The Increasingly Strange Text of the Book of Mormon

Stanford Carmack’s series of four articles at the Mormon Interpreter provide a large body of detailed data pointing to something strange, increasingly strange, in the Book of Mormon: the grammatical patterns of the original Book of Mormon firmly rooted in Early Modern English (EmodE), giving it a grammatical signature earlier than the KJV Bible. Explaining the Book of Mormon as a crude imitation of the KJV is now more problematic. But understanding the Book of Mormon is much more interesting now. It may still take much more analysis and study to come up with theories that stick for the origins of the Book of Mormon language. Why EModE? How was it provided? Was there a pre-translation?

In Carmack’s latest article, “Why the Oxford English Dictionary (and not Webster’s 1828),” he adds to the data by exploring several additional patterns, the most interesting of which I felt is his examination of “it supposeth me,” a rare inverted syntax pattern that occurs four times in the Book of Mormon, each consistent with language much earlier than the KJV in ways that make it highly unlikely for Joseph to have picked this up on his own. Interesting.

Could Joseph Smith have known about this inverted syntax? I suppose he could have seen it, had he spent time reading Middle English poetry. Was it accessible to him? No. This grammatical structure is exceedingly rare, the embodiment of obsolete usage. Had he ever seen it, he hardly would have recognized it and been able to transform it…. Yet the text employs inverted syntax with suppose appropriately and consistently four times. 

Along the way, Carmack points out just how complex and interesting the Book of Mormon text is:

Let me also say at this point that it is wrongheaded to propose Moroni as translator in order to account for “errors” in the text. He may have been involved in the divine translation effort, but to employ him as an explanatory device in order to account for putative errors is misguided. The English-language text is too complex, diverse, and even well-formed to ascribe it to a non-native translation effort. Again, as I have stated in an earlier paper, the BofM is not full of grammatical errors. Rather, it is full of EModE — some of it is typical and pedestrian, some of it is elegant and sophisticated, and some of it is, to our limited or uninformed way of thinking, objectionable and ungrammatical. The BofM also contains touches of modern English and late Middle English. It is not a monolithic text, and we are just beginning to learn about its English language…. I have certainly come to realize that it is not the text of the BofM that is full of errors, but rather our judgments in relation to its grammar.

For those wanting certainty, that’s disturbing language. But this smells like an adventure that will lead somewhere. Critics and fans alike should find this challenge worth digging into. Will new insights about Book of Mormon cause it to go down in flames? Critics may hope so. Carmack already offers a strongly worded thesis, feeling that whatever the details are that led to EModE in the Book of Mormon, the complex pre-KJV content of the Book of Mormon implies that the Lord “revealed a concrete form of expression (words) to Joseph Smith” and that the text itself is of divine origin.

I think the devil is not in these details, but something is, and further work is needed.

In the middle of his latest paper, after summarizing some of the many interesting findings so far, Carmack makes an even stronger series of assertions/conclusions that I’m not quite comfortable with, though I think I understand his excitement:

  • The BofM is full of King James English whose meaning obligatorily derives from the 1500s (since much kjb language derives from 16th-century translations, especially Tyndale’s).
  • The BofM has quite a few instances of older, nonbiblical meaning, including:

    counsel = ‘ask counsel of, consult,’ used in Alma 37:37; 39:10; this sense is not in Webster’s 1828, and the last OED quote is dated 1547.

    depart = ‘divide,’ used intransitively in Helaman 8:11; this sense is not in Webster’s 1828, and the last OED quote is dated 1577.

    scatter = ‘separate from the main
    body (without dispersal),’ as used in the BofM’s title page; this sense
    is not in Webster’s 1828, and the last OED quote is dated 1661.

    choice = ‘sound judgment’ or ‘discernment,’ used as an abstract noun in 1 Nephi 7:15.

  • Past-tense syntax with did matches only mid to late 1500s usage.
  • Complementation with the verbs command, cause, suffer matches only the late 1400s and the 1500s.
  • Syntax like Nephi’s brethren rebelleth (in the prefaces to 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi) corresponds to 1500s usage; it is not in the kjb and was obsolete in the 1800s.

