably knows this. I will briefly make the case.

    In my first Interpreter paper in 2014, I specifically mentioned one aspect of the verbal system—auxiliary selection with unaccusative past participles—that was systematically modern (see issue 11, pages 239–240). (Beyond that, however, virtually all of the Book of Mormon’s verbal system—the core of grammar—is either an exclusive or best fit with broad, extra-biblical Early Modern English patterns.) Moreover, the abstract of my plural “was” paper begins with the following: “Because it is primarily an Early Modern English text (in terms of its English language)” (emphasis added; see issue 18, page 109). We can probably encounter language where my specific position is hard to determine, but the above notion is common enough in my papers, including the title of one: The More Part of the Book of Mormon is Early Modern English. Case closed.

    Readers should be on their guard when they read things written by Gardner about Book of Mormon language and translation. For example, he writes about (un)grammaticality in the Book of Mormon, here and elsewhere, without a solid grasp of the subject. A discussion of the language of 1 Nephi 15:13 on pages 183–184 of Gardner 2011, and other similar discussions there, indicate inadequate linguistic understanding. In that particular case, he failed to take into account natural language variation in his interpretation. Furthermore, none of his writings show that he has studied the matter of grammaticality in the Book of Mormon seriously. There is plenty of “bad grammar” in the earliest text that wasn’t Joseph’s bad grammar. And there is plenty of archaism that has not been edited and which has not been deemed to be (fully) ungrammatical. In addition, sometimes patterns of use are archaic, not necessarily individual instances. Did he not read this paper? If he did, then he has ignored a number of strikingly archaic patterns discussed in it.

    • Thank you for the clarification.

      Actually, I don’t think that the distinction that a majority of the text is Early Modern English is much of a difference. The critical evidence is that there are post-Early Modern English forms (and some not attested until after the publication of the Book of Mormon).

      One conclusion from those data is that the dating hypotheses based upon those data are flawed. Te second is that if there is only one translator, then that translator combined forms that Joseph would have known (but were unavailable in Early Modern English) with retained forms from Early Modern English (which had disappeared elsewhere).

      There next interpretive possibility is that the text wasn’t translated by a single translator. That would leave the possibility that some parts were written at different times by someone with grammar from multiple time periods–and then combined before given to Joseph. It is a hypothetical suggestion that might salvage an ideological position that the data would otherwise undermine.

      • Brant,
        You said “One conclusion from those data is that the dating hypotheses based upon those data are flawed.”

        I am not sure what dating hypothesis you are referring to. I it is the date of the translation, I do not believe that Stanford is proposing a prior translation. His main thrust, as far as I can determine, is to show the extreme unlikelihood that Joseph was the author of the text of the Book of Mormon.

        You also added, “T(h)e second is that if there is only one translator, then that translator combined forms that Joseph would have known (but were unavailable in Early Modern English) with retained forms from Early Modern English (which had disappeared elsewhere).”

        That is almost blindingly obvious. And as another poster or two have pointed out, we should fully expect that the Lord, the Holy Ghost to be fully capable in that respect and to be able to see forward past the time of the production of the Book of Mormon to include some phrases and expressions that were to come afterwards.

        To me as a believer in the “gift and power of God” explanation for the production of the Book of Mormon, the argument (by another believer) that the EmodE found in the Doctrine and Covenants and the “Plot of Zion” are evidences that it was part of Joseph’s linguistic environment that only showed when Joseph was speaking with his “prophetic voice” to be compelling. Stanford has pointed out with references that such usage would be unconscious and would show up in Joseph’s other writings.


        • Readers should be aware of some of Gardner’s assumptions. In his 2011 book he somehow knew that a divine interpreter wouldn’t have carried out a creative, dynamic translation. Now he somehow knows that the Lord wouldn’t have used some modern language in a mostly archaic translation. These are of course indefensible.

          The dating hypothesis you’re wondering about, Glenn, comes from a discussion elsewhere in which Gardner proposed to place a single date on the text by dating it to “the latest information”. He himself isn’t sure of what the latest information is, since he doesn’t research such things, so I supplied him with some possible examples. His dating proposal is meant to show that Joseph worded the text out of his own language because of modern elements in the dictation. This all rests on his second assumption above.

          The things I brought up elsewhere with Gardner as post-dating the Book of Mormon are textual curiosities such as unwearyingness and ites. These two are currently first attested outside the Book of Mormon after the year 1850. I also brought up one syntactic item, singular–plural “are a descendant of”, which I won’t discuss here, but which Skousen first brought up in a March 2015 lecture at BYU. These are all treated in Skousen’s forthcoming critical text books (June? 2018). I mentioned these vocabulary items as modern and no more in the context of a discussion about Gardner’s trivial and rigid dating proposal, but both of them could have been produced in the 1600s or earlier.

          According to the OED, analogous, lexical usage of the suffix ism is attested by 1680, and both wearyingness (1655) and unwearying (1600 and later) appear in the 1600s as well (see the OED and EEBO). All relevant affixes were common and productive, so that the words could have been produced in an English-language translation that chiefly involved Early Modern English competence (implicit knowledge). These aren’t necessarily the best examples, but they do show creativity in the translation.

