2015 Exploring the Complexities in the English Language of the Book of Mormon
On Saturday, March 14, 2015, a conference was held in 251 Tanner Building on the BYU Campus in Provo, Utah, to report and discuss the latest investigations into a wide range of linguistic elements in the Book of Mormon, including expressions that do not appear to have been in use in the nineteenth century. As a result of twenty-seven years of investigations by Royal Skousen into the original English-language text of the Book of Mormon, these curiously archaic expressions have raised fascinating questions and discussions regarding the origins of this wondrous scripture.
The program ran from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The public was invited and admission was free.
The conference was filmed, and videos of the presentations are now available for free on the conference videos page, or on Interpreter’s YouTube channel. A YouTube playlist has also been created to facilitate watching all the presentations.
This conference was sponsored by BYU Studies and the Interpreter Foundation.
Welcome by Daniel C. Peterson, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies, BYU; and President of the Interpreter Foundation
Stanford Carmack, JD, Stanford University; PhD, University of California at Santa Barbara (historical syntax); independent scholar
The grammar of the Book of Mormon has been naively criticized since its publication in 1830. The supposedly bad grammar is a match with language found in the Early Modern English textual record. Syntactic usage, especially past tense with did and the command construction, points only to that era. Book of Mormon language exhibits well-formed variation typical of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Jan J. Martin, Assistant Visiting Professor of Ancient Scripture, BYU
Thomas More and William Tyndale were staunch opponents but they did agree on two things: (1) that language and theology were inseparable, and (2) that errors of language could lead to serious errors in theology. These two commonalities fueled their famous debate about Tyndale’s translation of the Greek words presbuteros, ekklēsia, and agapē into English as elder, congregation, and love. Though three centuries separate the Book of Mormon from More and Tyndale, that gap will be closed as the Book of Mormon’s use of charity/love, priest/elder, and congregation/church are analyzed within a sixteenth-century context.
10:45 a.m. 15-minute break
Nick Frederick, Assistant Professor of Ancient Scripture, BYU
While it has often been observed that the language of the New Testament plays a key role in the English text of the Book of Mormon, how the New Testament appears in the Book of Mormon has not been thoroughly explored. This presentation will offer some preliminary suggestions on how we can adequately identify New Testament passages within the Book of Mormon, as well as examining the variety of ways the New Testament text is woven throughout the pages of the Book of Mormon.
Royal Skousen, Professor of Linguistics and English Language, BYU; and editor of the Book of Mormon critical text project, 1988 – present
Three common views regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon, still held by some, can be summarized as follows: (1) as Joseph Smith translated, ideas came to his mind and he expressed those ideas in his own language and phraseology; (2) as a result, the original English language of the Book of Mormon is based on Joseph’s upstate New York dialect, intermixed with his own style of biblical English; and (3) the Book of Mormon deals with the religious and political issues of Joseph’s own time. In this paper I will draw upon the work of the Book of Mormon critical text project to argue that all of these views are essentially misguided and are based on a firm determination to hold to preconceived notions, no matter what the evidence.
Concluding remarks by John W. Welch, Robert K. Thomas University Professor of Law, BYU; and Editor in Chief, BYU Studies