There are 6 thoughts on “Bad Grammar in the Book of Mormon Found in Early English Bibles”.

  1. Thanks, Stan, for providing this additional data and linguistic analysis. Those of us who aren’t linguists appreciate your meticulous work, together with that of Royal Skousen and others. It clarifies that the original Book of Mormon language received by Joseph Smith has more in common with the language in these early English Bibles (to which Joseph Smith had no access) than with the rural American English of Joseph’s day (the English of upstate New York in the 1820s). This clarification provides context for our understanding of Book of Mormon passages. With a better understanding of the nature of Book of Mormon English, we can more easily grasp the intended meaning of these passages.

  2. Thanks, Stan. I always appreciate your papers, which have contributed greatly to our understanding of the language of the Book of Mormon.
    Have you considered the possibility that instances of non-standard grammar in Bibles and other texts of the Early Modern Period are misprints or incomplete edits rather than intentional? Bibles of this period are known for their printing errors, and other books would have presumably likewise suffered. Bibles, with their many versions and printings, give us more data to work with in identifying printing errors. I am limiting my comment to instances of “things which/that is,” since I am most familiar with those. You provide 3 examples of this syntax from 16th century bibles. All 3 instances appear to be misprints instead of intentional usage of “plural s.”
    – 1540 edition of the Great Bible at Proverbs 21:7 “the things that is right.” – While it is true that the Bible you looked at, printed in 1540 by Petyt and Redman, has “thynges that is,” the page image at archive.org of the Great Bible printed that same year by Whytchurche has the expected singular “thynge.” This difference between presses is a clear sign of a printing error.
    – 1561 edition of the Geneva Bible at Wisdom of Solomon 2:11 “for the things that is feeble.” – The page image of the 1560 edition (1st printing) at archive.org shows the expected singular “thing,” as does the page image of the 1594 edition. It is unlikely that an unnecessary change from “thing” to “things” was intentionally made just for the 1561 printing. “Things” is better explained as a misprint.
    – The Great Bible and the Bishops’ Bible, Jeremiah 15:19 (you have as “1 Esdras 6:23”) “the things that is precious.” — The Great Bible and Bishops’ Bible (which is a choppy revision of the Great Bible) both indeed have the plural “thynges.” The Great Bible takes its language for Jeremiah from Coverdale’s translations, which have the expected singular “thynge.” Specifically, this verse in the Great Bible reproduces the language of the Matthew Bible exactly except for the added “s.” If the addition of the “s” were intentional, it would have been done by Coverdale himself, since he prepared the Great Bible. But there is no apparent reason for him to have revised his previously published translation to an atypical syntax by making the noun plural, especially since the singular better matches the sense of the Hebrew.
    The biblical examples of “plural was” that you provide are also explained most reasonably, in my view, as misprints or incomplete editing (I would be glad to elucidate). Instead of demonstrating that plural is/was was acceptable in printed works, these examples from a few Bibles show how errors of this sort can creep into printed texts. This lesson should apply as well to non-biblical texts. Could misprints or incomplete editing explain much of the plural is/was in non-biblical texts of the 16th century?
    You mention that the relative frequency of “things which/that is” is greatest in the 16th century. I searched the Phase 1 EEBO 16th century corpus for “things which is,” including all the variant spellings: things, thinges, thingis, thyngs, thynges, thyngis, which, whiche, whych, whyche, as well as rarer forms. There were 22 hits. (As you note, there are many more with “that.”) However, in 15 of these 22 instances, “things” is not the agreement controller (I’ll be happy to share this data). This leaves only 7 instances (and a couple of these are ambiguous) of “things which is” with plural “s” in the corpus of 2,940 texts (1500-1599). (Compare this with 15 instances in the single Book of Mormon.) In contrast, I find 2,062 instances of various spellings of “things which are” for the same period. If the 3 examples of “things that is” in 16th century bibles are misprints, then might printing error or incomplete editing also explain these 7 examples of “things which is” in other 16th century texts?
    I’m not suggesting that “things which is” with plural “s” was not used in the 16th century. It certainly was, just as it continues to be used now (examples can be found in COCA), and as it was also, no doubt, in Joseph Smith’s day. But then, as now, I suspect it was more common in hurried speech (and editing, and typesetting, and dictating) than as intentional usage in printed works.

