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Witnesses of the Book of Mormon translation process have reported that the Prophet spelled out unfamiliar proper names (Royal Skousen, "How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 7/1, 1998: 24). According to Hugh Nibley, scribes David Whitmer and Emma Hale Smith concurred that the Prophet "never pronounced the proper names he came upon in the plates during the translation but always spelled them out" (Lehi in the Desert, The World of the Jaredites, There Were Jaredites, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988], 31).

BYU English professor Royal Skousen's extensive research on the original Book of Mormon manuscript has found that at the first occurrence of an unfamiliar name, the scribe's initial phonetic spelling was later crossed out and on the same line a corrected spelling was given. An example is found in Alma 33:15 where Oliver Cowdery originally wrote Zenock. It would appear that Joseph then corrected Cowdery and had him cross out the first spelling of this name and write Zenoch. This spelling was found in the first edition of the Book of Mormon. It is interesting to note that the spelling has reverted to Zenock which is found in our present edition. One cannot help but wonder if Zenoch would not be a more appropriate spelling. While it is not altogether clear how the name should be pronounced, at least we may be confident that it should end with a k sound.

At other times Joseph did not spell the proper names, and his pronunciation may have led to variant spelling. A case in point involves the name "Amalickiah," which Oliver Cowdery often spelled "Ameleckiah." It seems likely Joseph stressed the first syllable in his pronunciation instead of the second thus producing Cowdery's misspelling of the ambiguous second vowel.

A few differences in the spelling of proper names have also been found between the original and printer's manuscript that Oliver copied. We cannot be sure why "Mulek" appears as "Muloch" in the printer's manuscript of the Book of mormon and as "Mulok" in printed editions from 1830 to 1852, [which] then became "Mulek." Such changes in spelling call into question whether uniformity of pronunciation existed in the early days of the Church.

There has been some conjecture that Joseph Smith personally heard Book of Mormon prophets' names from the mouth of Nephites (Donald W. Parry, "How Was the Book of Mormon Pronouncing Guide Developed, and What Is Its Chief Purpose?" Ensign, July 1996, 60). After all, various resurrected Nephites visited him and could have introduced themselves by name, while speaking in a language that Joseph could understand (see JS-H 1:33; John Taylor in JD, 17:374; 21:94, 16). While Moroni was talking with Joseph, he may also have mentioned other names and places from the Book of Mormon. But heavenly messengers probably would have used pronunciations within the prophet's range of linguistic competence, expectations, and familiarity. In like manner, when the Lord himself spoke to Joseph Smith via revelation, as in Doctrine and Covenant 76, most likely he identified himself as "Jesus Christ," rather than "Yehoshua Mashaiah," which is approximately how his full name would have sounded in his native Aramaic. Though most Latter-day Saints would feel that Joseph Smith pronounced the name of Jesus Christ as we do today, we are not certain exactly how Joseph said the Nephite prophets' names. Joseph's family apparently heard him pronounce Nephite proper names on several occasions. Lucy Mack Smith claimed that her son knew the Nephites well enough that he was able to describe them "with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them" (History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith, ed. Preston Nibley [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1979], 83). Joseph Smith, however, never formally recorded his pronunciations. Surely other contemporaries of Joseph Smith besides his family also heard him recite these names. However, few early Latter-day Saints recorded the Prophet's pronunciation.

Though there must have been considerable variation according to English dialect and local custom in how Latter-day Saints have pronounced Book of Mormon names over the more than 170 years since the book was published, research has revealed little about that topic. Linguist John Gee has traced the current pronunciation of the names Nephi and Lehi among Latter-day Saints as "nee'-fi" and "lee'-hi" back to at least 1837 ("A Note on the Name Nephi," JBMS, 1 [1992]: 191, n. 15).

One early attempt at harmonizing pronunciation may have taken place during the publication of the Book of Mormon in the Deseret Alphabet (1852-1869). When Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, and other pioneers developed the phonetic Deseret Alphabet, they had the means available to represent how they were pronouncing the Nephite names. Their pronunciation would surely have differed little from that of Joseph Smith. The major undertaking of examining Book of Mormon proper names in mid-nineteenth century pronunciation as recorded in the Deseret Alphabet has yet to be done.

A full, formal guide to pronunciation by Latter-day Saints of Book of Mormon proper names was not produced until eighty years after Joseph Smith's death. Dr. M. H. Hardy explained that in the intervening period of time, "changes which were constantly being made in spelling and pronunciation" and "fads . . . in pronunciations" existed in the Church.

