There are 27 thoughts on “Why the Oxford English Dictionary (and not Webster’s 1828)”.

  1. I’ve been so gratified to receive your generous and substantive comments!
    “The title and therefore thesis of this article was misleading.” You do realize that the title can be interpreted more than one way, and the article reduces the possibilities. You have stipulated to one interpretation, that it is only misleading, even though another interpretation is possible and pointed to by the article. I find the title appropriate, useful, and even necessary for LDS scholars to consider. Perhaps it’s even led you to consider that the OED is more important to Book of Mormon lexical studies than W1828.
    “Royal makes it clear on any conclusion he makes based on the information we presently have, it appears this word was an error of this type, or unique in use to any previous literature we currently are aware of.” One must distinguish between individual cases and a collection of these. In the earliest text of the Book of Mormon there are dozens of individual cases of potentially obsolete lexis that support a collective view of obsolescence that is quite strong. The same process basically works for W1828. It has so many deficient word entries in relation to the Book of Mormon that all of these taken together strongly support a view against the primacy of W1828.
    “In sum, I find the use of the word “NOT” and “must” as poor choices for an expert in linguistics.” As set forth in my previous response, this usage is supported by (1) and (2). To put numbers with (1), W1828 is probably deficient in 50 or more entries, while the OED is probably deficient in fewer than 10 entries.
    “If you ever want to do something other than anecdotal research, look me up.” Further evidence of pertinacity. Please see a number of my past and forthcoming Interpreter articles as examples of non-anecdotal research. Also, we must not forget Skousen, NOL (forthcoming), which I’ve collaborated on. That extensive, multi-year research led me to give the above numbers.
    Of course you are free to submit articles to Interpreter based on your ability to analyze large sets of linguistic data. You may even wish to show how W1828 is superior to the OED in elucidating Book of Mormon meaning.
    This will be my last response here. You can contact me through Royal Skousen.

  2. I would have to disagree with the primary premise of this argument [In order to properly consider possible meaning in the Book of Mormon (BofM), we must use the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)].
    For a linguist to use “must” is quite a strong word considering the idea that learning can come from the best books plural, waste-wear-out-lives to bring truth to darkness, and so on.
    The OED’s first volume was not published until 1884. JS was born in 1805, raised by parents that taught him to read using the family KJV bible. OED does have a stronger etymology history of words with a better timeline of first use. 1828 is in the public domain whereas OED may never be based on the constitutional monarchy.
    In regards to extract unique grammatical syntax from the text, that may be a bit of a leap – like finding patterns in white noise since the translation has some inherent system error due to multiple scribes and human error. Certainly chiasmus and other structures have been identified, but the human translation process is being ignored. Translation was a phenomological event, meaning the angels who instructed JS had to do so based on JS’ world view and understanding so that he could perform the translation.
    “Horse” is a nice example of this, as it may (not) have been in existence historically, or it could have been a best-guess translation of a word in his vocabulary most similar to the animal tapir (similar to “god dog” or “big dog” being the Native American word for horse).
    The language JS and his scribes had available to them were many times the essence of the translation with the exception of proper names and places. If you try to say “ye” is inaccurate in the 1828 dictionary, fine, it may be inaccurate. We have no knowledge if JS had access to the 1828 dictionary in his lifetime (very unlikely). It may be more likely that JS had access to some americanized form of the english dictionary/grammar as a pamphlet (e.g., Blue-Back Speller) as cultural separation, IMO, was a result of the Revolutionary War.
    Consider the word “steel” – here the 1828 is quite superior to OED in terms of context. Bessemer did not take out a patent of the modern steel process until about 1856.
    https://1828.mshaffer.com/d/word/steel
    JS had a concept of “steel” which was the best word in his vocabulary to describe Nephi’s bow.
    OED may be a good source, but 1828 may be as well, especially considering the scope of Noah Webster’s Opus to define the American language using the KJV as his primary source.
    For someone with your education credentials, I find it disappointing you would have such a premise.