In view of the foregoing observations and evidence, I assert the following:

  • There is undeniably substantial evidence in the BofM of EModE meaning and syntax that was inaccessible to Smith and scribe.
  • Smith could not have known the obsolete meaning of some of these
    words except from context because semantic shifts are unpredictable and
    unknowable to anyone in the absence of specific philological study.
  • The pervasive EModE syntax as well as the existence
    of obsolete, inaccessible (nonbiblical) meaning in the text mean that
    Smith must have received specific words from the Lord throughout the translation.
  • Therefore, the wording of the BofM did not come from Smith’s mind; he dictated specific words that were given to him.
  • God was in charge of the translation of the English-language text of the BofM; no mortal translated it.
  • Smith translated the BofM in the sense of being the person on earth integrally involved in conveying Christ’s words from the divine realm to our earthly sphere; Smith was not the translator in the conventional sense of the term.

My discomfort lies in extrapolating the data to determine what did or did not happen in Joseph’s mind. Yes, if  EModE points to tight control, then specific words or grammatical patterns would seem to have been provided somehow. But as Carmack has noted, the text of the Book of Mormon is not monolithic, and the way Joseph responded to whatever was provided to him may not have been monolithic for every sentence, verse, and chapter. I believe God was in charge of the whole project, but being in charge did not stop Him from allowing Oliver to hear and write words incorrectly, nor did it stop the printer from introducing errors, nor did it stop Joseph from making corrections and changes, including many fixes of obviously bad grammar (to our ears) that we have just learned was typically good grammar from a much earlier era. If the hands and minds of men could play a role in all those stages, was Joseph left out at the earliest phase when he dictated text to his scribes? Is it not possible that a base translation was available in some way, but it could still be modified at times as it went through Joseph’s mind and lips? Was there still some flexibility at play in how Joseph conveyed whatever came to his mind or eyes? I don’t know, but think it is possible, and perhaps even needed to deal with instances of apparent loose control in the text (all of which may need to be reconsidered as we move forward with the data from Carmack, Skousen, and hopefully many more contributors in this area).

I don’t know what Joseph saw and experienced, but am deeply intrigued by this new mystery of sound Early Modern English infused into the text. To me, it does seem to defy the theories offered so far by those who see Joseph as the author of what is merely a modern text dressed up in KJV language with some embarrassing hick grammar that had to be cleansed. It does seem to support the possibility of divine origins. But I think we need to be cautious of inferring too much.  The implications of EModE content need to be explored patiently and tentatively to see where they lead as the details are more fully fleshed out.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

74 thoughts on “The Increasingly Strange Text of the Book of Mormon

  1. Help me understand what this means. Is Carmack saying that words like "counsel" with the meaning, "ask counsel of, consult" did not exist in ANY dictionary during 1828? Or is Carmack saying these definitions only in the Oxford English Dictionary?

    Either way this is very interesting. It's actually something I've always wondered about these words as used in their unusual context. We never use them naturally in this way today (unless we are saying a prayer and using BoM speak), nor have I seen them used this way in the KJV.

    I'd love for someone to dig a little deeper and find out if there are any other works, essays, or letters (other than the dictionary) that Joseph had access to where these words are used like this during his time.

  2. I hate to keep repeating myself, but I still have the same three questions that I would like to see Carmack address.

    (1) Carmack writes, Could Joseph Smith have known about this inverted syntax? I suppose he could have seen it, had he spent time reading Middle English poetry. Was it accessible to him? No.

    But even if Smith could not have seen this syntax, that hardly means it was not accessible to him, since after all, in addition to writing there is this thing called speech. Given that nonstandard spoken dialects sometimes lag behind the standard, written language, is it not possible that Smith could have heard this older syntax?

    I've asked this question before, and as far as I know, Carmack has ignored it.

    (2) Is it possible that what appears to be good EModE is actually an artifact of a methodology that seems to involve something like the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy? There's at least one reason to think so, namely, the fact that we're not seeing passages of text written in prose whose every construction is an EModE construction, but rather isolated instances of a few EModE constructions popping up here and there. Why in the world would we see that? Because God likes to drop in an occasional anachronism just for the heck of it? The lack of any plausible rationale for an actual writer or speaker to produce the things we're seeing would seem to support the idea that those things are just methodological artifacts. (Sorry if this is getting kinda wonky. I'm confident, though, that Carmack understands what I'm getting at.)