    • The bigger picture is that the Book of Mormon has a lot of less-common Early Modern English in it, including this feature: “things «rel. pron.» is” was less common than “things «rel. pron.» are”; “things which is” was less common than “things that is”. The Book of Mormon might have more instances than any other text of uncommon “things which is”.

      Clear signs of printing error aren’t clear in various instances—they’re possible printing errors. Yet the less-common grammatical usage, which could be errors in specific cases, was current. And that currency led to either variation, at times felicitous, or to inadvertent errors. For example, plural “things” nicely parallels plural “robberies” in Prov. 21:7. There’s nothing wrong with it on its face, in terms of the usage, abstracting away from what the underlying Hebrew is.

      In EEBO1, the textual frequency of “things «rel. pron.» is” is greater in the 16c over the 17c. This evidence from the largest corpus of Early Modern English suggests greater frequency in the language generally. I’ve gathered what look to be 11 instances of “things which is” in the 1500s, plus another from 1497. We can compare our examples offline and come to a consensus. Whether it’s 7 or 11 or 9, however, it’s supported by the more prevalent “things that is”, as well as other plural “is” language (and plural {-s}, generally, which linguists discuss). Therefore a general dismissal of it as error would be a mistake itself. I just saw another potential instance of “things that is” in the Bishops’ Bible, in a note: “Gods prouidence ſtretcheth to the leaſt thin⸗ges that is: ſo that Charret wheeles can not be out of the reache” (maybe a comma’s missing after “things”).

      Of course, plural “was” is a reality of earlier English discussed by linguists, just as plural {-s} is. Plural “was” was in plentiful use in the 16c and thus available to Bible translators and typesetters. The 140+ instances in the Book of Mormon are a very high number for a single text. Again, this isn’t just a one-off feature of the text. It has a lot of less-common language in it at (near) record-setting levels, textually speaking: “save it were”, “save it be”, “if it so be”, “had spake”, subordinate “that”, ditransitive clausal complementation, finite clausal complementation, personal “which”, periphrastic “did”, etc.

      • I agree with your bigger picture, that overall, the language of the Book of Mormon does reflect earlier English. Please forgive my incorrect date range for the 16th century (should be 1501-1600, not 1500-1599). Using the correct date range, the number of hits of “things which is” is 23, not 22, and 16 of these appear to involve an agreement controller other than “things,” which still leaves 7 instances of “things which is” with plural “s” as I read them. (Since you see 11 instances, I’ll share my interpretations off-line.) The number of hits of “things which are” and the number of texts searched would also change slightly with the one year shift.

  3. Stanford Carmack has almost single-handedly caused (along with Royal Skousen) our understanding of archaic early-modern English as found in the Book of Mormon to be entirely re-thunken. Pardon the pun on the bad grammar, but who would have guessed that something that caused a furor among grammarians of times past should now become so readily explicable (even if we don’t really understand all the exact reasons behind the phenomenon.) Where grammarians complained vociferously about the grammar as found in early editions of the Book of Mormon, Stan reveals that there were numerous antecedents for this “bad” grammar in Early Modern English.

    The entire thesis becomes a conundrum: Grammatical usages of late Early Modern English is pervasive throughout the Book of Mormon; countered by it’s corollary: why is Early Modern English found spread throughout the Book of Mormon?

    We may never know the answer in this life, but it presents a whole new paradigm of Book of Mormon authorship assessment.

    (For those who have not previously reviewed Stanford Carmack’s other articles in the Interpreter regarding Early Modern English and the Book of Mormon, you may want to search his name via the search bar or just read the other articles as written by him. The previous topics are every bit as well researched and just as incredibly informative.)

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