Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Liahona and EME

Now that the Ensign is being retired in favor of the Liahona, there are some details of "Liahona" you might find interesting. Today we'll look at how EME (Early Modern English) is implicated.
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One of the best sources of information about Book of Mormon terminology is the Book of Mormon Onomasticon. https://onoma.lib.byu.edu/index.php/Main_Page

If you look up "Liahona" you'll find an entry that has been edited a few times, with a significant change two years ago in the first paragraph under etymology.

Current
Original (pre-2018)
Directional device given to LEHI by the Lord, ca. 600 BC. It is described as a “ball” (1 Nephi 16:10), called a “director” (Mosiah 1:16) and a “compass” ( 1 Nephi 18:12), and only later in Alma 37:38 is the transliteration “LIAHONA” given.
Directional device given to LEHI by the Lord, ca. 600 BC. It is described as a “ball” (1 Nephi 16:10), called a “director” (Mosiah 1:16) and a “compass” ( 1 Nephi 18:12), and only later in Alma 37:38 is the transliteration “LIAHONA” given.
Alma 37:38 declares that LIAHONA by interpretation is a “compass.” The noun compass in Early Modern English means, to quote the OED, compass n.1 3.b., “a crafty contrivance or artifice.” This meaning does not continue into Modern English. Therefore, we can ignore the meanings mariner’s compass[1] and the mathematician’s compass both of which are attested in Modern English and Early Modern English.
Alma 37:38 declares that LIAHONA by interpretation is a “compass,” that is, an instrument for inscribing circles, or perhaps even a circle or globe itself. In a more general sense, LIAHONA might connote an aid to help find the desired direction.[1] Therefore, whatever etymology is proposed must not do violence to these meanings of the word “compass.”
 Footnote 1:  “Compass” should not be confused with the magnetic compass which first came into use in the West generally in the *Middle Ages. While it is possible that the magnetic compass was known in the East earlier, this cannot be assumed for the purpose of providing a denotation for the Book of Mormon name. It is however possible that the Plates might have used a word for some sort of path finder, in which case, the prophet Joseph Smith could have rendered the word loosely as “compass” in the sense of an instrument to help find the way.
 Footnote 1:  “Compass” should not be confused with the magnetic compass which first came into use in the West generally in the *Middle Ages. While it is possible that the magnetic compass was known in the East earlier, this cannot be assumed for the purpose of providing a denotation for the Book of Mormon name. It is however possible that the Plates might have used a word for some sort of path finder, in which case, the prophet Joseph Smith could have rendered the word loosely as “compass” in the sense of an instrument to help find the way.

As you can see, the 2018 change is clumsy at best. It appears to be an effort to incorporate the "Early Modern English" (EME) theory of Book of Mormon translation, promoted by Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack, that Joseph didn't really translate the plates but instead read words off the stone in the hat (SITH) that were placed there by the mysterious unknown supernatural translator (MUST).

As EME, SITH and MUST continue to gain acceptance among LDS intellectuals, you will see more and more of this type of change.

Because I'm one of the heretics who still believes Joseph translated the plates, it makes more sense to me that Joseph used the ordinary sense of the term "compass" when he translated, as suggested in Footnote 1.
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One good thing about the Onomasticon is you can see the changes like on any wiki page. This is unlike the "Gospel Topics Essays" that are changed from time to time with no notice and no history.

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