    And again, I've raised this issue before, and as far as I know, Carmack has not seriously addressed it.

    (3) Does Carmack plan to write up his work for peer review and secular publication? If so, when? Why not now?

    Again, I've asked this question before, and as far as I know, Carmack has not seriously addressed it.

    And a related question for Jeff: Why won't you join me in pressing for outside peer review of this work?

    We shouldn't think of peer review as a way for mean old academic party-poopers to play "Gotcha!" Instead we should think of it as the way tentative research is eventually turned into actual knowledge. It's the way knowledge advances.

    Avoiding peer review here serves only to advance apologetics.

    So, what's the end-game here: true knowledge, or mere apologetics?

  3. Hi Orbiting Kolob,

    It is my understanding that speech will lag formal grammar if the population is isolated thereby taking on a more conservative approach to their language, for example, Icelandic more resembles Old Norse than modern day Danish or Norwegian. I see that Joseph Smith's time and location to be a bit more dynamic than static so that remnants of a spoken languages 300 years previous would not be the vernacular. However, if the possibility of EmodE being the vernacular of isolated communities near Joseph's home, then the local court records and store logs should be able to show the remnants of EmodE since those are the types of records that would document the vernacular and quite possibly the hymnals that were used would capture not only the grammar but the specific vowel structures that exist for EmodE (which is why some Mormon hymns do not rhyme at all but did back in the day they were written).

    Given your enthusiasm for hypothesizing 😉 I think you are up for the task in collating the data of the local records at the time of Joseph Smith to see if there is merit to your suggestions.

    Steve

  4. Diaries, too, Steve. But with all due respect, the research you suggest sounds like a job for a trained linguist.

  5. Some problems are hard to solve and require mental gymnastics. I don't see this as a bad thing.

    Steve

  6. What’s bothering Orbiting Kolob and others about the way that evidence for EModE in the Book of Mormon is being used as an apologetic device has something to do with Bayes’ formula, which has something to do with the Texas sharpshooter fallacy mentioned above. Bayes’ formula states that the probability of A given that B is true is proportional to the converse probability of B given that A is true. For example, if A is the proposition that God directed Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon, and B is the proposition that Joseph’s translation contains EModE, then what’s the probability of A if B is true? It equals P(B,A)*P(A)/P(B) where P(B,A) is the probability that if God directed Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon, the Book of Mormon contains EModE.

    Whether familiar with Bayes’ formula or not, Orbiting Kolob and others have an intuitive understanding that a conditional probability is proportional to its converse. That’s why we’re all scratching our heads that this argument about EModE has any traction in the apologetic community. There is no a priori reason to think that if God directed the translation of the Book of Mormon, he would direct Joseph Smith to include EModE. It seems just as likely that he would direct Joseph to translate it into Ebonics or a backwoods American form of English. In other words, we have no reason to predict a priori that P(B,A) should be high, and so the posterior probability P(A,B) doesn’t seem high.

  7. Gee, Jerome, I really liked your conclusion, so you did a good job . . . even though your a priori reason statement was obvious and your propositions seriously flawed.

  8. They're not my propositions, Tyrone. They're the propositions of the EModE apologists. If you find them flawed, tell them.

  9. @Jerome and Orbiting Kolob. Whatever questions that arise about the EmodE and what God may or may not have had in mind in doing so are irrelevant to the discussion.

    What is relevant is the fact that Stanford has done a lot of research on the subject, including searches of contemporary texts of the day that Joseph may have had access to to see if there were other texts with corresponding levels of EmodE usage. Up to this point, he has found none, if I understand what he has published correctly.

    A critic needs to be able to point to some plausible explanation, backed up by evidence to make it plausible, to explain how grammar that seems not to have been used in Joseph's day, and actually predated the KJV wound up in the Book of Mormon.

