Bad Grammar and Early Modern English, on the Radio!

Bad Grammar and Early Modern English, on the Radio! May 23, 2020

 

Where the Kennedys play
A map of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

 

Martin Tanner and I will be hosting the Interpreter Radio show a week from Sunday — which is to say, on the evening of Sunday, 31 May, from 7 PM until 9 PM.  For the first hour of the program, our guest will be Dr. Stanford Carmack.  He will be on the telephone from his home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  Here are links to three of the earliest articles that Dr. Carmack published in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship:

 

“A Look at Some “Nonstandard” Book of Mormon Grammar”

Abstract: Much of the earliest Book of Mormon language which has been regarded as nonstandard through the years is not. Furthermore, when 150 years’ worth of emendations are stripped away, the grammar presents extensive evidence of its Early Modern English character, independent in many cases from the King James Bible. This paper argues that this character stems from its divine translation.

 

“What Command Syntax Tells Us About Book of Mormon Authorship”

Abstract: The variety of command syntax found in the Book of Mormon is very different from what is seen in the King James Bible. Yet it is sophisticated and principled, evincing Early Modern English linguistic competence. Interestingly, the syntactic match between the 1829 text and a prominent text from the late 15th century is surprisingly good. All the evidence indicates that Joseph Smith would not have produced the structures found in the text using the King James Bible as a model, nor from his own language. The overall usage profile of command syntax seen in the Book of Mormon strongly supports the view that the Lord revealed specific words to Joseph Smith, not simply ideas.

 

“The Implications of Past-Tense Syntax in the Book of Mormon”

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.

 

 

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