    • The foremost expert on word meaning in the Book of Mormon, Royal Skousen, who has studied in this area for nearly 30 years, agrees with the premise. He thinks it’s accurate. I’m hard pressed to know why one should value your opinion over his.
      What do you know of obsolete lexis and expressions in the Book of Mormon? From what you write I gather that you may very well lack sufficient understanding of the issues and the data. This would make many of your comments here mere assertions.
      I invite you to consider Skousen’s forthcoming publication, The Nature of the Original Language, to be published this spring. It will give you a better grasp of word meaning in the Book of Mormon.

      • People with academic integrity agree with the premise that we must use the OED? I am sorry, as a peer-reviewed published researcher, I find that premise to be fundamentally flawed based on the scientific method.
        This is like saying, we “must” use Aristotelian physics to understand the nature of the universe. Must implies obligation. Such obligation is contrary to the pursuit of truth, and in the Mormon sphere this hypocrisy is downright gross.
        I have read Royal’s work, and his father’s work. There are gems of truth in all good research, but to say one worldview is the only correct world view (again implied by the word “must”) is an inherent fallacy.
        And to counter with 30 years as a justification, wow, really! Aristotelian physics had 2000 years of justification and it was still wrong.
        I personally have read all of JS writings directly for myself. In research, this is called primary sources. My favorite book on the topic is “Personal Writings of JS”. I have done latent-semantic analyses of many document corpora, including the BoM.
        My fundamental contention is: the theory behind nature of the translation process is a fundamental precursor to any theory of contextual analysis.
        So to review your paragraph logical arguments using basic phenomenological indifference:
        1. We must believe experts.
        2. Since I am not an expert in the field, I can not make an informed opinion about the logic to arrive at conclusions.
        3. I must rely on experts to tell me what I don’t know on a forthcoming book.
        Certainly I am not an academic in your domain of expertise; however I have read enough of Jack Welch to understand that good research is identifying what “at this time” we believe. OED is a useful tool, sure, but the title of this article includes “and not Webster’s 1828” … that is the fundamental concern I have with this article. Their is a level of hubris that I find frightening.
        Some important scriptures related to my concern: John 21:25, D&C 123:10
        The experiment to justify your title (OED not 1828 Webster) would be a challenge to execute, and I look forward to “maybe” believing you when you can demonstrated it empirically, not anecdotally. Examine every word or phrase in BoM and compare meaning between OED and 1828, and derive a baseline metric of truth. That would be good research.
        Why not both? We could classify OED and 1828 Webster as “best books” (D&C 88:118) and be on our way. Your title suggest exclusivity and that bothers me (analogous to a bible, a bible, we have a bible…)

        • Let’s see if the following can clear up misunderstandings.
          1. W1828 has a material number of inadequate word definitions relating to original Book of Mormon usage (so too Johnson 1755-56), while OED2 or OED3 (online) does not. (Besides the OED, there is not another dictionary we can say this about.)
          2. This reality justifies the conclusion that consulting the OED for Book of Mormon usage is necessary while consulting W1828 is not, although it can be useful to verify obsolescence (as stated in the paper) and for other reasons.
          Of note is that almost all LDS scholars who have investigated Book of Mormon word meanings have consulted W1828 but not the OED. Hence, these investigations have run a real risk of incorrect interpretation.
          If you have word meaning items you wish to discuss, then I’m interested, although in a few months, after the release of Skousen’s The Nature of the Original Language. I have very little interest in discussing matters that are open to a multitude of interpretations depending on desired ends, such as the meaning and import of the title of the article, or the (in)appropriateness of using “must” in the opening sentence, etc.

          • The title and therefore thesis of this article was misleading. I have since reviewed some of your lectures as well as Royal’s via YouTube. Royal makes it clear on any conclusion he makes “based on the information we presently have, it appears this word was:” an error of this type, or unique in use to any previous literature we currently are aware of.
            In sum, I find the use of the word “NOT” and “must” as poor choices for an expert in linguistics.
            I can manage big data sets and can do some interesting NLP type analyses. If you every want to do something other than anecdotal research, look me up.