    One does not need to be a linguist to search for the types of grammar that Stanford is talking about. He has helpfully provided the examples and the percentages from a few texts.

    All you have to do is search through any digitized texts that you may be able to find here and there.

    Maybe it was the product of automatic writing. Maybe you could check the grammar of people like "Patience Worth" to see if they produced grammar with such EmodE constructs.

    Hypothesizing about this or that probability without any data to support such a hypothesis adds nothing to (nor subtracts nothing from) the discussion.

    Glenn

  10. "A critic needs to be able to point to some plausible explanation, backed up by evidence to make it plausible, to explain how grammar that seems not to have been used in Joseph's day, and actually predated the KJV wound up in the Book of Mormon."

    Exactly! And Stanford needs to back up his explanation with some plausible evidence. His explanation is that God wanted the EModE there. He thinks that fact that it is there shows the divine origins of the book. So let's see the plausible evidence that would persuade us all of these explanations.

    Let's have this data to support this hypothesis!

    See, Glenn, Stanford is using science as a tool, but his work is not scientific. It is not fair to demand evidence from we who are critical of Stanford's work when his theories are not provable through the scientific method.

  11. Look, Glenn. Carmack explains the presence of certain observed word strings to divine intervention. I explain them as possibly being either random artifacts of bad methodology or echoes of some spoken dialect.

    If you think my disagreement with Carmack can be resolved by a non-linguist, lacking experience in the history of spoken English and in statistics and research methodology, you are mistaken.

    Here's an example, from Wikipedia's entry on the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy, of how poor methodology an produce misleading results:

    A Swedish study in 1992 tried to determine whether or not power lines caused some kind of poor health effects. The researchers surveyed everyone living within 300 meters of high-voltage power lines over a 25-year period and looked for statistically significant increases in rates of over 800 ailments. The study found that the incidence of childhood leukemia was four times higher among those that lived closest to the power lines, and it spurred calls to action by the Swedish government. The problem with the conclusion, however, was that the number of potential ailments, i.e. over 800, was so large that it created a high probability that at least one ailment would exhibit the appearance of a statistically significant difference by chance alone. Subsequent studies failed to show any links between power lines and childhood leukemia, neither in causation nor even in correlation.

    Something similar might be happening in Carmack's work. Just as the Swedish researchers went looking for any of 800 ailments, Carmack went looking for any of a certain kind of word string — any string that matched any kind of grammar unique to pre-KJV English.

    How many such constructions are there? Probably a lot — possibly even 800, possibly enough to render Carmack's study just as hopeless as the Swedish study — but I really don't know, and you don't either. A linguist might know how many such constructions there are, or at least be able to find out. A statistician might know how many such strings it would take to invalidate Carmack's work. This is just one reason why we do need professionals to check up on that work. It's too complex a matter for amateurs.

    And again again again, I hate to sound like a broken record, but until Carmack submits his work for peer review by independent linguists, working outside his cozy little circle of fellow apologists, that work doesn't mean squat.

    You know what else? When it comes to the need for peer review, Carmack knows I'm right. Dan Peterson of the Interpreter also knows this, yet is publishing this stuff anyway. It's almost as if their concern is with promoting the faith, not pursuing the truth. That's wrong in itself, and it makes the Church look bad, and they wouldn't be able to get away with it if believers like you and Jeff would hold them to higher standards.

  12. @everythingbeforeus and Orbiting Kolob.

    I am not arguing for Stanford's belief that the presence of the EmodE that has been uncovered is evidence for tight control of the Book of Mormon dictation process. That hypothesis is designed for a debate between believers in the divinity of the Book of Mormon, i.e. that it is a divinely inspired translation from the plates that Joseph said he had received from an angel and which were seen by others.

    I am focusing only on the parts that can be fairly easily checked by non-linguists with a modicum of computer knowledge and who know how to conduct computer searches. Such as the statement "There is undeniably substantial evidence in the BofM of EModE meaning and syntax that was inaccessible to Smith and scribe.".

    Using the examples that Carmack has provided it should be a fairly simple matter to go through texts that Joseph would have had access to, even if the chances were slim, and check for significant usage.

