Category: Language and Literature

Missions and memory

People keep asking me for proof that the irritating tics in Mormon writing I’ve mentioned actually exist. In that respect, Taylor Kerby’s post over at BCC is useful in a couple of ways.

Translation theory won’t decide your polemic argument

One of the recurring irritations of reading apologetic, polemic, or scholarly work in Mormon Studies addressing Joseph Smith’s translations of ancient scripture is that the authors nearly always ignore the perspective of practicing translators and the field of translation studies, instead basing their analyses in simple notions of linguistic equivalence that may still prevail in graduate language exams, but that the field of translation studies abandoned as unworkable several decades ago.

VII. The GAEL and Linguistic Typology

The GAEL provides for a mode of interpretation that finds expansive (but not unlimited) meaning in seemingly simple characters. Zakioan-hiash, as we have seen, is both a name, a word with a specific phonetic realization, and the equivalent of at least one sentence.

IV. The GAEL and the structure of Abraham 1:1-2a

In his 2009 article, Chris Smith argued for the textual dependence of the Book of Abraham on the GAEL. While Dan Vogel’s recent book about the Book of Abraham and related apologetics strenuously objects to any suggestion that the GAEL was reverse engineered from the translation of Abraham, Vogel nevertheless entirely rejects the basis of Chris Smith’s argument.

Robert Alter’s Translation of the Hebrew Bible

I’ve always wondered how well the talks of different general authorities translate to other languages.  For example, I can imagine that a lot of the alliteration that a few apostles adopt in their addresses doesn’t carry over.  And I know from my work on translating Spanish hymns that translating between languages is an inexact science and involves compromises to keep certain aspects of the original language – rhyme, meter, literal meaning of words, nuances conveyed in idioms, etc.  It’s almost impossible to carry all of those together across from one language to another.  Largely because of this, translations of the Bible have proliferated, with each trying to convey the meaning of the texts from the original languages in different ways.  For example, Robert Alter’s English translation of the Hebrew Bible focuses on carrying the literary forms of the Hebrew texts.  In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Robert Alter discussed his translation. Robert Alter is a noted scholar who received his doctorate from Harvard University and is a Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature.  His doctorate was in modern comparative literature, but he noted in the interview that: “as an undergraduate I spent three years studying biblical texts rigorously with H. L. Ginsburg, one of the leading philological scholars of the Bible of his generation.”  His familiarity with literary forms and biblical texts came together to lead to his translation: In the late 1970s I published…

II. What Joseph Smith Would Have Known About Champollion

Before we get to the heart of my argument – which is coming up next in a long post with a detailed look at what’s in the GAEL – we need to look at what Joseph Smith and his associates would have known about Champollion and the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics by 1835.

I. Putting the grammar back in GAEL

Scholars from seemingly every corner of Mormon Studies agree: While working on the Egyptian papyri, Joseph Smith and his associates were either unaware of Champollion’s recent work to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics, ­or simply unaffected by the recent advances in Egyptology. Not only is this position untenable, it’s demonstrably incorrect.

Clarifications on Uto-Aztecan

This post by Brian Stubbs, a well-respected linguist with numerous publications on the history of Uto-Aztecan languages, is a response to an earlier post by Jonathan Green from 2019.   In Times and Seasons, January 6, 2019, Jonathan Green published a post “Uto-Aztecan and Semitic: Too Much of a Good Thing.” A commenter, Steve J, asked: “I hope Stubbs will at some point address the concerns expressed in the post.”  Steve’s hope is justified and a response is rightfully due.  I did not learn of the post until long after it was written, thus the delay. Green is kind and fair in his opening paragraphs on my background and credentials. Later in the comments, he is again more than decent in my defense. So this is nothing against Green, only a clarification that he and many readers may appreciate. The research involves Uto-Aztecan (UA), one language family of some 30 related languages from the Utes in the north to the Aztecs in the south. UA contains a substantial amount of Semitic and Egyptian. Because some answers to the concerns are addressed in former publications, we refer to those past works with these abbreviations: Uto-Aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary (2011) as UACV, which was favorably reviewed (Hill 2012) and praised by all UA specialists; Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan (2015) as Exploring; the 2nd edition of Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now (2020) as Changes in…

Why Mormon Literature is Vital

Last night poet and author James Goldberg, current president of the Association for Mormon Letters (AML), gave a short but masterful Presidential address as part of the AML’s annual conference. His poetic style and urgent message is quite powerful, despite being just 12 minutes long. Please watch this and let me know what you think! I hope to post some thoughts during the week.

Ein Ruf aus der Wüste: Foreword

The fierce desire harbored by the author of this booklet to fulfill an obligation that, he feels, a more than human power has imposed on him, as well as the heartfelt diligence with which  he hopes to gladden his fellow men through the proclamation of those truths that fill his own heart with inexpressible joy – these things have impelled him to commend the following little volume to the German people so that it might be received with an interest appropriate to the importance of the subject being treated. When in the course of human events it is made incumbent on us through the injunction of Divine Providence to record those unusual events that are suitable to comprise a new era and lay the foundation for renewal of a spiritual world and the destruction of tyranny and oppression to help promote the glorious kingdom of the Prince of Peace – then minds are filled with wonder and astonishment. The millennial church of Christ has been founded in the United States of America through the direct action of Divine Providence by His sending of His holy angel to show the nations the true fundamental teachings of his church, which was to be restored in the last times to prepare for the second coming of Christ to this world. The author of this little work is an American by birth and has been a priest of this church for eleven years, almost…

Ein Ruf aus der Wüste: title page

The first non-English Latter-day Saint work, Orson Hyde’s Ein Ruf aus der Wüste, was published in 1842 in Frankfurt. The section recounting the life of Joseph Smith and the translation of the Book of Mormon has been translated multiple times and is available at the Joseph Smith Papers Project, in Dean Jessee’s 1989 The Papers of Joseph Smith: Autobiographical and Historical Writings vol. 1, and in Dan Vogel’s Early Mormon Documents vol. 1. That leaves around 100 of the 115 total pages still untranslated. As a first step toward making this source more widely available, a translation of the title page and a few notes follow. To accompany this year’s “Come Follow Me” focus on the Doctrine and Covenants and church history, I’m planning to post additional sections in English translation as a way to look at how an early church member understood the restored gospel and presented it to others. * * * A Cry in the Wilderness, a Voice from the Bowels of the Earth. A short overview of the origin and doctrine of the church of “Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” in America, known to many by the designation: “The Mormons.” By Orson Hyde, a priest of this church. Read, reflect, pray and act! Frankfurt, 1842. Self published by the author. * * * One thing that immediately sticks out is that Ein Ruf aus der Wüste provides an early example of using the First Vision…