The mystery of Early Modern English (EModE) grammar in the original text of the Book of Mormon just became more interesting with Stanford Carmack’s latest in-depth analysis, “The Implications of Past-Tense Syntax
in the Book of Mormon” at MormonInterpreter.com.
Here Stanford explores the pervasive and archaic use of “did” in the Book of Mormon, particularly the “affirmative declarative periphrastic”
did, or ADP did.
Brace yourselves for some intense grammar and loads of intriguing data showing that the unusual usage of this grammatical form in the Book of Mormon strongly differs from the King James Bible and other books available to Joseph Smith, and differs strongly from the English of Joseph Smith’s day, but is consistent with EModE patterns a few decades before the KJV was produced. There is a remarkable fingerprint in the Book of Mormon that defies common efforts to ascribe the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith’s authorship.
Here is Stanford’s abstract:
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.
The fingerprint of EModE in the original text is fascinating and ably documented in this and Carmack’s other works,
and yet there are times when the translation may have been loose. See
Brant Gardner’s 2011 book, The Gift and the Power. Gardner’s work on
this topic has some weaknesses, as David Bokovoy has pointed out,
but one example I find especially interesting is the reference to the
“five Books of Moses” in the BOM text, which most likely were not a set
of five books in Nephi’s day. I think the original text may have made a
reference to the Torah or the books of Moses, and Joseph modified it in
the translation process to refer to the five books of Moses as we know
them. That’s a moment of loose translation.
I think the debate over tight and loose translation is a bit like the
tension between the wave and particle properties of matter. Perhaps the
translation process involves both to varying degrees, with the delivery
of information to Joseph being provided with initial tight control that
he then sometimes adjusted in his role as translator, resulting at
times in loose control. When I see translations of Chinese, there are often parts where I feel there is “tight control” and parts where things are rather loose. I can imagine both occurring for a variety of reasons in a divinely inspired Book of Mormon with a tightly controlled pre-translation being available for Joseph to access and apply. But that’s just my speculation.
I’d love to have a day-long panel discussion with Stanford Carmack, Brant Gardner,
Royal Skousen, David Bokovoy, and maybe someone like Daniel Peterson,
John Tvedtnes, and Bill Hamblin, etc., to discuss the ins and outs of
tight vs. loose control and the implications of EModE. Who else would you like to see on such a panel?