    If anyone can find such texts, it would significantly weaken the case that Stanford is building on the EmodE usage.

    Now, maybe some of you who know some non-LDS linguists who would like to weigh in on whether the examples that Stanford submitted are indeed EmodE.

    Glenn

  13. Glenn writes, I am focusing only on the parts that can be fairly easily checked by non-linguists with a modicum of computer knowledge and who know how to conduct computer searches. Such as the statement "There is undeniably substantial evidence in the BofM of EModE meaning and syntax that was inaccessible to Smith and scribe."

    And I'm saying, No, that statement CANNOT "be fairly easily checked by non-linguists."

    For one thing, for syntax to be "inaccessible to Smith and scribe," it would have to be absent from both the written AND the spoken language of Smith's environment. And non-linguists cannot explore the latter simply by doing computer searchers. So what would be the point of doing that work? Whatever it turned up would have no bearing on the objection.

    For another thing, the onus is on Carmack to submit his work for peer review. Until he does that, I have no reason whatsoever to take his work seriously. The onus is certainly not on me to undertake the labor of peer review myself.

    Think about it, Glenn. Carmack does some highly technical linguistics work, and he basically says to us, "I have strong evidence the divinity of the Book of Mormon!"

    And I say, "Not so fast. There are several potential problems here that ought to be resolved by expert peer reviewers."

    And Glenn says, "Peer review? Nah. Orbiting, YOU should do the work of peer review."

    Orbiting says, "But I'm neither a linguist nor a statistics expert. I lack the expertise. Plus, you know, I'm a busy guy. Why is it up to me to vet Carmack's work?"

    The next move is not mine. The next move is Carmack's.

    Glenn also writes that Carmack's "hypothesis is designed for a debate between believers in the divinity of the Book of Mormon…."

    OK, so it's an in-house debate. (This isn't really true, since Carmack, Peterson, et al, are also hoping to persuade non-believers. But let that slide.) Even if this is true, I stand by my statement that even believers should have a problem with Carmack's work thus far. Even believers should take heed of the objections I've raised and ask Carmack to respond to them and to submit his work for peer review. After all, if my objections (or others that might turn up in peer review) turn out to be well grounded, shouldn't believers care?

    Peer review is a means of establishing whether claims of this sort are true. Don't believers care about truth? Shouldn't they want to hold work like Carmack's to the highest standard for truth?

    I honestly don't get it. It's almost as if apologists care more about whether work is faith-promoting than whether it's true.

  14. Carmack's work could be sound or unsound. Yet peer review cannot reliably tell us that:

    Dr. Horton, editor of the Lancet–
    “The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.”

    Peer-reviewed journals only publish Book of Mormon studies with one conclusion: nineteenth-century authorship. Studies that come to a different conclusion are summarily rejected as methodologically flawed. Editors and reviewers cannot risk standing in academics — shades of Anthon.

  15. Actually, Steve, if Carmack's work is in some fundamental way unsound, peer review might well tell us that. Remember that bit about "falsification" in science? Happens all the time.

    You're right that there are terrible problems with the peer-review process (particularly in medical research, which has been significantly corrupted by the pharmaceutical industry). Yet peer review remains a necessary part of a larger system that, despite its shortcomings, continues to advance our knowledge.

    One might as well point out the problem of perjured testimony and then argue that jury trials cannot lead to fair verdicts. Whether it's peer review or a jury of one's peers, it's one of those flawed systems that just happens to be less flawed than all the others.

    And why in the world would you bring up that nonsensical legend about Charles Anthon? You seem to be parroting the standard apologetics line that Anthon acknowledged the authenticity of the characters on the transcript, then later backed down. But think about that for a minute. Anthon was an ordinary classical scholar, by which I mean he was not privy to any special knowledge not shared by other classical scholars, of either his day or ours.

    So tell me: what did Anthon see in the transcript that today's scholars are missing? Even if it's true that Anthon initially acknowledged the characters' authenticity, why is it that no current classical scholar does so today? What is visible on that transcript that Anthon saw that no modern scholar can see? There are a fair number of classical scholars out there who are LDS; why aren't any of them attesting to the authenticity of the characters? The legend simply makes no sense.

