long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

M2C web part 6 - Forget EME, except...

The really fun part of my analysis of the translation is seeing how Joseph's dialect was influenced by his family, but that's the topic of part 7. We're going to talk about why lawyers in New Zealand and Africa still wear wigs, and why the Hindus I live among right now line up to buy French baguettes.

Here, though, we're going to finish up with EME.

The Early Modern English (EME) bandwagon is heading to Provo in September, and although I recommend people attend the event to see for themselves, I'm not recommending that because I think EME is a valid theory, at least not the way it is being developed.

I want people to learn about EME as a case study in how confirmation bias works. 

At the outset I emphasize that all the scholars involved with EME are great people, faithful Latter-day Saints, smart, dedicated, nice in every way. None of my analysis has any reflection on any of the people involved, and I greatly respect and admire their work. This is purely an analysis of data and reasoning.

The bias being confirmed is the idea that the text is so complex it had to have been created by an expert in Early Modern English. When I first read about EME a few years ago, I was fascinated. I was persuaded. But recognizing that a jury is usually persuaded when they hear one side of a case, I looked into it a little more.

Now I think that confirmation bias has taken what started as an important, useful linguistic study* and expanded it to the point where EME has become EME-OT (Early Modern English-Other Translator). EME-OT proponents now claim Joseph didn't translate the text, which means Joseph, Oliver, and the relevant scriptures are all wrong. As are all the prophets who affirmed that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon.

Now do you see why I've been saying EME-OT is becoming what M2C has already become? I.e., it is becoming another way for scholars to repudiate the prophets. 

I realize these faithful scholars think their theory makes the Book of Mormon more miraculous. They seem enthusiastic about the idea that the text is so complex that it had to be translated by someone with expertise, someone with detailed knowledge of linguistics. 

Sure, they acknowledge that Joseph had divine help as a prophet to transmit the text as he read it off the seer stone. But the real work of translation--the hard stuff--was performed by someone with credentials and expertise--someone like them, not an uneducated youth such as Joseph Smith.

Once again, we see the intellectuals trying to persuade us that Joseph knew less about the Book of Mormon than today's scholars, who have been hired by the prophet to guide the Church pursuant to the 14th Article of Faith.  

By contrast, I think the same evidence supports Joseph's own claim; i.e., that he translated the Book of Mormon after the manner of his own language.

My disagreement with the EME-OT advocates is simple. I think Joseph dictated the Book of Mormon in his own dialect. The same archaic speech patterns, vocabulary, and syntax are present in the D&C, PofGP, and his mother's dictated History. There is no need, or even justification, for attributing these elements to another translator.

The essence of my point is that while I agree there are archaic EME elements in the text that statistically distinguish it from the Bible and the pseudo-biblical texts, these elements can be explained by looking at other material dictated by Joseph Smith and his own family. I'll give lots of examples in part 7.

The first question that struck me as obvious was why didn't the EME-OT advocates recognize this alternative explanation? 

They do mention Joseph's dialect, but they dismiss the possibility out of hand because they don't find evidence of such a dialect in publications indexed in databases such as google books (or at least not sufficient evidence to satisfy their unstated parameters). But that's a conceptual error so large it's almost impossible to believe no one asked about it. 

Maybe they address it more completely in the book than they have so far in the literature. I hope so. In the meantime, my analysis is based only on what they've already published, and based on that, and the accompanying data, I think the evidence refutes the EME-OT theory.

Here's how the article summarizes the dialect issue.

As mentioned toward the outset of this study, a number of LDS scholars believe that Joseph Smith’s mind was saturated with biblical language and that on that basis he could have produced the text of the Book of Mormon from a mixture of biblical language and his own dialect 

Opposed to this position is a growing body of descriptive linguistic evidence that there is a substantial amount of archaic vocabulary and syntax in the Book of Mormon that does not match King James idiom. 

The text is archaic and non-biblical in many structural ways. If we accept that Joseph’s mind was saturated with biblical language, then the earliest text’s overall form and structure argue that he did not produce it. 

Ultimately, the descriptive linguistic facts overturn views of Book of Mormon language that depend on his mind being imbued with biblical ways of expression.

I think you already see the twin logical fallacies here. 

First, no one suggests that Joseph's mind was imbued only with biblical language and ways of expression. Well, somebody may have, but if so, it's an absurd suggestion. People learn language from their parents and contemporaries. At some point, literate people learn from books, but such input can only add to the mental language bank, not replace what's already there. No one speaks like a book. We all have dialects, including idioms and patterns that we grew up with.

Second, the "body of descriptive linguistic evidence" consists of printed material. It's useful, but possibly irrelevant to the question because local dialects are rarely committed to print, even today (although social media is changing that). Efforts to capture idioms, such as Mark Twain's   Huckleberry Finn, were not common historically. Certainly not throughout the isolated American settlements of the early 1800s. Local communities did not have a resident author or documentarian who recorded every nuance.

Fortunately, in the case of Joseph Smith, we have a good, though not comprehensive, record of his dictation outside of the Book of Mormon text, as well as some important examples from his family and contemporaries, particularly his mother's dictated history. By examining these sources we can find evidence that the text of the Book of Mormon is an idiomatic translation based on Joseph's own dialect.


