Over on the FAIRMormon blog, you can listen to “Syntax and Book of Mormon Authorship – Interview with Stanford Carmack.” This new podcast lets Stanford share more about the strong evidence from the original Book of Mormon text that it is frequently not really KJV language, nor what a modern fabricator would be able to make up by imitating the KJV, but uses subtle syntax more characteristic of Early Modern English, several decades before the KJV. As he explains, it uses now archaic structures with the natural kind of variation typical of Early Modern English that the KJV translators made a point to eliminate as they imposed a good deal of uniformity in the grammar and language.
To me, these findings are still preliminary, being led by the data and not by preconceived notions about the translation process. The data, though, are pushing for a paradigm shift in how the translation was done, suggesting that there is an unexpected 16th-century imprint in the language. For those who believe Joseph wrote the text himself, or with the help of a friend, the apparent mastery of Early Modern English patterns poses a great challenge for previously proffered hypotheses. For those who believe that there were gold plates translated by the gift of God, but given in Joseph Smith’s language plus a dose of KJV verbiage, Carmack’s work may suggest that the text was delivered deliberately with an Early Modern English accent in numerous subtle patterns that would be exceedingly difficult to mimic without a great deal of research–but why and how? Was there a pre-translation into Early Modern English? Deliberate tight control to impose a pre-KJV influence? And if the many archaic Early Modern English structures that now seem like bad grammar to us were important, why were so many removed from the text to fix or update the bad grammar? Was it important to be dictated originally for some reason, but OK to wipe out many of the “fingerprints” for modern readers?
Perhaps the point was to provide a subtle fingerprint in the originally dictated text that would only become apparent and useful to us much later, in a time–perhaps right when we really needed it– when there would be the modern tools were have to examine Early Modern English texts, conduct statistical analysis for large bodies of text, and have the Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon to look at. I don’t know, but if the analyses of Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack hold up (as appears to be the case so far), then we may have something highly quantifiable and very difficult to fake, even if one were smart enough to try to fake it, that greatly weakens any theory of Joseph Smith or an associate of his being the author. But the details seem to leave very little room for just blind luck in imitating the KJV or other texts Joseph had access to. Something far more sophisticated is showing up in the syntax of the original Book of Mormon. Something really strange, almost like the ghostly voice of a a “familiar spirit” speaking from the dust.
Let me know what you think about his podcast and his previous articles at Mormon Interpreter on this topic. If you are in a hurry but want to get some highlights fast, take a look at “English in the Book of Mormon” at the Book of Mormon Resources Blog to see a summary of Stanford’s recent talk on this topic given at a conference sponsored by Mormon Interpreter. Interesting findings.