    Oh, wait, I know. The "Caractors" document we have today is not the same document examined by Anthon…. Just like the gold plates, and the missing fragments of the Book of Abraham, we just never seem to have the document that would vindicate Joseph Smith's prowess as a translator. I mean, we thought we did, but then, when the document turned out not to vindicate Smith, it only meant we didn't have the document after all.

    Funny how that works. If nothing else, I hope you can understand why so many of us are so skeptical.

  16. Orbiting Kolob, you are out of control, as usual. It's not a nonsensical legend. I suggest you read the measured analysis found in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism rather than the unreliable nonsense you find in the anti world. The matter is inconclusive on its face. Anthon said one thing, Harris another. Whatever. But we do know what Harris did after — he invested a significant amount of time and money in the translation project, and the result is a magnificient book, whatever the scornful critics might say. Get a grip.

  17. The legend is that Anthon validated the transcript as authentic, and this validation convinced an otherwise hesitant Harris to finance the BoM's publication. And yes, this is a legend — a faith-promoting story — and yes, it is nonsensical.

    Why a legend? Because there's no evidence that Anthon honestly validated the transcript, then retracted his support to protect his reputation. How could he have honestly vouched for the authenticity of the transcript when there was nothing on it that a classical scholar could recognize as ancient? There was no "there" there. If there was, then scholars would have no trouble seeing it today. Yet today, no classicist, not even those who are LDS, recognizes any ancient language on the transcript.

    Like I said, nonsensical. If it's inauthentic now, it was inauthentic then. (BTW, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism says nothing that contradicts this. Instead, it suggests that the whole episode might be seen as a fulfillment of a prophecy by Isaiah. In other words, rather like the testimony of the witnesses, what starts as a claim of earthly, material validation winds up as a spiritual matter beyond the reach of mere human reasoning.)

    For its part, FAIR shows a picture "of what MAY be the Anthon Transcript," sneaking in the word may and thus leaving open the idea that the transcript contains no recognizably authentic characters because it is not actually the transcript validated by Anthon. This is the same dodge used to get around the fact that the BoA papyri are funerary documents having nothing to do with Abraham.

    What questions should you be asking yourself at this point? Not Who is telling the truth, Anthon or Harris? Instead you should be asking, Why would Joseph Smith claim authenticity for a document that has no recognizably ancient characters on it?

    Again, why does this whole "Anthon said, Harris said" issue even matter if no other classicist can see in the document the authenticity that Anthon supposedly saw? If there's nothing recognizably authentic in it now, there was nothing recognizably authentic in it then. Ergo, you cannot reasonably do what you did above, which is to allude to Anthon ("Shades of Anthon") as an example of a secular scholar honestly validating the faith, but then retracting his work to guard his reputation.

  18. @Orbitting Kolob,
    Okay, how is one going to provide evidence either way that such EmodE grammar did or did not exist in the environs in which the Book of Mormon came forth??? All we have are written records from which to gain our insights into the past.
    Are you saying that the written word is not a reflection of the speech patterns of the writers??? Unless a person is consciously trying, I would think that written grammar would pretty closely follow the speech patterns of the writer. I can still recall my own situation where I was producing term papers, etc. at a western university and the English professor was on my case for "writing with a Southern accent".
    Do you know of any studies on the subject which would say otherwise? I sincerely would be interested in reading them.
    As for your insistence on peer review, I know that a hypothesis that God intentionally sprinkled EmodE liberally into the Book of Mormon to show that it was divinely inspired is not testable. However, the presence of EmodE grammar in the Book of Mormon is verifiable. And the presence or absence of the types of EmodE grammar in texts accessible to Joseph Smith is verifiable. And whether a particular grammatical construct is actually EmodE and not something else is also verifiable.
    Stanford has already done a lot of research on those matters. Most of what he has published can be verified, even by a non-linguist, since Stanford has provided his sources and examples.
    As for the "peer review" mantra, it is not all that it is cracked up to be. I remember a few years ago the old "Manuscript Found" Solomon Spaulding/Sidney Rigdon theory of Book of Mormon authorship was given a new lease on life when a new word print study using nearest shrunken centroid methodology was published and peer reviewed purporting to show that the Book of Mormon had several authors, among them Sidney Rigdon and Solomon Spaulding.
    Of course the TBM's were skeptical. Many (even I) saw what were considered serious flaws with the methodology, the first one being that all of the comparisons were relative to the set of proposed authors. However the proponents triumphantly pointed to the fact that the paper had been peer reviewed and published in the Oxford Journal, no less. That, to them, trumped everything else.
    However, a BYU statistics professor reviewed the work and exposed the flaws in the methodology. (Using the original methodology, he was able to ascertain that Sidney Rigdon wrote thirty-four of the Federalist papers.)
    The entire thing was written up. per reviewed, and published in the Oxford Journal. So, now we have dueling peer reviews. Whose review are you going to buy???

