There are 59 thoughts on “A Look at Some “Nonstandard” Book of Mormon Grammar”.

  1. The phrase “I would that ye should” appears fifty (50) times in The Book of Mormon, (13 times by King Benjamin) Four (4) times in the Doctrine and Covenants (D & C 9:1; 46: 7, 10; 53:7) but never occurs in the Bible.

    Is this phase from Early Modern English?

    There is most often great counsel immediately after this phrase.

    Appears that Lehi modified this phrase somewhat: “wherefore, my sons, I would that ye would remember, yea, I would that ye would hearken unto my words.” (2 Ne. 1:12) (see also Alma 34:31; 38:10)

    Nephi also modified the phrase: “I would, my brethren, that ye should” (1 Ne. 22:10) Later in the same chapter: “Wherefore, my brethren, I would that ye should” (1 Ne. 22:30) Also, “they would that I should” (2 Ne. 5:18)

    Moroni’s abridgment and or editor of the Book of Ether: “he would that they should” (Ether 2:7)

    Moroni as he begins his final chapter modifies the phrase to: “I would that they should” (Moroni 10:1)


    • I asked Stanford and he kindly sent me this:

      If we generalize the phraseology just a bit, then we find about a dozen in the NT:

      (Matthew 7:12, Mark 9:30, Mark 10:35, Mark 10:36, Luke 6:31, Luke 19:27, Acts 18:14, Romans 11:25, 1 Corinthians 10:1, 1 Corinthians 10:20, Galatians 2:10, Philippians 1:12)

      WordCruncher search logic used: ” would* &.5,0 that &.3,0 should* “.

      Matt. 7:12, for example, is “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”

      So based on these finds, I think it’s fair to say that a similar pattern does occur in the KJV, though not exactly as “I would that ye should.”

  2. Where “ye was” is said to have been used in the BofM Alma 7:18, I checked the digital scriptures at the church’s website and found that this has been changed/corrected to “ye were”. Do you know when this was corrected/changed and why?

    • 1837, Joseph Smith marked the printer’s MS for the change. See GV 882:
      aa0718 ye [ was >js were 1 | was A | were BCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRST ] not in the state of dilemma like your brethren

  3. Stanford

    In a recent, unrelated search I ran across this citation from a book titled “On Affliction and Desertion. By way of consolation and instruction.” (1838, London, Revised by the Rev. J. East, M.A., p.51).

    “Have not only half thy soul upon that “rock which is higher than thou,” Psalm lxi. 2 ; but get all upon it, and when all fails, renew thy faith on his name. Thereon rest: there die. To this purpose may that of Solomon serve. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it, and is safe,” Prov. xviii. 10.”

    The part that is of interest, of course, is “faith on his name.” One could argue, based on the 1838 publication date that this usage was borrowed from the Book of Mormon, but it could also show a contemporary usage of that phrase around the time that Book of Mormon was first published.

  4. Can you please address the confusions that occur with variants of the formal/plural and singular of you vs thou/thee. It seems there are errors of this sort in both the BoM and D&C at equal rates. (See section 10 where ‘you’ should be thou/thee. 2 Ne 3:1, 2 Ne 7:1, 2 Ne 32:9,…etc)

    • Some say they are Smith’s errors or someone else’s. Not so. It is EModE. The OED definitively tells us that the pronoun ye was used to address both an individual and more than one person, and in both the subjective case and the objective case, starting in late Middle English and continuing on into the Early Modern English era. Ye was a versatile pronoun. Notice the BofM-like switch in the following examples. I have found many like this.
      1507 Walter Hilton Scala perfectionis
      If thou loue moche god, ye lyketh for to thynke vpon hym moche.
      If thou love much God, ye liketh to think upon him much
      where like = ‘feel inclined to’
      1572 yee shall do vvhat so euer I commaund yee, neither shalt thou adde any thing thereunto, nor take any thing therefrom.

      Please examine Matt.6:1-8 and Deut.13:1-5 for switching. Ye was used instead of thou in addressing a single person from the year 1300 onward (originally as a mark of respect or deference, later generally).
      OED examples.
      1390 Gower Conf. I. 47
      Ma dame, if ye wolde have rowthe.
      1411 Rolls of Parlt. III. 650/2
      My Lord‥I knowe wele that ye be of such birth estate and myghte that [etc.].
      c 1450 Merlin i. 15
      Moder,‥be not dismayed, for ye shull neuer be Iuged to deth for my cause.
      1481 Caxton Reynard xxi. (Arb.) 51
      Saye that ye your self haue made the lettre.
      c 1489 ― Sonnes of Aymon xiv. 336
      Good lord, ye created & made our fader Adam.
      1590 Spenser F.Q. i. viii. 26
      The royall Virgin‥him thus bespake‥How shall I quite the paines, ye suffer for my sake?
      1591 Shakes. Two Gent. i. ii. 49
      Iul[ia]. Will ye be gon? Lu[cetta]. That you may ruminate.

    • Ezekiel 36:12–13
      12 Yea, I will cause men to walk upon you, even my people Israel; and they shall possess thee, and thou shalt be their inheritance, and thou shalt no more henceforth bereave them of men.
      13 Thus saith the Lord God; Because they say unto you, Thou land devourest up men, and hast bereaved thy nations;

  5. The word “agency” and the concept of being “agents unto themselves” do not appear in the original Book of Mormon text at all, but they do appear in both the Doctrine and Covenants and in the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price. Obviously the idea of Agency was known at the time of the translation, but I was wondering if these uniquely “Mormon” concepts might be missing from the Book of Mormon because they were either not available or not in use during the Early Modern English (EModE) period. Any thoughts?