          There is actually hardly anything in the Book of Mormon that should be thought of as strictly post-1750 language. Again, Gardner doesn’t know what those things might be from his own research, but he will express an opinion about them, as he did here about Book of Mormon (un)grammaticality, even though he hasn’t studied any of it carefully.

  2. Thank you brother Carmack… I just finished reading this article… and I have read your other nine articles… I can’t pretend to understand the full depth of the technical English grammar, syntax, sentence structure, etc.… But it still fascinates me to see the eme influence hiding in plain sight throughout the BoM. And I’m gaining an appreciation for the so-called “bad grammar.” I believe I learned from John Welch that “the quality of the (BoM) reading can never rise above the quality of the reader.” Hugh Nibley’s work (& many others) has helped me to take notice of old world & mesoamerican influence in the BoM… and after 40+ years of personal BoM study, reading hundreds of scholarly books and papers ( by the way, it saddens me to see the watered-down FARMS legacy) … I thought we were coming to the end of serious BoM study topics… Your work is showing that another sizable & exciting chapter is being opened… thanks also to Royal Skousen! The quality of all readers must now drammatically improve to keep up! Your work continues to show me why the BoM is an “unassailable” (GB Hinckley) cornerstone of our faith. Early modern english influence in the BoM pushes Jos. Smith Jr. way beyond “religious genius.” The BoM truly is a miraculous work & a miracle. I look for to your next 30 articles! Thank you

  3. Once again, another intriguing article. Thanks Stanford, for your careful and diligent research on this topic.

    I haven’t yet found anyone who has offered any sort of serious rebuttal or critique of your research on archaic syntax. Perhaps there is a trained linguist out there who is vigorously disputing your findings, but I have found one yet. Instead, the main reason for pushback, that I have encountered, is that people are prone to reject the conclusions of your analysis because they can’t think of a satisfactory reason (in their worldview) for why God would reveal an English text with systematic Early Modern syntax and lexical usage. In other words, the rejection doesn’t seem to be based on competing sets of data or alleged flaws in your research. It is almost entirely a response to having previous assumptions about the translation being upended by a more probative and exhaustive linguistic analysis.

    Maybe I’m wrong though. Is there some other reason that believing Latter-day Saints favor other translation theories even after they become aware of the Book of Mormon’s pervasive and systematic archaic syntax? And if so, how do they account for your data?

    Are they inclined to believe that ALL of these archaic syntactic features were present in Joseph Smith’s community and that somehow none of them made it in to the textual record? It seems its either that or else one has to assume that Joseph was reading extensively from a variety of Early Modern texts and that in hundreds of instances he was able to transcend his native syntactic patterns and intentionally implement a variety of archaic syntactic features that he had picked up on in his extensive research. Or perhaps there is some other proposal out there to account for this data and still maintain previous translation theories.

    • One of the previous translation theories is that Joseph Smith was given “impressions” of some sort that he put into words himself — in his uneducated English. The work of Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack is laying this old theory to rest, although the theory did not make sense to begin with. What “impressions” could be given to Joseph Smith that would cause him to formulate something like:

      ” I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.”

      • Since I have written on the topic of translation and have had my ideas described in the terms you are suggesting, I’d like to clarify. I cannot speak for anyone else, but using the word “impressions” is not a good description of what I think happened. I am speaking about the nature of translation (and Carmack and Skousen are describing the English of the translation, but not the relationship of the original Nephite to the English). When any good translator creates a text in a target language, they don’t change each word from the source language to the target. When they read the original, they understand the text. Then they put that understanding into the target language. That process might be very close to word for word, but things like word order will always require certain changes. What happens more often is that the meaning is translated. This is particularly true with idioms, where the intent is more intelligible than a literal translation.

        What I suggest is that the essential first step of a translation, understanding what the original said, is what was given to Joseph. I am suggesting that it was Joseph who produced the English. What Carmack and Skousen are suggesting is that this same process of understanding the original and transforming into English was performed by a person or by persons other than Joseph. So the evidence they are looking at can lead to a discussion of who translated, but not the way the translation occurred. It certainly can’t say anything about whatever the impressions of translation were, because that could have been the mechanism of translation to whomever the not-Joseph was who created the English text.

        • “What Carmack and Skousen are suggesting is that this same process of understanding the original and transforming into English was performed by a person or by persons other than Joseph.”

          I’m not as familiar with the two viewpoints as you are, and I know Dr. Carmack will likely speak for himself, but I have read Skousen (and viewed his presentations) extensively. I’ve never heard him try to persuade people that some “not-Joseph” translated the Book of Mormon. In fact, Skousen goes out of his way not to speculate about it when he is asked. (I know that once, a long time ago, he speculated about a translation “committee”, but has since disavowed that speculation and won’t comment on it further).

          You describe two competing viewpoints, but the two viewpoints, in my opinion, are these: either the Book of Mormon is a translated text (in the way you describe above), or the Book of Mormon is a revealed text, word for word. One viewpoint does well describing the data in Dr. Carmack’s article, the other doesn’t.

