A Report on Royal Skousen


From the Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon


Royal Skousen was at the top of his game last night, with an interesting presentation (to a good audience) on the printed editions of the Book of Mormon.  Louis Midgley offered the invocation, and our friend Robert Smith offered the benediction.


Next week, on Tuesday evening at 7 PM in BYU’s Hinckley Center, Professor Skousen will deliver the third and final lecture in his series, on “The Nature of the Original Text.”  In my judgment, this is arguably the most important of the three lectures, and, for that and other reasons, I’m delighted at the fact that I’ll be introducing him that evening.


Be there!



His most famous line from the 1964 Republican convention in San Francisco
Personal Encounters with Elder Packer (Part 3)
New Testament 195
"The science of sleeping in, and why you probably shouldn't"
  • Collin

    Mr. Peterson,

    Do you have an opinion with respect to Mr. Skousen’s view of the translation process? I understand that he and Mr. Gardner(?) take opposite views on whether or not it was a word-for-word translation or an “ideas/images” translation.

    • danpeterson

      I take the resolute position that I haven’t decided. I lean in Royal Skousen’s direction.

      But it may not be altogether an either/or.

      Maybe I can say more about that after Professor Skousen’s lecture next week.

  • Collin

    Thanks for the response. When I read “Gift and Power” by Mr. Gardner I got the feeling he was taking a strong dichotomous view of the subject. But I thought, isn’t it true that almost all translations are a compromise between literal and what I guess is sometimes called “dynamic equivalence?”

    someone, maybe it was Mr. Gardner, I don’t recall, seemed to suggest that one of the three nephites translated the Book of Mormon, using his knowledge of english at the time (pre-17th century?) and then transmitted that translation to Joseph Smith. Therefore, those parts of the Book of Mormon that may have flavors of then-current Americana can be explained by the commentary of a contemporaneous Nephite, while many parts retain obvious Semitic, Arabic and Native American features. I don’t know if there’s any evidence for this theory though.

    • danpeterson

      That’s something like Royal Skousen’s theory, and I think/hope that he’ll say something about it this coming Tuesday.

      I agree that things don’t have to be either/or. Whenever I translate, which I do daily, I vary at any given moment or passage between literalism and almost paraphrase. No language maps perfectly onto any other. Entirely word-for-word, literal translations end up producing gibberish.

    • http://nathanrichardson.com Nathan000000

      Orson Scott Card wrote a fascinating response to Royal Skousen’s article on the translation process. It’s called “Joseph Smith: Reader or Translator?” (follow the link and scroll down a bit) and it has some very fresh, unique insights. Among other things, he opines that Royal set up an unnecessary dichotomy (or “trichotomy”) by not considering other possibilities besides fairly-word-for-word versus vague-ideas-put-in-your-own-language. In particular, he applies insights from his own experiences as a writer to suggest other possibilities:

      “When a writer concentrates on a straightforward narrative, he can get into a state of heightened mental alertness, a sort of trance, if you will, in which language lies very ‘close to the surface’ and words and phrases present themselves far more readily than in ordinary conversation. … My available vocabulary becomes far richer than normal; my memory is sharper; my awareness of language expands beyond the immediate phrase to embrace, not just the sentence, but the paragraph, and to hold many details in mind at once. … I am not unique in this—every successful writer with whom I have discussed this phenomenon reports similar or identical experiences. …

      “By no means am I suggesting that my writing process is somehow ‘inspired.’ On the contrary, I am suggesting that some aspects of Joseph Smith’s translation process are explainable as the natural process of language composition in a heightened state of awareness. The smoothness of his translation; his use of language at a consistent level of formality that was ‘above’ the language he ordinarily used; his heightened alertness that may have led him to notice when Emma paused in her transcription so he could offer her help with spelling—all of these are perfectly consistent with the experience I’ve had when composing an extended passage of prose.”

      The entire article is well worth reading for those interested in Royal Skousen’s work.