    • The use of agencie/agency begins around the year 1600 so it could have been used, I suppose. 1608: that our reason being enlightned and enformed thereby, our will of it selfe without any further agencie or speciall worke of God may at his owne choice freely yeeld, or denie assent thereto.

      • I saw a dictionary once that said Agency became a word around 1640 (and Agent appeared somewhere in the 15th century), so the citation you’ve provided indicates that Agency is older than 1640.

        The example you provide uses Agency in the sense of its primary definition: Action, Operation, Instrumentality. Do you know when Agency (or Agentship) began to be used in its secondary meaning: The office of an agent (i.e., one who acts in someone’s behalf)? I think the idea of being, “agents unto themselves,” points to the idea of the secondary definition, although with a unique twist.

        • The OED has examples from 1593, including a 1596 ex. from the Bard. agent, n. 4 one who acts for another, a deputy, steward, factor, substitute, representative, or emissary. (In this sense the word has numerous specific applications in Commerce, Politics, Law, etc., flowing directly from the general meaning.)

  6. (1801) “…that in the moment of his dissolution, body and soul become extinct, never to be united again…”

    Does that count as a “become extinct” example? Or do you need a “I might become extinct”? To be extinct in the singular?

    Given “that I might become extinct” is based on “to be extinct” we could also look for examples of this. Would “He is extinct” be a valid example?

    (1890) “…Where is the old fashioned villain all wickedness and as hard as nails Nowhere I declare that he is extinct gone out…”

    (1825) “We beg leave to assure Mr. Norris that he is extinct. Whatever contests may arise, in the present day, respecting religious Societies, he, for one, is out of the game…”

    (1826) “…He is extinct. Beyond his family, a remembrance of him can hardly survive a year. As one who have suffered most from him in his official capacity, I never felt that he was worthy of my hostility. I looked upon him as a contemptible…”

    Separately, the phrase “that I might become” is in lots of early 1800s books.

    “that I might become…” exists in 1800s
    “to be extinct” referring to an individual is also available in the 1800s.

    I still don’t see how this one stands.

    • 1801 “body and soul” = life.
      1890 class of persons.
      1825 Norris isn’t dead – figurative.
      1826 ex. might qualify, although if you look at preceding context you will notice that what is being discussed is his offices and succession. Yes, he’s dead, and it can be read that way, but it can also be read the other way.
      So if we grant “extinct” as carrying through to ModE, then we still need to account for others that apparently did not follow through, like “but if” = ‘unless’ (not “but” alone), “to that” = ‘until’ (1 Ne. 18:9), “depart” = ‘part’ (Hel. 8:11), “choice” = ‘discernment, judgment’ (1 Ne. 15:7).

      • Helaman 8:11 is actually an intransitive use of “departed” that may have died out earlier than the old transitive use did. “[the waters of the Red Sea] departed hither and thither”, meaning ‘divided’.

  7. Hi Stanford,

    What a provocative article! I am not a linguist, but I have a few general questions that I hoped you might address:

    1) In the book “The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon,” the author makes the point that in rural communities with less education, it would not be surprising to find older, non-standard variants of English being used. Why should the non-standard forms you’ve identified be attributed to the divine translation process, rather than as a by-product of less educated, rural 19th century America?

    2) Is it true or false that rural or less educated communities will tend to use older variants of English? Are there scholarly articles discussing this? Doesn’t the type of grammar that one uses depend heavily on the community one is in, the amount of contact that community has with other communities, the diffusion of language, etc.?

    3) How do you respond to the idea that any scholarly authorities that define what constitutes “Early Modern English” would have largely been based more on language used in cities and the better-educated (i.e. those who write books)–and that you are inappropriately applying these results to a language of a person from an entirely different community? (i.e., a result is applicable only for population A, but you are extending it to population B).

    4) Have other studies (outside of mormon scholarship) used English textual variants to date a text composed at an unknown date?

    5) What would falsify your theory? For example, if one were to find a different 19th century book that included Early Modern English in similar quantities to the Book of Mormon (but presumably with no divine intervention), would that falsify your theory? Are there any other ways can your theory be falsified?

    6) Do you have a statistical model for showing that your evidence is not due to chance? For example, in the biomedical sciences, a p<0.05 is often used. But to account for publication bias, many people really hope to see p<0.01 or less. How do we get a "p value" from your work? And since simple statistical tests are based on the assumption of the normal distribution, is there any reason to expect a normal distribution in these linguistic studies? (As opposed to a "power law" distribution, for example)?

    7) Have you done any case controls on your methods to other texts from the 19th century?

    8) It seems like a decent methodology for doing a study like this would be to assume that the date of authorship is unknown, and then to classify ALL the linguistic evidence by time period (so, for example, you might end up with some evidence in the 1500s, some in the 1600s, 1700s, some in the 1800s, etc.). I would expect you would find some evidence of 19th century English in the Book of Mormon. Is this the process you undertook? Quickly scanning your article, it looks like most of what you discuss relates to evidence for Early Modern English. But surely there must also be evidence for 19th century English. How much? How does the quantity of 19th century English compare to Early Modern English?

    9) Some authors (I believe Brent Metcalfe) have shown many similarities between language used in the Book of Mormon and the language used in sermons of the early 19th century. I personally interpeted this as evidence that Joseph used the language of his day during the translation process. How does your theory account for evidence by people like Metcalfe?

    10) Who are a few non-mormon scholars who would be qualified to critique your work? Are you planning on submitting your work to a peer-reviewed journal in the field of linguistics?

    • I suggest that a dozen types of nonbiblical syntax and vocabulary that did not carry through to the 1800s will rule out loose control. In some cases variants are used to determine dialect background of authors. There is some statistics used in forthcoming article on command syntax. Another potential article compares one syntactic feature of the Book of Mormon with pseudobiblical authors. The article was not the result of an extensive cataloguing of features. Most early items carry through to Modern period so they could be attributed to either, but some do not (see tentative vocabulary list in response below). As far as grammar, “they dieth”, etc. may be a case of usage that did not carry through to the 1700s except rarely and sporadically and may have been extinct by the 1800s. If so, then it would constitute some evidence against loose control.

