1a: New England, 1808

One way to reconstruct what Joseph Smith’s English sounded like is to reconstruct what early 19th century New England English sounded like.

One direct method available to us is to observe the contemporary misspellings as they often reflected a perceived pronunciation. Of course this would be a fruitless endeavor if we used a spelling sample produced by an unlearned individual who misspelled all his words. But fortunately we are in possession of a unique scholarly work by an early New England educator named Caleb Bingham. It is a book called The Child’s Companion, and it was printed in 1808 when Joseph Smith was only 3 years old (a child learning to speak). It contains a unique appendix wherein Bingham has written out the correct spellings of words often mispronounced by folks all across the Colonies, but particularly in the north, where Joseph grew up. The way he spelled the mispronounced words is indicative of the manner in which they were mispronounced.

Below is a sampling of his entries:

Correct Spelling Incorrect Spelling
Birth Day Beth Day
Coarse Coase
Eternity Etarnity
Fathom Faddom
Hinder Hender
Law Lor
Learning Larnin
Miracle Marracle
Pour Power
Quart Quairt
Says Saze
Yours Yourn

These misspellings whose basis is 1808 New England pronunciation, along with the other examples furnished in Bingham’s book, give us an interesting peek at how people in Joseph Smith’s day thought certain spellings ought to be based on how people said them. When viewed as a whole, there is a very strong sense of modern-day Bostonian accent mixed with Appalachian. But as we will discover, that is exactly what should be expected.

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