A Book of Mormon convention was held at Brigham Young University on May 23-24, 1903. Pronunciation of Book of Mormon proper names was part of the discussion. J.E. Hickman, BYU professor of physics and psychology, addressed the problem of discordant Book of Mormon pronunciation prevailing at the time among Latter-day Saints. Elder George Reynolds of the Seventy also referred to the question and mentioned a "present diversity" among Latter-day Saints in pronouncing Book of Mormon places and names. Reynolds favored consistency but was sure that "some of the pronunciations which had been given by Brother Hickman and others were wrong and he supposed these brethren would be just as certain that they were right" ("Book of Mormon Students Meet," Deseret Evening News, 25 May 1903, 3-4).

After Reynolds' discourse, Hickman moved that the First Presidency appoint a committee to decide on a method to determine the pronunciation of Book of Mormon names. President Joseph F. Smith, who was present, made a motion to form such a committee and jokingly warned, "provided you do not afterwards cut me off the Church if I don't pronounce the words according to the rule adopted by the committee" (Ibid.). George Reynolds, Charles W. Penrose, J. E. Hickman, Benjamin Cluff Jr., and M. H. Hardy were appointed on the spot. President Smith suggested that the committee report their guidelines the next day. Reynolds, not as optimistic as the prophet, stated that he did not think the committee could complete its work during the convention. Yet by the next afternoon, recommendations from the "Pronunciation Committee" were made by Elder Penrose who submitted "uniform arbitrary rules" which the committee had formulated and which have basically been retained:

1. Words of two syllables should be accented on the first syllable.

2. Words of three syllables should be accented on the second syllable, with these exceptions, which are to be accented on the first syllable; namely: Amlici; Amulon; Antipas; Antipus; Corihor; Cumeni; Curelom; Deseret; Gazelam; Helaman; Korihor; and Tubaloth.

3. Words of four syllables should be accented on the third syllable with the following exceptions, which are to be accented on the second syllable; namely: Abinadi; Abinadom; Amalickiah (accented on both the second and fourth syllables); Aminadi; and Aminadab.

4. Ch is always to be pronounced as in the English choir.

5. G at the beginning of a name is always pronounced as in guy.

6. I at the end of a name should always take the long sound of the vowel, as in alibi.

7. The accepted pronunciation of Bible names should be followed.

There is no evidence that the committee attempted to base their rules on how Joseph Smith articulated the ancient names or how the Nephites, Jaredites, or Mulekites themselves said the names.

Between 1903 and 1910 the Deseret Sunday School Union Board appointed its own committee to provide an actual "Pronouncing Vocabulary" list based on the rules adopted at the 1903 convention. Leading members of this new committee were Anthon H. Lund of the First Presidency, James E. Talmage, former president of the University of Utah and future member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and John M. Mills. The principal author of the resulting guide was Mills, an educator who served as superintendent of the Ogden City Board of Education. However, Talmage kept a tight rein on the work. Sidney B. Sperry observed, "Talmage was stickler for good English. . . . He knew as well as anyone the imperfections of the literary dress of the First Edition of the Nephite record and took a prominent part in correcting many of them in a later edition of the work" (Problems of the Book of Mormon, [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1964], 190).

The Sunday School committee's work was published in 1910 in the back of George Reynolds's A Dictionary of the Book of Mormon. Ten years later, the First Presidency announced the publication of a new edition of the Book of Mormon. For the first time the Book of Mormon itself carried a pronunciation guide, which was to give "a simple and consistent pronunciation of practically every proper name." In April conference, President Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency commented on the pronouncing guide. He told church members that a committee chosen from the Council of the Twelve had carefully examined all previous editions of the Book of Mormon, including the original, and compared them carefully, checking all footnotes and references before the new edition had gone to press. Actually the guide was basically similar to that produced by the Sunday School committee a decade earlier. The guide used in the 1920 edition was reproduced in all successive printings of the Book of Mormon in English for the next sixty years.

During the 1970s President Spencer W. Kimball formed a new committee "to assist in improving doctrinal scholarship throughout the Church." The succinct recommendation from that committee was that the Church publish new editions of scriptures. In 1979 Dr. George Horton, director of curriculum over the Church Education System served on the committee to revise the Bible and Book of Mormon. In visits with Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Horton suggested that the new editions of scriptures, including the Bible, needed a pronunciation guide. The brethren decided not to include a pronunciation guide for the Bible because members of the Church who spoke languages other than English would pronounce the names and places in their own language. After the new edition of the Bible was published in August 1979, a new triple combination was announced, to become available in 1981.