  8. Over on the Mormanity blog when I mentioned your work, I received a thoughtful comment from Gideon W. who has looked into this issue much more than I have. I would appreciate your response. Thanks! Here is the comment:

    Hi Jeff,

    I’m a little surprised that this theory is gathering momentum. It seems a bit concerning that something so far-fetched is being given credibility.

    I first heard about Skousen’s theory a year or so ago. I started going through the “dead phrases” in the list in the first article you linked to in your blog post.

    Most of his examples are not conclusive. Some are outright wrong.

    For example:

    Extinct, referring to an individual’s death

    Alma 44:7 reads “and I will command my men that they shall fall upon you and inflict the wounds of death in your bodies that ye may become extinct.” Such usage seems very odd today since, as the OED explains under definition 4 for this past participial adjective, we now use extinct to refer to a family, race, or species as having died out or come to an end. But in Early Modern English, extinct could refer to a person’s death. The OED, under definition 3, lists citations from 1483 through 1675, the last one from an English translation of Machiavelli’s The Prince: “The Pope being dead and Valentine extinct.”

    This is not evidence of a 1500s origin. The sentence makes sense in the 1828 definition of the word:

    “and I will command my men that they shall fall upon you and inflict the wounds of death in your bodies that ye may become extinct.”

    “Ye” is talking about a group (it’s plural), not an individual as Skousen presumes (“thee” would be singular). So he warns a group of people that they will become extinct.

    A quick look at an 1828 dictionary confirms this is a fair choice of phrase:

    “and I will command my men that they shall fall upon you and inflict the wounds of death in your bodies that ye may…”

    (be out of force)
    (be abolished)
    (be at a stop)

    Dictionary of the English language by Samuel Johnson & John Walker (1828 edition)

    (be at an end)
    (have no survivor)

    Webster (1828 edition)

    This is one of several phrases that can be either found in 1800s or even still today. Others could easily be a dictation/transcription error.

    Having some of the church’s defenders get excited about this undermines credibility of work elsewhere for me. I hope it dies a death soon.

    • Generally speaking, there are so many bits of syntactic evidence and even semantic evidence that are non-King James Bible Early Modern English that the examples themselves point that direction. This is not wishful thinking on either Skousen’s part or my part. We are going with the evidence, and it is largely pointing to pre-1700s English and often to pre-1600s English. He and I have always done exemplar-based linguistic analysis, and that is what is backing this up. He is highly qualified to carry out linguistic analysis — my credentials are indicated above.

      As for extinct, Alma 36:15 is singular and certainly fits with OED def. 3 (obsolete). The following example with plural “extinct princes” is given in the OED as part of the obsolete definition as well: 1654 H. L’Estrange Chas. I (1655) 4 The usuall ceremony ordained to the bodies of extinct princes. So the OED indicates that obsolete “extinct” (def. 3) may be used with more than one person, just not a class of persons. Whether the other passages in question (6 of them) pertain to def. 3 or def. 4 depends on whether you think that the phrase refers to a class of persons or many people but not a class. One or more of these can be argued either way. If a passage refers to Lamanites, Nephites, or Gaddianton robbers, then it would seem to be a class of people and go with def. 4 (not obsolete). Alma 44:7 seems to refer just to the soldiers in the army, so def. 3 fits there (unless one wants to think of the soldiers as a class). Alma 45:11 fits def. 4, since it refers to “the people of Nephi”. Skousen allows for this very thing in his 2005 article that Gideon W. refers to. He mentions “require” with both obsolete and current meaning in the text. Continuing on, Alma 45:14 refers to a few people becoming extinct, the disciples of the Lord. Again, that fits def. 3. Alma 60:27 can be read the same way. Helaman 11:10 is about the Gaddianton robbers, def. 4. 3 Nephi 3:8 refers to non-robbers, a class of persons, so def. 4. All told, we have, according to my interpretation, 4 counts for def. 3, and 3 counts for def. 4.

      As for the dictionaries, Johnson’s and Webster’s can be misleading since they do not indicate in many cases whether a usage is obsolete. Take the noun “choice”, for instance, as used in 1 Nephi 7:15. Johnson (1755) has the right definition, his #3, but it’s from a 1625 Francis Bacon quotation, and Johnson doesn’t indicate that the meaning of ‘care in selection, curiosity in distinction’ is obsolete by his time. Webster just copies Johnson and the Bacon quotation, adding the notion of ‘judgment’ that he gets from the Bacon quote. The OED is the dictionary that gives us more examples and more senses and a declaration that the meaning is obsolete.

      Webster’s 1828 doesn’t have OED def. 3 for “extinct” — the 1828 Johnson and Walker dictionary on Google Books doesn’t have the relevant definition either. That points to OED 3 as certainly obsolete by then. The OED strongly indicates that by having a final entry dated 1675.

      A few minor points:

      Ye is often used in EModE and the BofM to refer to one person. Look at Alma 37, for example. This doesn’t change the foregoing extinct discussion, however.

      Skousen is the foremost expert of dictation/transcription errors in the BofM. He has considered that when making semantic pronouncements.

      • Hi, thanks for responding, and thanks to Jeff for looping my question into this discussion.

        Given you also brought up Alma 36:15, I’ll copy over the same reply I sent to Jeff:

        Alma 36:15 “Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.”

        You’ve said that given this is singular it meets the obsolete definition 3.

