Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Critics of the Book of Mormon Grammar – Part I

We have comments sent to us from time to time that range from curious to downright antagonistic about the many changes that have been made to the Book of Mormon since its original 1830 publication. While there are others who are far more knowledgeable than I regarding the publication sequences of the Book of Mormon, and much has been written about the series of events, its various changes and history of the publication process, we do have some knowledge of the linguistics and grammar, spelling, syntax, and structure of the actual written scriptural record, so thought we would answer such comments with this post that proceeds an important series about our opinion and concerns regarding a proposed Critical Text Project headed up by Royal Skousen, a Professor of Linguistics at BYU, which we have also been asked to discuss by some of our readers (that issue will appear in the posts following this one). 
    So, to begin with, let us deal with the grammar, spelling, and translation of the original small plates and the prophet Mormon’s abridgement from which Joseph made his translation. Also, for those who love to repeat the mantra about the many spelling and grammatical errors, we need to keep in mind the time frame in which the Book of Mormon was translated, the language known and used at the time in the area in which it was translated, and the rules of grammar and spelling that existed at the time.
When it comes to grammar and spelling, 1829 was indeed different than 2015!
    First of all, there were no standard rules of grammar in Joseph’s day as there is today. There is much ridicule in some circles of the more than 3,000 spelling and grammar errors (by today’s standards) originally claimed to be in the Book of Mormon, of the 4470 errors also claimed to exist, but all of those and many of the others can be traced to the lack of rules and differences of opinion over such matters of grammar and spelling that existed during the time and many have continued into the 20th century, and some of these battles over punctuation, especially in England, continued into the 21st century.
Left Top: Gutenberg Bible, printed in 1455, note the arrangement of early double column pages; Right Top: Codex Rotundus, printed in Germany 1480 with round cover and pages; Left Bottom: Cosmographia (cartographer) by Sebastian Münster, printed in Germany 1628; Middle Bottom: Magna Chatra 14th century manuscript bound in 17th century binding, Taylor Institution Library, Oxford; Right Bottom: The first Scientific book published in England—The Macclesfield Copy, William Gilbert, published in London in 1600 (MDC)
    Take as an example, that the book and page as we know them did not occur until the sixteenth century; the first use of the parenthesis did not appear until the 1470s, though the word was known in Roman times, however, in 1580 its name was the “insertour,” while monks called it a “bracket.” The problem arose when some used it for one thing and others used it for another, with some using parentheses like commas. And while early Roman schoolmasters would break the ongoing or run-on letters into sections and subsections with “per cola let commata,”—“into colons and commas”—the usage of such punctuation would not be standardized for many centuries until 1849, with quotation marks standardized in the 1860s, and question marks not until 1936. In fact, for centuries there were no spaces between words in many writings—not until 430, when St. Jerome, began inserting spaces after words for ease in reading, and the inclusion of punctuation, was it even an issue. As an example, dots (periods) at ends of sentences did not come into being until after the printing press was invented and typesetters began inserting them there toward the end of the 15th century.
    Around this time, the virgule, or dash, (en-dash or em-dash or en-rules or em-rules), came into being as we use a comma today, but by the 1520s it was being replaced since most thought it unattractive in print. It was replaced with the comma, though today it can be used for not only a comma, but also weak parentheses, hyphen, or colon.
However, today there are 39 pages of “comma” use advice in Oxford University Press New Hart’s Rules, Cambridge University Press and Chicago University Press grammar works. Showing the use of commas is still being fought over today, leading to the development of the word commaphobic, of which lawyers are the worst, sometimes settling multi-million dollar lawsuits over the interpretation of commas—with the most impressive argument to-date over the comma in the 2nd Amendment, where writing of the 18th century often separated subject and predicate.
    The First English Dictionary was published in 1604 by Oxford, with John Bullokar’s English Expositor following in 1616 and Henry Cockeram’s English Dictionarie in 1623 and Thomas Blount’s Glossographia in 1656 among many others.
Apart from actual dictionaries there were also lists of words published as with the famous collection by English natural historian and language commentator John Ray, who published in 1674 A Collection of English Words not Generally Used, and in 1717, The Wisdom of God. By the end of the seventeenth century, England had become the most literate country in Europe. Literacy was key to an increasing number of clerical jobs, and for a better job to middling kinds of people, anxious to get things right. They clamored for grammar books, dictionaries, and rules, so rules came into being and were produced.
Samuel Johnson’s 1765 2-volume dictionary became the standard work of English lexicography because of its range, objectivity and use of quotations from major authors to back up definitions given—it was not replaced until a century later by the Oxford English Dictionary
    The strictest rules forced English into the framework of Latin grammar: no double negatives, no double comparatives, no split infinitives, no prepositional endings—which rules people get wrong even to this day.
    Along with rules for grammar came rules for punctuation. The apostrophe was rationalized. Generally, English noun possessives are produced by the addition of an‘s’, and gradually, it was sorted out that the apostrophe should go before the ‘s’ in the singular and after the ‘s’ in the plural. But what if the noun plural did not end in ‘s’. Then, the apostrophe came before the ‘s’ as in ‘men’s room’. However, apostrophe problems multiplied and in 1936, Oxford’s A.B.C. of English Usage tried to sort things out, but it gave up with ‘rhinoceros’ and advised writers to write ‘of a rhinoceros’.  Today, Oxford’s New Hart’s Rules does a better job, and its clarifications are recommended by Cambridge’s Copy-Editing, an unusual tribute from one style manual to another. The point, though, is that even in 1936, 106 years after the publication of the Book of Mormon, punctuation differences and difficulties were still raging.
    Also around 1551, the “wanderer” was introduced—known today as an exclamation point though it passed through numerous names such as bang, boing, gasper, pling, slammer and Christer. Not until 1885 was the exclamation point given a rightful place in writing; however, it is still highly frowned upon among most writers and editors. As for the apostrophe, which came into being in the 1660s, it has undergone much change and current ridicule, with almost all such punctuation gone, or dying out. It might be of interest that there never has been any set of rules attached to this punctuation.
Finally, we might add a comment about quotation marks—in 1933, Oxford's Gateway to English, and 1936, Oxford’s A.B.C. of English Usage, which called quotation marks “an unnecessary puzzle to the writer and an eyesore to the reader.” The Bible did without them, and, looking at a passage from Kings in which Obadiah speaks with the Lord, the A.B.C. said it would be “an instructive and melancholy exercise to insert the inverted commas modern practice would demand.” The A.B.C. called quotation marks ‘inverted commas’ because that was their older name and because not everything that appears in quotation marks is a quotation.
(See the next post, "Critics of the Book of Mormon Grammar – Part II, for the continuation of this post regarding the criticisms directed at the changes in the Book of Mormon and the poor grammar claimed to be used)

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