The Case of the {-th} Plural in the Earliest Text

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Abstract: The earliest text of the Book of Mormon employs the {-th} plural — for example, “Nephi’s brethren rebelleth” — in a way that is substantially similar to what is found in many writings of the Early Modern period. The earliest text neither underuses nor overuses the construction, and it manifests inflectional variation and differential usage rates typical of Early Modern English. The totality of the evidence tells us that the Book of Mormon is most reasonably classified as a 16th- or 17th-century text, not as a 19th-century text full of biblical hypercorrections.

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About Stanford Carmack

Stanford Carmack has a linguistics and a law degree from Stanford University, as well as a doctorate in Hispanic Languages and Literature from the University of California, Santa Barbara, specializing in historical syntax. In the past he has had articles published on Georgian verb morphology and object–participle agreement in Old Spanish and Old Catalan. He currently researches Book of Mormon syntax as it relates to Early Modern English and contributes, by means of textual analysis, to volume 3 of Royal Skousen’s Book of Mormon critical text project.

5 thoughts on “The Case of the {-th} Plural in the Earliest Text

  1. Very interesting paper .I have reviewed a number of biblical translations to see if they contained the word ” rebelleth” and the only one that I can find is the Geneva bible of 1599. It occurs twice. This of of course is consistent with your research . Keep up the good work,

  2. Thanks for this fine paper. You mention the existence of singular “ye” in both the Book of Mormon and EME. I also see cases of the plural “thou” in the Book of Mormon in Skousen’s Earliest Text. Here are 3 examples from 1 Nephi:

    And now I Nephi being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, therefore I spake unto them, saying, yea, even unto Laman and unto Lemuel: Behold, *THOU* art mine elder brethren, and how is it that YE are so hard in YOUR hearts and so blind in YOUR minds… (1 Nephi 7:8)

    Know YE not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over YOU? —and this because of YOUR iniquities. Behold, *THOU* shalt go up to Jerusalem again, and the Lord will deliver Laban into YOUR hands. (1 Nephi 3:29; angel to Laman and Lemuel)

    For the Lord had not hitherto suffered that we should make much fire as we journeyed in the wilderness, for he saith: I will make that *THY* food shall become sweet, that YE cook it not. (1 Nephi 17:33)

    Have you run across similar usage of thou/thy plural in texts from the Early Modern period?

  3. 1621, Edward Grimeston (translator), Jean Guillemard’s A combat betwixt man and death
    [God] doth communicate in the same Lawes, the same prayers, and the same Sacraments with thee, that you are bound to succour one another reciprocally.
    1652, Christopher Love, The natural man’s case stated
    So now do not you doe your own souls wrong
    by harbouring of bosome lusts and corruptions in your souls?
    What benefit will it be to thee, that you do no body else wrong,
    when you doe your own souls wrong?
    In the following biblical verse we apparently encounter plural thou usage, yet the forms can be ascribed to the underlying Hebrew:
    Isaiah 30:20
    And though the Lord giue you the bread of aduersitie, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be remooued into a corner any more: but thine eyes shall see thy teachers.
    Here is another one:
    (Isaiah 65:11)
    11 ¶ But ye are they that forsake the Lord, that forget my holy mountain, that prepare a table for that troop, and that furnish the drink offering unto that number.
    (Isaiah 65:15)
    15 And ye shall leave your name for a curse unto my chosen: for the Lord God shall slay thee, and call his servants by another name:
    So it’s actually biblical and extra-biblical. Decalogue usage of thou is indefinite in terms of reference, either plural or singular.

    • Thanks. It seems to me that in your first example “thee” may refer to a single person, though, corresponding to “your selfe” (who has an issue with his “neighbour”) in the previous clause, with the final “you” and “one another” referring to this person plus the hypothetical neighbor. The second example looks more certain, but it looks like it may be sort of an indefinite you (I don’t have the context), in which case it would not be quite so surprising for the 2nd person to vary between singular and plural. Plural thou/thee must be extremely rare. Your examples are from the 17th Century. Would you expect it to be at its peak earlier, in the 1500s?

      • At the present time I don’t know that potential use of plural thou was more likely in the 16c or 17c. I can think of reasons for either one. The best examples I’ve seen are biblical, which is basically a 16c text. In the 17c you is dominant and generalized to singular and plural. Thou is less common than it was, and might have more readily been generalized to singular and plural, along with you.

        Yes, you’re right about the 1621 example. The larger context, which I hadn’t read, indicates that singular thee switches to plural you and each other.

        Isaiah 65:15 is a good example of plural ye and co-referential thee, however, following the Hebrew. (Thee and servants are not co-referential.) The Book of Mormon might or might not be following a source language in its examples of plural thou.

        Other King James passages have candidates of plural thou, like Deuteronomy 12:32:

        What thing soever I command you, observe to do it:
        thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

        The discussion leading up to this is plural in orientation.

        The following are similar in pronominal switching:

        Isaiah 26:19
        Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead

        Mosiah 12:31
        And it shall come to pass that ye shall be smitten for thine iniquities, for ye have said that ye teach the law of Moses.

        EEBO2 A61691, pages 31 and 32 may have one or two examples of plural thee. Or not. This is late 17c northern English dialect by a Quaker who uses the {-th} plural and “things is”, as does the Book of Mormon. 3sg {-s} inflection is also used in conjoined predicates after you, which I don’t think I’ve seen before and is odd. As far as I know, the Book of Mormon doesn’t have that particular usage.

        Richard Baxter takes Revelation 2 thee and employs thee as a plural in the following short example, switching immediately to you in his commentary:

        (1685, A26981)
        4. But for this I reprove thee, that you have not that hearty, servent Love to me, and to one another, which you had at the first; and that you grow colder when you should grow better.

        After this brief examination, it looks like biblical examples are actually the closest ones to the Book of Mormon’s obvious examples of specific plural thou, thee, thy, thine. Book of Mormon plural thou, thee, thy, thine may be viewed as a biblical derivative or extrapolation. It is very hard to find similar examples in the Early Modern English textual record.

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