In The Nature of the Original Language [of the Book of Mormon] (hereafter, NOL), Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack indicated that additional research into the language of the Book of Mormon as dictated by Joseph Smith might discover that some of the archaic words, phrases, and expressions identified at the beginning of NOL had also occurred later in the period of Early Modern English. Regrettably, they were hampered at the time by limitations in the Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) database.
But much of that difficulty has since been overcome. Accordingly, Carmack has spent the past year or so reviewing the potentially archaic words, phrases, and expressions discussed in NOL, and, having thoroughly weighed that initial re-analysis, Skousen has now written a fresh report on the subject.
We have already posted pre-prints of their revised discussion of apparently archaic vocabulary at https://interpreterfoundation.org/blog-pre-print-of-revisions-in-the-analysis-of-archaic-language-in-the-book-of-mormon/, of proposed archaic phrases at https://interpreterfoundation.org/blog-pre-print-of-revisions-in-the-analysis-of-archaic-phrases-in-the-book-of-mormon/ and, most recently, of archaic grammar at https://interpreterfoundation.org/blog-pre-print-of-revisions-in-the-analysis-of-archaic-grammar-in-the-book-of-mormon/.
In what follows — the fourth and last installment of this series of pre-prints of material that will appear in part 8 of volume 3 of the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project — Skousen and Carmack report the results of their renewed inquiry into what they had previously identified as archaic expressions. Only a few of the seemingly archaic expressions treated in NOL are purely archaic.
Responding to an email inquiry from me, Royal Skousen provided the following 30 November 2020 summary statement that I include here with his kind permission:
Stanford Carmack and I are doing what we promised we would do in the introduction to The Nature of the Original Language [of the Book of Mormon], namely, to reconsider our findings as the databases got better (especially our access to the texts in ECCO). Here’s the quote from page 10 of NOL:
‘In some cases, it has been difficult to decide which category to place a write-up in, especially when the databases are still not as developed as we would wish. Over time, further advances in the size and variety of the databases may lead us to change the categorization for some of these write-ups.’
So some of the items we thought were archaic (prior to 1740) are not, and we have identified these by citing examples. There is no reason to hide these findings. It should be pointed out that in the last of our four revised parts that [yes, repeat the subordinate conjunction that] many of these expressions were already identified as occurring in the 1700s and early 1800s, up to Joseph Smith’s time. Those examples that we gave explicit citations to in NOL are listed here in part 4 with arrows (there are 9 of them). They were put in that section 7 (Archaic Expressions) to show that they were also archaic. So here is a summary of the shifts in our thinking:
Section 1, Archaic Vocabulary: 26 remain archaic, 10 persist into the 1700s or later, 4 are re-created words, and 1 is biblical usage
Section 3, Archaic Phrases: 14 remain archaic, 14 persist into the 1700s or later, and 1 is biblical usage
Section 4, Archaic Grammar: 2 remain archaic, 12 persist into the 1700s or later (2 were identified with citations in NOL), and 1 is biblical usage
Section 7, Archaic Expressions: 7 remain archaic, 27 persist into the 1700s or later (9 were identified with citations in NOL), and 3 are influenced by biblical usage
One should notice that the shorter the example (individual word meanings and short phrases) the greater the odds that our initial analysis was correct. Grammatical items typically involve singular or plural usage, with syntax playing a role, and the same for expressions.
So the archaic hypothesis still holds, with nearly 50 examples restricted to archaic usage (Early Modern English, 1540s to the 1740s). The databases are out there for others to check. The critics of the archaic hypothesis should still be worried.
These revisions illustrate the care and integrity with which the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project has been conducted from the time it was launched. The Interpreter Foundation is honored to be associated with this effort.
— Dan Peterson
Links to the databases mentioned in this write-up:
|OED||Oxford English Dictionary: online, third edition [in progress]
|EEBO||Early English Books Online (texts from the late 1400s up through 1700)
Search Engine: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?page=simple;g=eebogroup
|ECCO||Eighteenth Century Collections Online (texts from 1700 through 1800)
|DOST||A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (texts from before 1700)
|Google Books||Advanced Book Search
NOTE: This is a pre-print of what will appear in part 8 of Volume III: The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon. As such, we have not made it available for downloading or printing. Please refrain from bypassing these restrictions.
As I read these examples, my mind becomes more and more convinced that even though many of the usages persisted into Joseph Smith’s day, the commonality of such speech in everyday rural New York English appears somewhat dubious. Granted that there may have been some of these phrases in common usage, but doubtful that all of them were extant in his specific locale. Beyond that, there may have even been adherents to the Plymouth pilgrim’s speech patterns still evident in rural 1820’s America (unsure how that would have transpired, but I suppose that it’s not impossible. (After all, there have been several native German speakers who were convinced that they could hear Germanic inflections in my father’s speech patterns even after the last German ancestor hadn’t spoken it since five generations back.))
Anyway, as I read through these referents, it seems likely, and more of a preponderance to me that those utilizing the aforementioned speech patterns appear to be people who were the “more” educated and well-written than would be accountable for the typical frontier inhabitants of 1820 rural America. For Joseph to have been acquainted with each of the quotations as referenced above would have required an immense amount of reading and study in relatively obscure tomes, and beyond that, an amazingly photographic memory to have remembered them all in order to utilize them in the production of the Book of Mormon. I just don’t see how by any stretch of the imagination Joseph was supposed to have not only remembered them all, but been able to accurately utilize them. This seems especially true when considering those phrases which do not ever appear in the King James Bible and are yet rendered so effectively in the Book of Mormon.
Nonetheless, the evidence of Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon is a fascinating case study, regardless of where it may have originated or come from. My hat’s off to and many thanks to Stanford Carmack and Royal Skousen for their deep and encouraging study regarding this interesting enigma.