        I’ve found several examples of ‘extinct/extinction’ being used in early 1800s literature, specifically referring to the idea of both soul and body being destroyed (as Alma the Younger does in 36:15).

        For example:

        (1828) “If God kills or destroys both soul and body, is there not a total extinction of the whole man?”,%20is%20there%20not%20a%20total%20extinction&f=false

        The essay goes on to explore the idea that this extinction (the destruction of soul and body) might put people beyond the reach of pain and affliction. In other words, they are extinguished. Extinct shares its root with extinguished.

        The horror of Alma’s sins means he has no desire to have to face God. This is so terrifying that he would prefer for God to destroy both his soul and body… to make him extinct, finished, extinguished, put out… so that he wouldn’t have to face God, to be judged of my deeds.

        I’m not suggesting Joseph plagiarised the essay I quoted. But it does show that being “extinct both soul and body” was a phrase still plausibly in use in the 1820s.

        Can we agree that “extinct” in the Book of Mormon is not an obsolute/archaic phrases?

        Here are a few more examples from early 1800s:

        (1834) “…in hell though the death of the body is the extinction of the soul yet man has a life capable of being killed after both body and soul is extinct…”

        (1821) “Death, therefore, which, at first sight, looks like an extinction of both soul and body at once…”
        (End of page 17)

        (1815) “We must consider too the nature and consequences of death. We are not to regard it as a total extinction of our being but only a temporary separation of soul and body…”,%20is%20there%20not%20a%20total%20extinction&f=false

      • I’ve been trawling back through google books looking for the words extinct, soul and body on the same page or near to each other. There are a few in late 1600s but most start appearing in around the mid-1700s. The earliest I’ve found so far is from a Christian dictionary in 1661:

        It’s a small base, so not exhaustive, but interesting nonetheless.

        Being “destroyed both body and soul” is something that can be considered biblical (Matt 10:28… possibly Isaiah 10:18). It would be interesting to trace the emergence of connecting “extinction” with the destruction of “soul and body.”

        If the earliest examples are late 1600s but becoming more prevalent in 1700s and 1800s then what are the implications for translation theories?

        • The phrase soul and body occurs throughout centuries, beginning in the mid-1500s and becoming frequent in the 1650s. But in the Book of Mormon only Alma 36 has the phrase associated with extinct. (That passage can be read two ways in relation to extinct.) And we find BECOME extinct beginning in the 1620s. The 1665 OED example under †B3 has “Nagar . . . became in a manner extinct”. That shows a close match between Book of Mormon and Early Modern usage, with a person. 1654 “extinct princes” shows the usage with more than one person. Alma 44:7 (Skousen’s example from 2005) “that ye may become extinct” may be equivalent to ‘so you will become blotted out of existence’ (subjunctive / future may). So also Alma 60:27: “till those who want to usurp power become blotted out of existence” (subjunctive shall); and Alma 45:14: “till the Lord’s disciples become blotted out of existence” (subjunctive shall). The others can be read as B4a: Alma 45:11 (Nephites); Helaman 11:10 (Gaddianton robbers); 3 Nephi 3:8 (Nephites) = ‘wiped out’ or another present-day equivalent that implies a race of people. Once you find extinct used directly with a person (not just “soul and body”), from the second half of the 18th century into the early 19th century, then we will have evidence of a carry through to Modern English, against the Oxford English Dictionary.

          • But what of the extinction of a man/being/soul that Gideon reports above from early 19th century sources? Are such uses for extinction standard in modern English but archaic for extinct?

          • What is needed for a solid counterexample to the OED obsolete declaration, I believe, is not examples with general statements about the extinguishing of the soul of human beings, but an example of a particular person or particular persons being declared extinct, that is ‘dead, cut off, or blotted out of existence’.

  9. Thanks, Standford. Your helpful reply showed up after I responded to my own question. Thanks for the information. I never noticed this usage in the Bible (e.g., “a dying” and “a coming”). I searched for other instances with some other verbs and didn’t find any. Are there others besides Luke 8:42 and 9:42?

    • There is always John 21:3.
      “Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.”

      The prepositional a- is kind of hard to track down. I’ve seen some other examples in the Bible, but I don’t at the moment remember where they are.

  10. Superb piece. I have been making essentially the same arguments for several years now, based on a study of a stack of English grammar books and other sources I found in the stacks of my alma mater, the University of Kentucky.

    I have also been of the opinion that Joseph Smith’s vernacular, being closer by two hundred years than ours, and being a provincial form of English, contained fossilized remnants of English as Joseph Smith’s ancestors spoke it when they left their own parts of England. Thus, even though the 1830 Book of Mormon contains forms which were non-standard by his time (especially in the cities and universities), he would have been much more conversant with those archaic forms than we or our critics are. You’ve rather abundantly shown our critics are using entirely the wrong yardstick with which to measure the Book of Mormon.

    • Don,

      Your explanation makes the most sense to me. The pre-translated text business seems a bit of a goofy explanation. Have you studied any texts contemporary with Joseph and from that general region of NY that would suggest these archaic forms were present?

      • Whether it seems like a “goofy” explanation has little bearing on this issue. The important thing is the textual evidence.

        There was certainly plural was in Joseph’s dialect, and I suggested this in a paper on the subject. The big picture, however, when we take into account nearby variation with were and other archaizing features and systematic use, tells us that it is unlikely that the plural was of the BofM stemmed from his dialect.

        Joseph’s 1832 History is a 2,000-word text. I saw no affirmative, declarative, periphrastic did in this account and there were many main verbs used in the positive past tense. This agrees with independent linguistic studies which did not find any appreciable maintenance in modern dialects of this eModE phenomenon. As a result, the distinctive past-tense usage of the BofM says no emphatically to Joseph being its English-language translator. Also, I saw some {-th} forms in this history, but no {-th} plural. Again, the {-th} plural was very rare in the 1820s, according to the textual record, but it is not rare in the BofM, and so this fact also casts into doubt Joseph as translator. I saw no personal which in this account; I saw personal who. This is again a problem for those who favor Joseph being the English-language translator, since the BofM text is very heavy in its use of personal which (much of it edited out).