    Now, maybe you are too busy to do any research or homework, but you have provided anyone who might look favorably on Stanford's work with no effective counter except that you don't believe it and will not accept anything less than a peer reviewed article.
    And that is okay also. Last time I checked, opinions are still legal.

    Glenn

  19. "Unless a person is consciously trying, I would think that written grammar would pretty closely follow the speech patterns of the writer."

    Joseph Smith was consciously trying. He was trying to mimic an older style of English. We know this. And there are examples of other people in Smith's day who also wrote, purposely mimicking King James English.

    Since we know he was trying to mimic Bible English, and since we also know that the KJV does contain some of the EModE English constructions that Carmack is pointing out (although not in as high a concentration) it would be a perfectly reasonable theory that Joseph Smith, trying to mimic an old-style, would see a few EModE constructions, and put them into his book. Which is what Orbiting Kolob has been trying to say for months now. And yet I don't think anyone is really listening to him.

  20. I cannot think of any other book out there that begins with a premise (it is from God) and then undergoes so much scrutiny like this in order to make it so. Maybe the Bible. I doubt it though. At least not in the field of linguistics. And you know why? Because for the Bible, we have copies of manuscripts in the original languages. We can actually go back and see the Greek and the Hebrew.

    But the Book of Mormon, as if I need to say it again, exists originally in nothing but English, and a stretched, fake kind of English, too. Joseph Smith didn't talk like that. That is all you have. That and the claim that it was originally in a different language, a sample of which does not exist anywhere on this planet.

    And now we have people saying there is EModE showing up in the English. An older form of English showing up in an English book. I understand the arguments about the frequency with which it shows up. I get it. That is cool. But it really isn't all that unbelievable. It isn't anything really to be all excited about. The book is supposed to sound like an earlier form of English in the first place.

  21. Hi Glenn (and everyone) — thanks for your detailed response. To take things one at a time:

    [H]ow is one going to provide evidence either way that such EmodE grammar did or did not exist in the environs in which the Book of Mormon came forth??? All we have are written records from which to gain our insights into the past. Are you saying that the written word is not a reflection of the speech patterns of the writers???

    Yes, the written record does not necessarily reflect the spoken vernacular — see more below. And maybe this means that there are certain "insights into the past" that are simply forever unavailable to us. Sad, but likely try.

    Unless a person is consciously trying, I would think that written grammar would pretty closely follow the speech patterns of the writer. I can still recall my own situation where I was producing term papers, etc. at a western university and the English professor was on my case for "writing with a Southern accent."

    I’d say that your prof was picking up on traces of your spoken vernacular showing up in writing that was supposed to be done in the formal dialect. This is similar to what I'm suggesting happened with Joseph Smith: Carmack sees certain constructions as EModE. I'm suggesting that, if they are actually EmodE at all, they might have been part of Smith's spoken vernacular that inadvertently showed up in his writing, just as certain Southern constructions showed up in your term papers.

    Remember that Smith's case was in some ways quite unusual. In his day, as in ours, most published books tend to be written by people with a lot of formal education. Some (not many) of these people might have had humble beginnings, like Smith, but unlike Smith, they probably had gotten a lot more formal education before publishing any books. The BoM appeared when Smith was 25 or so, and while he was certainly intelligent and literate, he had not been to college. The vast majority of American writers, whose work makes up the vast majority of the archive, had a lot more formal education than Smith. They were also older, and thus had more time to learn the finer points of the standard grammar.