Before commencing the publication of a new edition of the triple combination, a committee preparing the topical guide made recommendations to the Scriptures Publication Committee of the Quorum of the Twelve (Elder Thomas S. Monson, chair, Elder Boyd K. Packer, Elder Bruce R. McConkie) that included revising the "Pronouncing Vocabulary" for the Book of Mormon for consistency and simplicity. This recommendation was approved by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It was generally felt that, although no one knew the original pronunciations, for the sake of uniformity an amended guide was needed.

Shortly before the new edition of the Book of Mormon went to press, during the winter of 1980, the brethren appointed Professor Soren Cox of Brigham Young University's English department to examine the 1920 edition of the pronouncing guide for possible revision and to standardize the guide so it reflected pronunciation of Book of Mormon names currently used by Latter-day Saints. Elder McConkie gave Cox four general guidelines as follows: (1) Do not try to relate Book of Mormon names with Hebrew or Egyptian names. (2) Do not try to think of how the Nephites might have pronounced their own names. (3) Simplify where possible. (4) The main objective should be uniformity.

Professor Cox corrected minor mistakes. For instance, it was discovered that two rather obscure names had been misspelled. In Mormon 6:14, Joneum and Camenihah were corrected to Jeneum and Cumenihah on the basis of the original manuscript. A few new names were added to the guide (e.g., Ishmael and Samuel). Furthermore a key explaining the sound represented by each symbol was also included. The new guide was made more consistent and simple by reducing the number of symbols it used. For example, Jared was corrected from Ja'-red to Jer'-ud. The "general American dialect" was chosen as a model for pronunciation rules. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve approved the corrections.

The current pronouncing guide of the Book of Mormon features 344 proper names with accompanying phonetic forms that aid the reader in determining correct pronunciation according to current Church practice among English speakers. Some of the words are Old World, but most belong to the Book of Mormon places and people. Ishmael, Israel, and Mosiah have two variations reflecting the ways they are pronounced among English-speaking church members today.

The English pronunciation of names was relatively more important in the Church's earlier years. Now that nearly half of the Church's membership speaks languages other than English, no doubt disorder prevails in pronunciation. For most members of the Church who speak major languages, the pattern of pronunciation of these names is already set by local custom and is unlikely to change. Generally, people pronounce proper names as they have learned to in their experience in the church context. To alleviate this confusion some have suggested that future Book of Mormon translators use Hebrew or Egyptian roots for the proper names. So that with each translation of the Book of Mormon into another language, the translators could start at a more cohesive place of translation, closer to the original. The problem with this advice is in determining the Book of Mormon's original language.

The pronouncing guide, of course, does not reflect the way that the Book of Mormon peoples pronounced their own names and places, which were most likely based upon one or more Semitic languages (Nibley, Hugh, Lehi in the Desert; The world of the Jaredites; There Were Jaredites. volume 5 of the Collected Words of Hugh Nibley, edited by John W. Welch, Darrell L. Matthews, and Stephen R. Callister. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988).

In any case, sounds and pronunciation of words surely changed historically over Nephite history; after all, between Lehi and Moroni there was a span of a thousand years. Furthermore, we know very little about the language of the Mulekite group. It could have involved several possible tongues-perhaps Phoenician, Greek, or Arabic. But for practical purposed, we realize that the original language of Book of Mormon proper names is English.

We can concur with Daniel Ludlow, who served as the secretary to the Scripture Publication Committee, that we are "ninety-nine percent sure that we do not pronounce such names as Lehi and Nephi correctly" (that is, as they themselves did). At the same time Ludlow admonishes latter-day Saints to not "let the differences in suggested pronunciation of the names of the Book of Mormon bother [them] unduly" ("List of Suggestions to Help with Your Personal Study of the Book of Mormon," Deseret News Church News, 2 January 1988, 12). Church members will probably never pronounce Nephite, Jaredite, or Mulekite names correctly until either the ancients themselves tell us how they said their names or the Lord reveals the proper pronunciations. Until then the Book of Mormon pronunciation guide provides a useful standard. In following the guide we can be assured that if we are wrong in pronouncing Book of Mormon names, we will at least all be wrong together.

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