  11. Ah, I think I’ve found an answer to my question. My initial reaction was that verb forms like “a going” and “a preaching” represented unschooled “redneck” language and probably would not fit your hypothesis. I was surprised when I dug a little and found that this was actually a proper form in Early Modern English. I’ll post some details at Mormanity in just a moment ( See especially The Cambridge History of the English Language, vol. III, ed. by Roger Lass, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999, p. 217.

  12. One of the criticisms the Tanners make of the grammar of the original Book of Mormon when they discuss “the 3,913 changes” of the Book of Mormon is the use of “a” before many verbs, such as “As I was a journeying to see a very near kindred …” [Alma 10:7], “And as I was a going thither …” [Alma 10:8], “… the foundation of the destruction of this people is a beginning to be laid …” [Alma 10:27], “… he met with the sons of Mosiah, a journeying towards the land …” [Alma 17:1], and “… the Lamanites a marching towards them …” [Mormon 6:7].

    I’ve heard this described as “Pittsburgh dialect” I think, with a suggestion that it might have been Oliver’s language. But I also read someone say or guess that this construction can be found in Chaucer. Haven’t had time to check. What are your thoughts?

    • This usage was common in the Early Modern period and it is biblical as well — see, e.g., Luke 8:42; 9:42. Here are two EModE examples with “marching”, a verb used with this syntax in the Book of Mormon: 1646: but yet from hence we cannot conclude, that they were but one night a marching from Gilgal to Gibeon; 1563: …go to take with treason a Citie or Castel, whylest thou art a marching, sende before a parte of thy horsemenne, to take all those which be….

  13. One emendation that Joseph Smith made was to replace a reference to King Benjamin to King Mosiah. I know that Skousen argues that it really should be Benjamin. I have read critical material that makes fun of this situation.

    In Pratt’s chronology, in 124 BC, King Benjamin passed the thrown to his son Mosiah. Three years later, in 121 BC, Benjamin died. Then we are told that after three years on the throne, Mosiah dispatched Ammon and 15 others to find the people in the land of Nephi. This occurs later in the text than Benjamin dying. So, it might be natural to think Benjamin had died before this expedition. Later, Ammon tells King Limhi that he knows of a king (Benjamin or Mosiah depending on edition) who can translate ancient records.

    Skousen has arguments buried in his massive multi-volume report (I think he said it was in volume 4).

    At issue, in my mind, is whether Benjamin was still alive when Ammon left on his expedition, both events occurring 3 years after Mosiah took the throne.

    It makes sense to me that a chapter or section of the text containing the transition of the throne would end with Benjamin’s death and that the next chapter or section would start with the statement when Mosiah had been on the throne for three years when he sent out the expedition, which is the subject of the next chapter or section. Thus, the actual order in the text may not be the order that the two events happened.

    In the big scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter whether Ammon mentioned Benjamin or Mosiah. In some respects, Benjamin makes more sense because he had the reputation of being a seer and there is no evidence that Mosiah had that reputation at the time Ammon and his party left. In my mind, this is an example of an author knowing a lot more about a situation than what was written down. Joseph Smith may have been inspired to make the change because Mormon had written it down wrong. Or it may be that Benjamin really was the king Ammon mentioned. Scholarly research, in my opinion, can’t resolve this issue and I am not sure it is worthy of revelation to elucidate either.

  14. The “Plot” of Zion given to Joseph Smith by revelation is also in 1530’s English. The mile used is 6,336 feet.. Not the 5,280 of Joseph Smith’s time. Also Plot was used instead of Plat. Rod, Perch, and feet were the dimensional grid. The first Atlas of England was completed in 1579 by Saxton and it used a mile that was 6,336 ft. Elizabeth standardized the Mile in 1590 or so to 5,280. This has led me to the conclusion that the voice of the Bible and the BOM and other restoration documents is the same. So Tyndale’s Bible, the BOM, and other restoration revelations including the Book of Abraham were given by revelation in the same Voice and the Language chosen by the Lord was given by inspiration to William Tyndale between 1520-1540.

  15. 1596 H. Clapham Bible Hist. 92 To Samaria and them partes. 1598 Barret Theor. Warres i. i. 4 The warres and weapons are now altered from them dayes. 1621 Ainsworth Annot. Pentat. Gen. xviii. 6 Foure of them Logs make a Kab.
    To a German speaker, “them” looks familiar. I believe it’s a form of the indirect object. “From them” is cognate to “von dem,” for example. “In them days” suggests “in dem Tagen.” Now we use “those,” but “them” is perfectly good grammar. We use “those/these days,” as opposed to “them days,” when we wish to be specific as to which days. So both are actually correct. This would suggest “them days” is not a recent invention, but goes back to the earliest stages of the English language.

    • Yes, dative case after these prepositions. So historically out of OE “in them days” < OE in tham dagum (roughly). This continued to be used formally/conservatively into the 1600s in certain cases, before becoming dialectal, and finally marginalized as nonstandard.

  16. Thanks for this exciting article! I have heard interviews/ lectures by Royal Skousen alluding to EModE language in the Book of Mormon with just a few tantalizing examples. As a layperson with an peculiar love of grammar (kindled by learning grammar-intensive Icelandic as a missionary) it was a thrill to see so much more of the details! My one disappointment was not reading at least some theory from Dr. Carmack as to why this phenomenon exists. I have heard Dr. Skousen similarly resist such theorizing. Any hints?
    Again, thanks for another fascinating offering from Interpreter!

