Examining the Book of Mormon text: Scholars present findings


The Book of Mormon Critical Text Project, a multi-volume work that aims to establish the original English language text of the Book of Mormon to the extent it can be discovered and to determine the history of the text, was the subject of a FairMormon Conference presentation.

Royal Skousen, project editor, and his research colleague, Stanford Carmack, gave the joint presentation discussing the recent publication of the first two parts of volume 3. They provide a complete analysis of the grammatical editing that the Book of Mormon text has undergone, not only by its editors over the years but earlier by scribes and typesetters.

Brother Carmack discussed findings that the particular aspects of the Book of Mormon language have, for the most part, remained in the text, including archaic vocabulary as well as unusual phraseology and syntax.

These characteristics are examples of Early Modern English from the 1540s through the 1730s, as long as 300 years before the Book of Mormon’s 1830 publication. A good deal of the peculiar usage cannot be found in American English dating from the 1700s and early 1800s or in Upstate New York.

Thus, the non-standard English in the original text of the Book of Mormon is not “bad English,” nor does it reflect the dialect from Upstate New York, where Joseph Smith was living when the Book of Mormon was translated.

Brother Skousen declared as false two frequent assumptions that have been made about the work of Book of Mormon scribes. One is that there was no standard spelling of common English words in the early 1800s. The other is that the spelling ability of Oliver Cowdery, a well-educated schoolteacher, exceeded that of other Book of Mormon scribers.

In fact, standard spelling of English in printed books clearly existed from the 1750s on, Brother Skousen said. And the unknown scribe of the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon was a considerably better speller, although his writing is not especially clear, especially when compared to Oliver’s.

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