To understand EME-OT, look at these excerpts from Brother Carmack's article, a precursor to their book, which explain the EME-OT approach to Joseph as translator. (You can read my detailed review of the article here).

- large deviations from both biblical and pseudo biblical patterns that approach attested archaic usage could support the position that Joseph was not its author or English-language translator.

- Careful, thorough investigation of Book of Mormon grammar can therefore go a long way toward telling us whether Joseph could have been the author or English-language translator.

This means that if Joseph Smith was the author or English-language translator of the Book of Mormon, then he must have deliberately produced all this divergent finite syntax that was a best fit with early modern usage, including ditransitive syntax...

There are a number of archaic features of complementation missing from the four pseudo-biblical writings in this domain. This argues against Joseph having been the author or English language translator of the Book of Mormon...

That being the case, Gardner 2011 and Barlow 2013 have effectively ended up arguing (unintentionally) against Joseph’s being the English-language translator or author of the Book of Mormon text. Had he produced the text from his own biblically saturated language, the form and structure of the Book of Mormon would be quite different and much more pseudo-biblical in its structure. 

Theoretically speaking, the profile of the person required for crafting much of the English language of the Book of Mormon was a first-rate, independent philologist — someone extremely knowledgeable in the linguistics and literature of earlier English, but not beholden to following King James patterns.

Because the Book of Mormon has so much extra-biblical vocabulary and syntax, its usage cannot be classified as a biblical–dialectal mixture either. Furthermore, there is plenty of “bad grammar” not attributable to Joseph Smith.

In addition, as shown in a recent paper, Joseph’s 1832 History is different syntactically from the earliest text in three important ways.

Because we now have a critical text and searchable databases of earlier English, the Book of Mormon can be shown to be genuinely archaic. [i.e., not a product of 1829]

I'll give just two examples of why I think the EME elements in the text are better explained as Joseph's dialect than as the careful creation of an EME-OT expert.

In his article, Brother Carmack states this: "Complex finite syntax is a strong marker of archaism."

There is a lot of such technical language in the article, but he gives some examples.

Here is the complete explanation:


This next section mainly focuses on whether the verbal complement following five high-frequency verbs — causecommanddesiremake, and suffer — is infinitival or finite. Also of concern is whether finite cases are simple or complex, and whether a modal auxiliary verb occurs in the complement. As an example, consider the following Book of Mormon excerpt:
3 Nephi 2:3
causing [them]object 1
that they should do great wickedness in the land ]object 2
This is ditransitive or dual-object syntax: the verb cause takes two objects. The first object in the above example is a pronoun and the second object is a clause: a sentence follows the conjunction (or complementizer) that. In this case the following sentence is “they should do great wickedness in the land,” and it contains the modal auxiliary verb should

Modal auxiliary usage is a sign of archaism, especially shall, and the Book of Mormon has plenty of it. The above syntax can also be called a complex finite construction, since an extra constituent occurs before the that-clause. 

Complex finite syntax is a strong marker of archaism.

In other words, the example from 3 Nephi 2:3 is a strong market of archaism; i.e., it is something Joseph Smith would not and could not know about.

And yet, if I understand this correctly, here is a complex finite syntax from March 1829, before any of the current Book of Mormon was translated.

D&C 5:3 "And I have caused you that you should enter into a covenant with me." 
The current version has been changed from the original. In the 1833 Book of Commandments, this passage read, "I have caused him that he should enter into a covenant with me, that he should not show them..." 

Either way, we can diagram it like 3 Nephi 2:3 above:
D&C 5:3
caused [you]object 1
[that you should enter into a covenant with me]object 2
Again, recall from the article that "Complex finite syntax is a strong marker of archaism." Yet D&C 5 was received in March 1829, before Oliver ever met Joseph and before any of the current Book of Mormon was translated. 

I take both the original and the edited versions of D&C 5:3 as evidence of Joseph's own syntax even before he translated the Book of Mormon text we have now.

D&C 5 is not a translation of anything, so the EME-OT theory doesn't explain it. I suppose one could argue that Joseph may have learned EME syntax by transmitting the "other translator's" translation of the Book of Lehi (the lost 116 pages), and then replicated that syntax when he received D&C 5. Or else the Lord spoke to him in EME syntax for some reason.
But the natural explanation is this is the way Joseph spoke. This is his dialect.
Or, as the Lord said, he spoke to Joseph "in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding." (D&C 1:24)

Another question about EME-OT. Why would the Lord use another translator to render the original Nephite text into a complex, archaic syntax if the objective was that Joseph and his contemporaries "might come to understanding" as D&C 1:24 says?


The second example is the phrase "more part."