    • The “why” is difficult and fraught with speculation. The Book of Mormon is a complex mixture of elements. It is not a simple monolithic text. While it has much (non)KJB Early Modern English language, it has Modern English elements as well. Some things may become clearer down the road with more research.

  17. In 2006 my law Professor John S. Welch made the following comment which is applicable to this article “in his latest published FARMS Update, Skousen advances the theory that the entire Book of Mormon was revealed in an archaic English vocabulary containing a number of words the meanings of which had significantly changed long before 1829. This is a theory to be addressed elsewhere, except to note that if it is correct, Book of Mormon readers cannot always get a correct meaning without resorting to the Oxford English Dictionary or its equivalent, leaving one to wonder why the Lord would want to make the Book of Mormon that much harder to read and understand, and why the Lord would do that in the case of the Book of Mormon while giving the Doctrine and Covenants to his weak servants in “the manner of their language” (D&C 1:24), not Wycliffe’s or Tyndale’s.” I wonder if the author or others would care to comment on Professor Welch’s statement.

    • Log posted a link above to the full Welch article.

      My own view is that Skousen detected and reported substantial evidence that much of the phraseology in the original text of the Book of Mormon is from the 15th and 16th centuries–a surprising and intriguing discovery.

      Welch objected to this idea by not addressing the data, but rather wondering why God would have done such a thing. It should be pointed out that there are many who support the idea of a loose translation to explain certain issues in the text and Skousen’s work threatened conclusions base on a loose translation. The loose translation theory also suggests that if it were a tight translation, Joseph would not have felt so free to change aspects of the text later.

      Subsequently, Skousen has provided more evidence to support15th or 16th century language in the original manuscript and now Carmack has provided considerably more evidence.

      It seems obvious to me that Welch’s question is easily answered by the fact that the Lord uses imperfect people to further his work. I find it likely that somebody was commissioned to do an original translation. That somebody could have been the resurrected Moroni who would have learned English at some earlier date to enable the translation. Or perhaps somebody else had been called, engaged in the work, but had fallen for some reason. I don’t know. I simply find the idea of earlier language forms in the text to be fascinating and that Welch’s complaint doesn’t deal with the data, but rather the why. He cannot simply ignore the data simply because it doesn’t support his own pet theory of the translation.

      I also believe that it is possible that this usage in what became the United States may have persisted longer than in England, simply because standardization of the language began in the 18th century in England and in the 19th century in the United States. In other words, such a pre-translation could have happened much closer to Joseph’s time in the America than in Britain. This also makes me wonder if the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary truly reflects the language actually used by Joseph Smith and others as they were raised before it was published and before standardization of the language would occur. Even with standardization of the language, older forms persisted. That said, to some extent standardization had been introduced, simply because the available Bible–the book with the widest circulation–was the 1769 Oxford edition of the King James Bible with a lot of clean up (or standardization) of earlier texts. That said, much of what Skousen and Carmack have found aren’t found in the King James Version.

      Joseph made a significant effort to learn how to do the translation, but when he actually did the translation, it flowed one phrase after another as if being fed from a pre-translation. I agree with Skousen that the descriptions of the translation that we have suggest that Joseph wasn’t trying to state in English thoughts coming to his mind.

      I do agree with Welch that Skousen’s findings place the original text of the Book of Mormon in time roughly equivalent to Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible. We now have 20 texts (although the original manuscript is only 27% extant–the rest Skousen had to “recover” by other means, including using the printer’s manuscript or the first edition to suggest the original text) with which to study the Book of Mormon. We have hundreds of similar texts to study Bible. If I have questions about the meaning of Biblical texts, I consult a wide range of translations. Skousen also made a sizable number of his own emendations simply because he didn’t like the original reading, thus while based on the original manuscript to the extent possible, I would submit it is the “Skousen translation” and not the original text.

      • It has not been called the “original text” but the “earliest text” since too much of the original MS is lost. As a result, there are probably more than 200 readings that are unrecoverable by scholarly means.

        It is certainly not the “Skousen translation”. And the Yale edition has approximately 300 fewer conjectural emendations than the current canonical text does.

    • I think that it’s important to bear in mind that the Book of Mormon contains plenty of KJB passages and short excerpts, and that KJB language is a mixture of 1520s Tyndale language and language from the year 1600, and some of it is obscure. So the KJB, used heavily in America in the 1820s, was not always clear to readers back then. Furthermore, even though the BofM does have some obscure non-KJB language, my experience is that the nonbiblical parts of the BofM are at least as plain as the biblical parts.

  18. The historical irony is that the Church itself was modernizing the English of the Book of Mormon while decrying modernizing the English of the Book of Mormon. If that wasn’t clear.

    Now, this suggests another question – was the Church’s modernization of the English of the Book of Mormon inspired?

  19. I seem to recall reading in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 7/1 (1995) that the First Presidency under Ezra Taft Benson discouraged attempts to modernize the language of the Book of Mormon lest such attempts “introduce doctrinal errors or obscure evidence of its ancient origin”. As a matter of historical irony, it appears that even the Church’s own editorial changes to the Book of Mormon have effaced internal textual evidence of divine origins.

    If it weren’t for the indefensible and unjustified changes to Jacob 6:13, Moroni 10:34 (“pleasing bar” -> “pleading bar”) and Mosiah 19:24 (“ceremony” -> “sermon”), I rather wish the Church would adopt the text of The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text as its definitive version of this invaluable book of scripture, thereby eliminating all editorial alterations and interpretive commentary which have accreted thereto throughout the decades.

    • Royal Skousen has written quite a bit about the changes you note. For his arguments, please see his Analysis of the Textual Variants pages 1047-52 (part 2) and 1389-95 (part 3).

