LDS scholars have been giving significant attention in recent years to the English grammar, vocabulary, and style of the Book of Mormon. The thrust of this literary output has been to argue that the language of the Book of Mormon, far from an embarrassing liability, is in some respects an apologetic asset—even evidence of inspiration. More broadly, these scholars have been arguing that allegations of ungrammatical usage in the Book of Mormon are often unfounded, being based on misunderstandings or ignorance regarding earlier English grammar.
The most recent offering in this burgeoning literature is an article by Stanford Carmack in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture. According to Carmack, who has written other recent articles of relevance, mistakes in the analysis of grammar and usage in the Book of Mormon have been made on the assumption that Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language is the appropriate reference in such matters. Carmack argues that the Oxford English Dictionary should be used instead. Following the lead of Royal Skousen, the leading scholar on the textual history of the Book of Mormon, Carmack argues that the English of the Book of Mormon is written mainly in the Early Modern English that was current in the 1500s but archaic by Joseph Smith’s day—and not entirely due to imitation of the KJV. On this basis, Carmack argues that Joseph could not have been responsible for the English idiom of the Book of Mormon; it must have come from the Lord revealing specific words to Joseph. At the same time, Carmack admits that some of the language in the Book of Mormon is more modern.
A thorough examination of Carmack’s article is beyond the scope of what I will attempt here. There are dozens of specific examples that would need to be considered and a thicket of assertions and inferences that would need to be evaluated. Carmack’s work in this and other articles will undoubtedly be hailed as having turned the English grammar question of the Book of Mormon into an astounding evidence of its divine inspiration. I believe there are serious holes in the argument and that it raises questions so far unanswered. For example, to the best of my knowledge no one has yet explained why God would reveal a translation of an ancient scripture to a nineteenth-century man in largely (but not entirely) sixteenth-century English. However, here I wish to address just one point, albeit a somewhat tangential point to Carmack’s overall project. The point concerns the use of the English pronoun thou in the King James Version (KJV), a matter of some possible relevance to its usage in the Book of Mormon. Read the rest of this entry »