    You had an English professor who trained you to eliminate the vernacular in your writing; Smith did not. Why is this important? For one thing, it means that there’s a perfectly plausible explanation for the fact certain constructions used by Smith are so rare in the published archive. The vast majority of American authors, whose writing dominates the archive, had far more formal education than Smith.

    Do you know of any studies on the subject which would say otherwise? I sincerely would be interested in reading them.

    No, I don't know of any studies on this particular question. (A linguist might know of some.) But it's obvious that spoken dialects differ from the formal standard, and I don't think any linguist, not even Carmack, would say otherwise.

    There are, of course, plenty of studies about how various nonstandard dialects differ from the standard. (If you’re really interested, you might want to check out the studies listed at the end of the Wikipedia entries on Southern American English, African American Vernacular English, and so on. I remember finding William Labov particularly enlightening on AAVE.)

    (Continued below)

  22. (Continued from above)

    As for your insistence on peer review, I know that a hypothesis that God intentionally sprinkled EmodE liberally into the Book of Mormon to show that it was divinely inspired is not testable. However, the presence of EmodE grammar in the Book of Mormon is verifiable. And the presence or absence of the types of EmodE grammar in texts accessible to Joseph Smith is verifiable. And whether a particular grammatical construct is actually EmodE and not something else is also verifiable.

    Yes. But note that when I stress the need for peer review, I'm not asking for Carmack to write a paper about “evidence for God in the Book of Mormon” or somesuch. That would obviously not fly in a secular professional journal. But I am asking for Carmack to seek peer review for the strictly linguistic part of his work. The question he would address in such a paper would not be "Who or what is responsible for EModE in the BoM?" but rather "Is there EModE in the BoM?"

    Most of what he [Carmack] has published can be verified, even by a non-linguist, since Stanford has provided his sources and examples.

    I'm saying no, that work can't be verified by a non-linguist. Picking up on possible methodological flaws requires too much expertise.

    As for the "peer review" mantra, it is not all that it is cracked up to be….

    Here I'll just repeat what I wrote in my reply to Steven above:

    You're right that there are terrible problems with the peer-review process (particularly in medical research, which has been significantly corrupted by the pharmaceutical industry). Yet peer review remains a necessary part of a larger system that, despite its shortcomings, continues to advance our knowledge.

    One might as well point out the problem of perjured testimony and then argue that jury trials cannot lead to fair verdicts. Whether it's peer review or a jury of one's peers, it's one of those flawed systems that just happens to be less flawed than all the others.

    Now, maybe you are too busy to do any research or homework, but you have provided anyone who might look favorably on Stanford's work with no effective counter except that you don't believe it and will not accept anything less than a peer reviewed article. And that is okay also. Last time I checked, opinions are still legal.

    Obviously I disagree. Where I come from, we distinguish between a mere opinion and an actual argument, which is to say, a claim backed up by reasons. I’m confident that at least some readers will find my reasoning to be persuasive.

    Carmack is basically saying two things:

    (1) There's EModE in the BoM, and

    (2) There's no way Smith could have produced that EModE, because the archive shows that these constructions were unknown to him.

    I'm arguing against both points, as follows:

    (1) Maybe there's not EModE in the BoM. Maybe what looks like EModE is really an artifact of bad methodology (much like the apparent, but actually bogus, correlation between power lines and disease in the methodologically flawed Swedish study I mentioned above).

    (2) Maybe Smith did know these constructions, since they might have been part of a spoken dialect not recorded in the archive.

    In (2), Carmack is giving us a "God of the gaps" argument. That is, he's arguing that because we cannot plausibly imagine any natural way that X could have happened, X must have been done by God. I'm showing that in fact, we can plausibly imagine that "natural way." Until that "natural way" is shown to be implausible, Carmack's argument fails.

    I'm not sure whether there's a way for him to address this problem or not. Is there a way to reconstruct the grammar of a 200-year-old spoken dialect? Got me. (Maybe using diaries?) That's a question for a trained professional.