  3. @stanfordcarmack
    I was wondering if you could answer a question about why you believe “depart” was that was used used intransitively in Helaman 8:11 is non-biblical. To me the language parted hither and tither is biblical language found in 2 Kings 2:14. There is a high liklihood that I am just not fully understand the English grammar being discussed, but I have this question. Thanks.
    The BofM has quite a few instances of older, nonbiblical meaning, including:
    counsel = ‘ask counsel of, consult,’ used in Alma 37:37; 39:10; this sense is not in Webster’s 1828, and the last OED quote is dated 1547.19
    depart = ‘divide,’ used intransitively in Helaman 8:11; this sense is not in Webster’s 1828, and the last OED quote is dated 1577.20
    scatter = ‘separate from the main body (without dispersal),’ as used in the BofM’s title page; this sense is not in Webster’s 1828, and the last OED quote is dated 1661.21
    choice = ‘sound judgment’ or ‘discernment,’ used as an abstract noun in 1 Nephi 7:15.22
    Helamen 8: 11 Therefore he was constrained to speak more unto them saying: Behold, my brethren, have ye not read that God gave power unto one man, even Moses, to smite upon the waters of the Red Sea, and they parted hither and thither, insomuch that the Israelites, who were our fathers, came through upon dry ground, and the waters closed upon the armies of the Egyptians and swallowed them up?
    2 Kings 2:14
    14 And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.

      • Now I am going to show my full ignorance….
        depart = ‘divide,’ used intransitively in Helaman 8:11; this sense is not in Webster’s 1828, and the last OED quote is dated 1577.20
        How is depart used intransitively(or anywhere?) in Helaman 8:11….?

        • Steve, It bothered me that no-one answered your question 🙂 You may not see this since this article was posted so long ago, but… your confusion is that you are looking at Heleman 8:11 in the modern version of the Book of Mormon. Royal Skousen showed that the original printer’s manuscript of the BofM had the word “departed” instead of “parted” in this verse. He surmises that the BofM typesetter at the printing shop changed it to “parted” because he couldn’t imagine that “departed” was correct and that is what we have had in the BofM ever since. In all of his analysis, Stanford uses Skousen’s Yale edition of The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text which has taken the BofM as close as possible back to its originally dictated grammar.

  4. My thinking lines up Stanford Carmack. The “strange” early modern English syntax is an indication that neither Joseph Smith nor his contemporaries wrote the Book of Mormon. That might be helpful for those who do not already have a testimony of the Book of Mormon. But for those who have received a witness that it is the word of God, that early modern English wording becomes a hindrance to understanding. Thus the need to, slightly, modernize it. Otherwise people might concentrate on the grammar instead of the meaning behind the words.

    • I would say no. To paraphrase the NT, the Book of Mormon was made for man, and not man for the Book of Mormon. From what I can see, most of the changes make the text more understandable to a modern English reader. Looking at the original text is really of interest to scholars. Lay members are more interested in the meaning of the text than the text itself. I think that moving the text back to its original form would cause the text to become somewhat of a hinderance to its stated goal to bring people to Christ.

      • Isn’t it really the case that the original text looks more like something a farm boy would have written? Isn’t that why all the changes?

        • Well James, that’s what people used to think when they saw some odd wording. Now we see how truly intricate and sophisticated the text has been all along, thanks to the research of scholars such as Bros. Carmack, Skousen, and others.

          • If the original is so sophisticated, then shouldn’t we pushing to bring the original back like the above person said? Isn’t the original with all the “errors” in grammar really the way God wanted it, according to the theory espoused here?

          • It’s an interesting question. Take this example:
            1 Nephi 5:11
            and also of Adam and Eve, which was our first parents
            It’s been thought to be bad grammar by Smith (I think this one’s in Wikipedia, actually). Yet we find out that it is EModE syntax from the 16c:
            1566 EEBO A06932 Thomas Becon A new postil conteinyng …
            not after the maner of Adam and Eue, which was made of the grounde.
            So does the church want to go back to “which was” or stick with modern “who were”? There are advantages to both. The modern wording is easier for us to read. The earliest text, in hundreds of instances, points directly to the objective impossibility of Smith or anyone else of his time composing the Book of Mormon.