      One might disagree with Skousen’s analysis, but it should be done on the basis of his argumentation for the changes.

      • Skousen’s “argument” for altering “ceremony” to read “sermon” is, in sum: “The word ceremony does not make sense…. if the scribe for that manuscript had misspelled sermon as cermon then the word could very easily misread as ceremony.”

        An assertion and a hypothetical do not an argument make – additionally, there is no evidence brought to bear that sermon was ever, anywhere, (mis)spelt cermon. Replacing a beginning “s” with “soft c” does not seem to be a mistake native English speakers make frequently. The inverse error seems vastly, if not universally, more common, since there aren’t that many words that start with a “soft c” compared with the number of words that start with “s”.

        And Welch, in the link I provided, produces something of a “pleading bar” (see Note 14) to “pleading bar”.

        The primary topic of my comment was that the Church itself was modernizing the English of the Book of Mormon while decrying modernizing the English of the Book of Mormon. And it suggests a follow up question – if the Church (beginning with Joseph) hadn’t modernized the English of the Book of Mormon over the years, leaving aside the issue as to whether such modernization was inspired, would articles like the present one have been possible? Would anyone have noticed the Early Middle English grammar? Is this occurrence perhaps similar to the inclusion of the small plates to compensate for the loss of the 119 pages?

        Speaking of inspiration, consistent Early Modern English grammar usage in the Book of Mormon is fatal to the notion of “loose control” during the translation of the Book of Mormon – that wasn’t Joseph’s language. The bedrock assumption that Joseph wouldn’t alter something he received word-for-word from God seems to underlie the “loose control” hypothesis. Yet Joseph is known to have altered the D&C substantially and relatively frequently, which he appears to have received word-for-word from God – is it possible that Joseph perhaps felt at liberty to change things that came through him because of his familiarity with them? Familiarity breeds contempt, as the aphorism goes; is it possible he was not necessarily directed to make the changes he made to the Book of Mormon once it was published?

        Joseph is reported to have written, “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.” It would be humorously ironic – for the Heavens have a sense of humor – if Joseph himself played the role of an “ignorant translator” with respect to the published text of the Book of Mormon. Is it allowed for someone to say “I believe the Book of Mormon as it stood when it came from the lips of the Prophet”? Is it allowed for someone to take the position that we should revert all edits and go with the original text?

        • Without attempting to discuss the issue (for which anyone curious should read the original argument), I should note that any argument about how a native speaker might spell in 1830 ignores the extreme fluidity of spelling at that time.

          • I would love to read Skousen’s original arguments on all of his conclusions, but they are buried in expensive volumes. Instead, we are left with sound-bites from his presentations about them.

            • Unfortunately, many arguments require careful examination and explanation. That is, of course, why they are published. That doesn’t make it as easy as we have come to expect the Internet, but there still isn’t a good intermediate solution.

              I do understand that whole set of Skousen’s work is a bit expensive and that most casual students of the Book of Mormon find that it is more than they need. For those of us who try to spend a lot of time on the text, it is simply required reading. I am continually surprised at the number of scholars talking about the Book of Mormon who don’t consult that work to make sure that they are on solid ground. I won’t say that one cannot disagree with Skousen, but you can’t do it responsibly without consulting the source (a comment on other scholarship I have seen, not to be confused with anyone on this threads).

    • The changes were defended and justified with exemplar-based arguments. I would suggest questioning particular conjectural emendations with scholarly, substantive research. By way of comparison, the current, widely available 2013 Book of Mormon contains about 650 conjectural emendations. The 2009 Yale edition has only about 350 conjectural emendations. As a result, even though you will disagree with some of Skousen’s conjectural emendations, you will encounter far fewer of them in the Yale edition than in the current canonical text.

      • As I recall Skousen saying, there is some overlap between the 350 in the 2009 Yale edition and the 650 in the 1981 LDS edition. But, many of his were never seen in print before 2009. So, while the basic thrust of Skousen’s work has been to recover what Joseph saw as he translated, he has made emendations just like others, because he would not accept the text on the original manuscript (or lacking that either the printer’s manuscript or the 1830 edition). There are a number of places in the Yale edition of the “earliest text” that are not the earliest, but among the latest published text for specific verses.

        Thus, I stand by my assertion that Skousen’s is in effect another “translation” with a focus on, and almost all verses, the earliest available text, except in the few places where he found that text problematic.

        For the lay reader, I can read the 1981 and 2013 editions, as well as my reprint of the 1830 edition, and the 2009 edition and any others I might subsequently acquire, and come to my own conclusion about what a verse might mean. I do this with the Bible and its multiple translations.

        I owe Skousen a debt, but I am not about to advocate his version as the version I am going to place my faith in. Nor am I going to condemn any particular emendation he made in his version.

  20. Thank you for this informative article. I admit I am not equipped to evaluate the reliability of the numerous examples. When I heard Skousen speak on this subject I was fascinated in the 15th/16th century language in the Book of Mormon, especially those not found in the KJV.

    This article provides numerous more examples. What I don’t know is whether the large number of provided examples are anomalies or the typical pattern in terms of the number of non-standard forms. Is there a list of references for each accepted non-standard forms? Are 1% of them from the period presented? 10%, 20%, 50%, 90% or some other number. That would help me understand this issue at a high level in terms of whether it covers the space.

    My next topic, one that I have thought about since listening to Skousen’s talk some time ago, is to ponder about the “pre-translation” (thanks Ryan for the term as well as numerous other well articulated thoughts). Why would the Lord have it done that way? Did somebody translate it earlier, but then fell? (Joseph was warned that he could fall, which begs the question about whether somebody earlier was called, but fell). Could a resurrected being, such as Moroni translate it, perhaps hundreds of years before Joseph’s time?

