2 Nephi 27:20, 22, 24
wherefore thou shalt read the words which I shall give unto thee.. . .Wherefore when thou hast read the words which I have commanded thee . . .the Lord shall say unto him that shall read the words that shall be delivered him:
This study examines the assertions of two investigators who have discussed the nature of the translation of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s role in it: Brant Gardner and Orson Scott Card. Their writings on the subject have declared that Smith’s own language frequently made its way into the wording of the Book of Mormon. However, a comparison of the earliest text with the textual record tells us that this is an incorrect view of the translation. The linguistic fingerprint of the Book of Mormon, in hundreds of different ways, is Early Modern English. Smith himself — out of a presumed idiosyncratic, quasi-biblical style — would not have translated and could not have translated the text into the form of the earliest text. Had his own language often found its way into the wording of the earliest text, its form would be very different from what we encounter. It is still appropriate to call Joseph Smith the translator of the Book of Mormon, but he wasn’t a translator in the usual sense of the term. He was a translator in the sense of being the human involved in transferring or re-transmitting a concrete form of expression (mostly English words) received from the Lord. The above language of 2 Nephi 27 indicates such a state of affairs as well. And so I have undertaken to critique some of the observations that have been made with respect to Book of Mormon translation, and to lay out an entirely different view of the text, which has been argued for by Royal Skousen for quite a while now. Continue reading
Royal Skousen has done an excellent job of summarizing the use of the construction “the more part of + ‹ NOUN PHRASE ›” (and close variants) in the Book of Mormon at Helaman 6:21 in his Analysis of Textual Variants. In this phrase, the adjective more conveys an obsolete meaning of ‘greater’. My concern here is to compare Book of Mormon usage to that of the King James Bible and the textual record and to place it in its proper time. Continue reading
In order to properly consider possible meaning in the Book of Mormon (BofM), we must use the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Royal Skousen opened the door to this approach,1 but unfortunately many have resisted accepting it as valid or have not understood the advantages inherent in it. The usual method of consulting Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language has serious drawbacks. First, that approach is based on the incorrect assumption that the English language of the text is Joseph Smith’s own language or what he knew from reading the King James Bible (kjb). That incorrect assumption leads us to wrongly believe that nonbiblical lexical meaning in the BofM is to be sought in 1820s American English, or even perhaps from Smith making mistakes in his attempt to imitate biblical language (which is a canard). Second, by using Webster’s 1828 dictionary we can easily be led astray and form inaccurate judgments about old usage and we can miss possible meaning in the text. Continue reading
Abstract: In the middle of the 16th century there was a short-lived surge in the use of the auxiliary did to express the affirmative past tense in English, as in Moroni «did arrive» with his army to the land of Bountiful (Alma 52:18). The 1829 Book of Mormon contains nearly 2,000 instances of this particular syntax, using it 27% of the time in past-tense contexts. The 1611 King James Bible — which borrowed heavily from Tyndale’s biblical translations of the 1520s and ’30s — employs this syntax less than 2% of the time. While the Book of Mormon’s rate is significantly higher than the Bible’s, it is close to what is found in other English-language texts written mainly in the mid- to late 1500s. And the usage died out in the 1700s. So the Book of Mormon is unique for its time — this is especially apparent when features of adjacency, inversion, and intervening adverbial use are considered. Textual evidence and syntactic analysis argue strongly against both 19th-century composition and an imitative effort based on King James English. Book of Mormon past-tense syntax could have been achieved only by following the use of largely inaccessible 16th-century writings. But mimicry of lost syntax is difficult if not impossible, and so later writers who consciously sought to imitate biblical style failed to match its did-usage at a deep, systematic level. This includes Ethan Smith who in 1823 wrote View of the Hebrews, a text very different from both the Bible and the Book of Mormon in this respect. The same may be said about Hunt’s The Late War and Snowden’s The American Revolution.
Editor’s note: Because of the complex typesetting of this article, it has not been reproduced on this webpage. The reader is referred to the PDF version to view the article.
Abstract: The variety of command syntax found in the Book of Mormon is very different from what is seen in the King James Bible. Yet it is sophisticated and principled, evincing Early Modern English linguistic competence. Interestingly, the syntactic match between the 1829 text and a prominent text from the late 15th century is surprisingly good. All the evidence indicates that Joseph Smith would not have produced the structures found in the text using the King James Bible as a model, nor from his own language. The overall usage profile of command syntax seen in the Book of Mormon strongly supports the view that the Lord revealed specific words to Joseph Smith, not simply ideas. Continue reading