  5. “In fact, 95 of the instances that I have located in that period are from before the year 1600.” Is the 95 supposed to be a percentage (“In fact, 95% of the instances that I have located in that period are from before the year 1600.”)? Or is there a missing total before “instances” (for example, “In fact, 95 of the 1,238,688 instances that I have located in that period are from before the year 1600.”)?

  6. Stanford and Royal
    I was thinking today about the remaining oddities in the Book of Mormon text and wondered if perhaps they might relate to Hebrew constructions. I suspect you guys have already considered this, but I just thought I would throw it out there. If something like the if/and conditionals can make it into the English translation, then why not other direct-translation oddities for which there is no known English equivalent. Or perhaps they are related to some sort of Mesoamerican linguistic influence that we have no experience with. Anyways, just a thought.

  7. It would appear that neither Joseph Smith or anyone else in his time frame “wrote” the Book of Mormon. This added to Perry’s Poetic Parallelisms, etc. proves that the “…ignorant plow boy” could not have written that “gold bible”.

    • This is of course an interesting study that gleans more information about the Book of Mormon. However, let us be more humble about what exactly the significance of this information is concerning this sacred book. Just my two cents. And my gratitude to the author for putting in this hard and time consuming work.

  8. Thanks again Stanford
    As I see the way this issue is unfolding, I suspect that there remains a need to more fully demonstrate just how unique the Book of Mormon text is. Most of the time we compare it to texts like View of the Hebrews, The Late War, or The American Revolution, which Carmack did in a previous article. But what about other relevant texts?
    I suspect that critics are already searching for instances of EModE which might have been missed in the current studies. I don’t know a whole lot about the thoroughness of the database searches. Is it very likely that someone could find something that might substantially reduce the power of Carmack’s argument? Is there any contemporary (or nearly so) text out there that even comes close to the archaic usage of the Book of Mormon?
    I think that one of the potential challenges of Stanford’s argument is that it relies heavily on proving a negative. It asserts that the Book of Mormon text is unique and claims that mimicking archaic syntax and usage (in the specific ways that the BofM does) would have been beyond Joseph Smith’s natural ability.
    To claim uniqueness, however, requires that we can adequately survey the host of texts out there. If I recall correctly, this is what got the critics in trouble with their insistence that “secret combinations” was a word exclusively or uniquely associated with masonry. Utilizing database technology helped demonstrate that the claim was not accurate. There actually were instances of “secret combinations” outside of the masonic context.
    Yet Carmack’s argument is already using the new database technology. It seems to be what makes his claims possible and relevant. I guess my question is how thorough and exhaustive is it? How far can we trust that in 10 years from now the textual database won’t considerably expand and that our searching power won’t also be refined. What percentage of overall texts are in the current databases? How reliable are the methods of Carmack’s searches? What holes or gaps exist where something could have slipped beneath his notice?
    Perhaps Carmack has adequately supplied this type of information in a previous article and I simply didn’t grasp it. But I think it is important. To sell the argument we have to sell the uniqueness of the Book of Mormon text and the impossibility (or remote likelihood) of its being Joseph’s own creation. And this relies heavily on the thoroughness of the databases and the soundness of the methods which utilize them. Perhaps this could be the substance of a future article.
    Wow. The ignoratti sure are good at assigning homework aren’t we!

  9. It seems like the case for Early Modern English grammar and syntax in the book of Mormon is getting stronger and stronger. Isn’t it time to start look for this in Smith’s journals and other personal writings? If it’s not there, a detailed paper demonstrating that would be really helpful to all of us trying to make sense of it all.

    • It seems unlikely that Joseph or any of his associates would have understood the complex nature of the text’s grammar and syntax. Besides, historians have been scouring the primary source documents for many decades now. If there were something substantive which revealed the nature of the English translation, we would probably already know about it.

      • Well, the observations about Early Modern English have just been becoming well known in recent times, so it offers a lens that people likely haven’t been looking through in the past.

        • I think Stanford has looked at some of those sources that you have suggested already. But I could be wrong…

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