          The thrust of the article above (and of the rest of the work of Skousen and Carmack) is to accurately describe the archaic features of the text. This favors the argument that the text was revealed to Joseph, not translated by him. But if I were to cherry-pick something of a hypothetical, Carmack said, (in somewhat of a challenge to the “committee” theory): “Theoretically speaking, the profile of the person required for crafting much of the English language of the Book of Mormon was a first-rate, independent philologist — someone extremely knowledgeable in the linguistics and literature of earlier English, but not beholden to following King James patterns.” Personally I think that this is a perfect description of the Lord himself. He is the ultimate “first-rate, independent philologist – someone extremely knowledgable” “but not beholden”, he is the “not-Joseph”. There is no need to speculate any further. The Lord gave Joseph the words in a version of English that was older than Joseph, but the Lord was also the filter, so that there were no archaic words that Joseph wouldn’t understand.

          I think a good analogy is the Liahona. Words appeared there, but we don’t waste anytime speculating which person or people from an older generation put those words there. Rather, we understand that the Lord put the words on the Liahona. Same goes for the text of the Book of Mormon. Sure it was originally written by mortal prophets, but it was translated by the Lord faithfully into a beautiful old English. Then it was miraculously given to Joseph word for word. He dictated it faithfully and the scribes recorded it as best they could and now we can all read it and be blessed. Certainly a marvelous work and a wonder.

          • I believe you are correct that Skousen tries to stay away from speculation about the translator. However, I must point out that your suggestion that one viewpoint is that “the Book of Mormon is a revealed text,” sounds better than it is. I think we can agree that there was an ancient text on the plates that Joseph received, and that they were not in English. Even is the English were revealed word for word–it is the result of some type of translation. Hence, there is a translator somewhere. There is some relationship between English and the plate language. The “revealed text” part of the equation works when describing the source of what Joseph saw–but it doesn’t alter the questions about translation.

            As for the language being archaic, that is only true for part of the text. More recently, Carmack has discussed aspects that are later than Early Modern English and closer to Joseph’s time, and including some syntax and vocabulary that cannot be found until after Joseph’s time. So the issue is not nearly as clean as you are stating it (though I believe you are accurately summarizing the way it was presented in Carmack’s earlier papers).

            What about the suggestion that the translator had to be “a first-rate, independent philologist”? That would be correct if Joseph were attempting to generate that language. However, if those forms were retained (and would have been ungrammatical when the Book of Mormon was printed regardless of who produced them), then he was using an ungrammatical language that was ungrammatical in the same way that had been statistically more common earlier. Carmack’s more recent examination of the early revelations and the Plot of Zion suggest to me that those aspects of language were native to Joseph. Carmack very adamantly disagrees, and sees their presence in the early revelations as evidence that the same not-Joseph person or committee supplied the language to Joseph.

            The important aspect of the data is that once the description has been made, Dr. Carmack has looked to see if he can find the syntactic elements (and vocabulary) in available sources. Some he hasn’t found. Some that he has found post-date Early Modern English. Some, according to the data, post-date the Book of Mormon. So we don’t have an Early Modern English text–we have a text that has elements that post-date Early Modern English, but retain some of the older features (which, by definition, would have been ungrammatical). The problem is in the nature of attempting to prove a negative. The absence could be due to extinction (as suggested) or by the chance composition of the database.

          • Exactly what I have been thinking. The “committee” or non-Joseph translator (other than God) is redundant. God can make words appear on a rock but he needs help to translate? Doesn’t make sense to me.

          • // God can make words appear on a rock but he needs help to translate? //

            Everyone agrees God could do it, but WOULD he have done the translating? Normally, God works through his mortal servants to bring about His works. For example, in the request to Nephi and others to record their history and in commissioning Mormon to abridge the records God is calling on others. Shall we ask why God needs such help when He could do it himself?

          • I don’t expect God to record the history on Nephi’s behalf, just like I don’t expect him to write my journal for me. But I don’t know of anyone who assumes that someone other than God and Joseph Smith was involved with the English text of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price for instance. So I don’t see the need for that when it comes to the BoM either

        • I recently had an experience that I think may help explain what I mean be understanding as being at a different level than words. My mission language is Spanish, and I was writing something in Spanish. I was thinking in Spanish. I was vocalizing Spanish as I was typing. I came to the place where I should type “pero.” Again, I thought “pero.” I vocalized “pero.” My fingers typed “but.” In this case, the words have the same meaning and same usage, but the unconscious part of my brain that types English much faster than Spanish typed the meaning in what my fingers found to be easier–even though I was consciously trying to use Spanish.

  4. Stan, Thanks for your article. As always, it took a lot of brain activity for me to wade through the information, but it was worth it. I am impressed by the “more part” analysis. It would be interesting to see a simplified ( a nicer way to say “dumbed-down”) version of this and the other articles that you have produced that would make your work more approachable by the general church population. Any possibility?

    • I agree. I would love to see a simplified/dumbed down/”popular” version of this article and all of his previous, related articles.

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