The More Part of the Book of Mormon Is Early Modern English

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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.

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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.

6 thoughts on “The More Part of the Book of Mormon Is Early Modern English

  1. I have heard several different posters on different sites ask/complain “Why would God use such obsolete language in the Book of Mormon?” I am not going to try to read God’s mind here or anywhere else. However one consequence is that it effectively removes Joseph Smith and just about, if not all other proposed authors of the Book of Mormon text as possible authors.

    • Precisely.

      Why God would do such a thing is an interesting question, perhaps unanswerable.

      However — if the analysis offered by Drs. Skousen and Carmack is correct — such a thing was in fact done by SOMEBODY, and it’s very difficult to envision a way in which Joseph Smith did it.

      This is potentially a very powerful argument against any naturalistic explanation for the Book of Mormon that has been offered to this point.

      • Joseph Smith or his school teacher father could have possessed some books or manuscripts written in Old English? Isn’t that possible? Couldn’t that easily explain where the old English came from, if it really was meant to be old English and not simply error?

  2. It is certainly very interesting and curious that the Book of Mormon may contain numerous examples of Early Modern English, but the phenomenon of writing in an archaic language and form does not seem to be unique or novel to Joseph Smith. It would be interesting to hear Dr. Carmack comment, for example, on the case of Pearl Curran (1883-1937) who claimed to channel a 17th century English woman, Patience Worth, specifically Casper S. Yost’s analysis of the predominant archaic English found in Curran/Worth’s novel Telka, published in 1928, which Yost claimed to be 90% Anglo-Saxon, and is not found in that high percentage until one goes back to the 13th century. Here is a link to Yost’s article “The Evidence in Telka”:

    This, and other similar examples, are cited by Robert A. Rees in his Journal of Book of Mormon Studies review on automatic writing. Another case of archaic language use is one in which a person communicated in “a Chinese dialect not spoken in China for centuries. As an observer of this last case, Dr. Neville Whymant, lecturer in Chinese at Oxford University, reported, ‘The Chinese to which we were now listening was as dead colloquially as Sanskrit or Latin.’ To test the authenticity of the speaker, who identified himself as Confucius, Dr. Whymant recited the first and only line he knew of an obscure and difficult ancient Chinese poem and asked its meaning. He reports, ‘The voice took up the poem and recited to the end’ using intonation characteristic of archaic Chinese.” (Robert A. Rees, “The Book of Mormon and Automatic Writing,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 15/1 (2006): 7.)

    • I haven’t studied the issue wrt to Curran, but I do note that in her Sorry Tale, which has more than 300,000 words, she used the presumably archaic reflexive past-tense phrase “they went them” 35 times, and that I didn’t find it in either eModE or modE, despite there being huge numbers of instances of “they went” in the databases searched. A thorough analysis is needed.

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