    Another issue for this analysis, is that the language comes from Britain and many quotes before colonization of America. Would this mean the pre-translation would have been in Britain?

    Another thought is that it is in the 18th century when the rules of the English language became standardized largely through the efforts of men like Samuel Johnson. A lot of people had left Britain and came to America during the 1600s and early 1700s before this standardization. I suspect they and their descendants missed the standardization that happened in England in the 1700s. Noah Webster started the standardization in the US, with a dictionary (limited in both scope and market penetration) in 1806 and then his larger dictionary (in both regards) in 1828. In other words, Joseph and Oliver and all the scribes grew up in an era in the US prior to language standardization. Thus, it is possible that people living in the US were still using the archaic language forms from the perspective Oxford English dictionary and the standardized from then prevalent in Britain. This could be when and where the pre-translation was created. That said, so many of these non-standard forms were objected to at the time as poor grammar, suggests they might not have been accepted or it may be that by 1830 people were aligning with the standardization brought in by Webster and trying to reject older forms. The why of this finding (old forms being used correctly) is intriguing.

    • Joseph is the seer – not the stone – so the stone had no inherent powers but rather was used to focus Joseph’s mind. You might say Joseph projected what he ‘saw’ onto the stone rather than the other way around.

      • That is the view I take. Carmack will have to provide his own response to that. If I understand Royal Skousen’s position correctly, what Joseph read was external to Joseph, whatever the mechanism. Since Carmack is pursuing similar lines of research (with grammar here rather than strictly vocabulary as in Skousen’s previous work) I might guess that he would agree–but that is only a guess.

      • Skousen points out that when Harris replaced the stone with another one that Smith noticed the difference and was apparently unable to proceed with the dictation–so the stone was not irrelevant. Skousen has also stated that based on scribal MS evidence and corroborating eyewitnesses, Smith saw letters and words either in his mind’s eye (internal), or in some way associated with the stone (external), and that he dictated based on that. Thus Skousen allows for either an internal or external approach to the matter. That seems reasonable to me.

        But portions of the eyewitnesses’ testimonies — such as some pieces asserted by David Whitmer — are merely conjectures that would not hold up in a court of law since they involve speculation about things the eyewitnesses did not see themselves. That being the case, some assertions about the stone and the dictation don’t carry the same evidentiary weight as other assertions. Smith himself chose to say very little about what he saw exactly, and no eyewitness of the dictation was able to see firsthand what Smith saw while he dictated.

  21. I thought this line was interesting:

    “It’s perhaps ironic that through the years emendations have removed language that clearly points to the objective impossibility of Joseph Smith being able to either compose the book or put it into his own language.”

    I personally find the idea that the Book of Mormon was pre-translated (by some divine means) and that Joseph Smith simply unlocked this translation by use of his seer stones to be attractive. Based on this article, Skousen’s work, and numerous Semitic constructions foreign to Joseph’s linguistic milieu, the proposition that Joseph Smith received the Book of Mormon through mentalese and then gave birth to the ideas through his own linguistic patterns of syntax and usage seems untenable to me. And yet, I feel like many people still resist the idea of a more divinely prepared text, perhaps because it seems to lack the need to “study it out in your mind” if all Joseph was doing was reading words that appeared. And perhaps because they still feel the Book of Mormon text often reflects Joseph Smith’s “weakness after the “manner of [his] language” (D&C 1:24).

    However, I’m not sure these objections are still warranted. The deeper and more carefully that we analyze the Book of Mormon, the less it seems that we can continue to view it as “after the manner of [Joseph’s] language.” And I see no reason why unlocking a pre-translated text doesn’t require the translator to, in some manner, “study it out in [his] mind.” I think it took some sort of strenuous mental effort, intense concentration, and spiritual sensitivity for the words to appear in the seer stone. However it seems that very little–probably none, really–of this effort was similar to normal conative processes typically needed for translating.

    For one thing, I don’t think Joseph had time. When he actually got down to translating the text, it seems he spoke the words slowly and methodically. No mention is made of him mulling over the best way to reconstruct an awkward syntactical construction or to identify the most fitting word among so many available options. Nor do I think he had the linguistic ability and experience to construct many portions of the text with his own words. Most notably, the consistency of usage of certain words and phrases and syntactical structures throughout the text seems far too elaborately controlled. There are simply too many instances where the language of the text defies Joseph’s linguistic background.

    If any part of the text was after his “manner of language” could we identify it? This article and continuing research seem to be stripping away the supposed errors that for many years were ascribed to Joseph’s weakness in language. What is left (if anything) that we can, with any degree of certitude, ascribe to Joseph’s manner of language?

    Also, how strongly do you feel is the likelihood that the text was pre-translated through divine means?

    • “What is left (if anything) that we can… ascribe to Joseph’s manner of language?”

      Perhaps the word “adieu”? I know that borrowed French farewell was common in Joseph Smith’s time but don’t know if it was common among English speakers in prior years or in Great Britain. I don’t know what scholars have said about it.

      I have always thought that Joseph Smith was NOT trying to develop ideas into his own language as he dictated the text. It is intriguing to think of the possibility that Nephi/Mormon/Moroni/Others might have been tasked with developing an English translation to be ready for when the time came for the Book to come forth.

      • Not “adieu”, and not even, for example, “drownded”. The former may be ascribed initially to Norman French influence which was strong in the ME period; in this case the usage apparently leaked through to the Early Modern period. The use of “adieu” was not rare in the 1500s and beyond. And “drownded” is found in the Early Modern period as well, but it is less frequent in the textual record than “adieu”.

        • Stanford. What is your contact information. I am conducting a study on the 1833 community plan by Joseph Smith and needs me linguistics help.

          Thanks. David R Hall. 801-358-0789

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