Brother Carmack's article explains it this way:

The Book of Mormon’s morepart usage is quite unexpected from a perspective of Joseph generating it from his own biblically-styled language. One must go back in time 250 years to Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577) to encounter a text with the level of usage found in the Book of Mormon.49 
As a result, its morepart profile fits the occasional use found in the first half of the early modern period and no other time. Intimate knowledge of neither the King James Bible nor pseudo-biblical texts would have led to the distinctive and relatively heavy use of the more part found in the Book of Mormon. (emphasis mine)

This is a good argument in favor of EME, but it presents the same problem as the other examples of EME because we have instances of Joseph and his contemporaries using what appears to be EME.
A quick search found several examples of the use of "more part" after the Book of Mormon was published. These include the writings of Parley P. and Orson Pratt and Joseph himself. 

An 1834 letter by Joseph includes this: "I shall proceed first to answer some of the most important items contained in your last communications, the more part which gave us much satisfaction." Here, of is omitted, but this is a copy of the letter and the line ends at part, so the missing of was likely overlooked during the copying.

Orson Pratt: "These teachings of Jesus were engraved upon plates, some of which are contained in the book of Mormon; but the more part are not revealed in that book, but are hereafter to be made manifest to the saints."

In a letter to O. Cowdery dated Sept. 5, 1836, Orson wrote, "they also began to be divided the more part were determined to hear..."M&A, Oct 1835, p. 397.

Parley P. Pratt: "It will be seen, that the more part of the following..."

In the Sept. 15, 1844, trial of Sidney Rigdon, Parley P. Pratt said, "they too in the absence of the more part of the quorum of the Twelve..." Times and Seasons, 5:17, pl 651. 

An editorial by Oliver Cowdery in the Messenger and Advocate explained, "We are indebted to them for the more part of the information of this kind..." Jan 1835, p. 63.

There are probably many other examples, but these show that the more part was not unusual usage among Joseph's contemporaries. 

How this evidence should be weighed is up to each individual, but my bias leads me to lean toward a common usage not necessarily reflected in the literature of the day.

As I mentioned above, there is another possibility. Are these subsequent usages of the more part attributable to the EME of the dictated Book of Mormon text?

IOW, did Joseph and his contemporaries learn how to speak in EME when he translated the text?
That seems to me a remote possibility because these other examples do not otherwise mimic Book of Mormon language. 

A remote possibility is not an impossibility, so everyone has to decide the relative probability of these alternatives. I think it is far more likely that Joseph dictated with EME phrases because they were part of the dialect he grew up with, for which we have lots of evidence.


Speaking and dictating are different from writing. Speaking is faster.** Speakers rely on recycled expressions and formulas, with simpler structures and vocabulary. 

This is a good description of the Book of Mormon text. As we've seen, phrases and expressions are recycled from the Bible and the pseudo-biblical books, exactly as we would expect from a dictated text. That's not plagiarism; that's speech.

The vocabulary is simple; the Book of Mormon contains fewer unique words than the New Testament, even though it contains nearly 100,000 more words. 

Text                       Words   Total words
OT                          10,842   609,233
NT                          6,063     180,380
BofM                     5,672     267,170
D&C                       4,721     111,912
PofGP                   2,411     26,045

In part 7 we'll look at some of the unique vocabulary and see where Joseph could have picked it up.

The text contains a lot of repetition, which we also expect in a dictated text. The phrase "it came to pass" appears 1,399 times in the text, 1,168 of which begin with "and." (The rest begin with "for," "but," "now," "wherefore," or "behold.") 

Notice I wrote simpler structures. The EME analysis indicates there are complex archaic structures, but another way to interpret the evidence is to notice all the inconsistencies. Rules of grammar and syntax are followed arbitrarily, if at all. This is a common characteristic of the other colloquial evidence we have from Joseph's other dictated works and the records from his family and associates.

We'll look at this in part 7.

*EME started as a legitimate response to a potentially serious problem; i.e., critics said that similarities between The Late War and the Book of Mormon showed that Joseph copied The Late War. This caused a sensation among anti-Mormon critics. It became part of the CES Letter and other anti-Mormon sites. The claim was easy to demonstrate and easy to understand, which made it persuasive to many people. 

Plus, Latter-day Saints were unprepared for the similarities. People wondered, "How could such a book, published before the Book of Mormon, look so much like the Book of Mormon?" The Late War generated considerable cognitive dissonance.

FairMormon provided responses that included some good points, observing that many of the similarities were contrived by the critics. But ultimately, FairMormon's responses were unpersuasive except to those who sought to confirm their bias that the Book of Mormon is true. 

Then Brother Carmack did a statistical analysis that uncovered something surprising: the Book of Mormon contains archaic language not present in the Bible, The Late War, or three other pseudo-biblical texts. He and Brother Skousen collaborated and produced the book that is being launched in September. I think their work is exceptional and definitely shows that Joseph didn't plagiarize the Bible, The Late War or the other pseudo-Biblical texts. 

The problem is, Brothers Carmack and Skousen convinced themselves that Joseph couldn't have produced the Book of Mormon, either, because it is too complex. Now they're claiming that Joseph transmitted, but did not translate, the text.

This means that Joseph and Oliver, and the relevant scriptures, are all wrong.
** One of the notable aspects of the translation is the speed with which it was accomplished. Joseph dictated the entire text in about 3 months. (Oliver was able to write that fast because he was taking dictation, which is much faster than composing.)

No comments:

Post a Comment