For Language Mavens

What is the deal with the pronouncing guide in the back of the Book of Mormon?

Right in between the last page of Moroni and the first page of the Doctrine and Covenants in my triple combination there are four pages which give guidelines for pronouncing names found in the Book of Mormon.  Several questions come to mind.

1.  Do languages besides English also have a pronunciation guide?  Given that we pronounce even the easiest and most common names differently in different languages, what would be the point of multi-lingual pronouncing guides?  In German, z.B., Nephi = NAYfee and Mormon = moreMOAN.

2.  How did the pronouncing guide come about?  Was it always there?  If not, when was it added?  Given that none of us has ever heard a single syllable of the language spoken by the Jaredites, what is the basis for our claim to know how they said their names?  My best guess is that some ancient language people at BYU took their best guess.  If I am mistaken, and Gazelem (pronounced GaZAYlim, not GaZEElim, as I have been saying all these years) looked into his seerstone and discerned the true pronunciation, I want somebody to tell me.

3.  I think the guide is probably an attempt to influence people to say the same words in the same way, to reduce confusion.  But as I glance over the list of words in the guide, I see some that everybody pronounces incorrectly, which suggests that everybody ignores the guide anyway.  For instance, the guide says that we should say PaCUmeni, but I think I have always heard it said as pacuMENi, even by religion teachers at BYU.

The funniest entry is the one for the guy in the book of Ether whose name is Moron.  You know how to pronounce that, right?

Wrong.  It’s MOREun.  You MOREun.


  1. The following article comes to mind here:

    How the Guide

  2. Good point. I think everyone groans internally when the GD teacher (um… that’s “gospel doctrine,” not me getting riled) gives someone a big chunk of scripture to read full of those “linoleum” names. It’s like working the info line at the Schenectady Chamber of Commerce.

  3. The one priceless use of the pronunciation guide is proving that everyone else says “Amalickiah” incorrectly.

    Re: 1, interesting article, especially on the uniform arbitrary rules that have stuck…

  4. Mark Brown says:


    I now dub thee Justin the Indispensable. The article you linked is very informative, especially this part:

    Specifically, witnesses of the translation process have told us that the Prophet spelled out unfamiliar proper names. 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.”

  5. Added to the list should be the original pronunciation of Mormon and Deseret. According to the Deseret Alphabet Book of Mormon (a phonetical language) Mormon was pronounced Mahrmon and Deseret was pronounced Deseeret.

    It’s not like anyone pays attention anyway. I still here way too many people call the Ensign the “ensin” and not the “En-sign”

  6. Mark Brown, Justin has been “the Indispensable” for as long as I’ve been blogging. It’s good to see that it finally is official.

    Frankly, I kind of forget there is a guide until someone mentions it again. Now I need to feel some good old Catholic guilt for not dedicating time and effort to know the proper pronunciations. (which, in and of itself is a weird word, since I’ve never pronunced anything in my life)

    Would knowing all of them correctly allow my children to claim to be bi-lingual on their college applications?

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    I was influenced by the 1920 guide to pronounce EH-ther in lieu of the ubiquitous EE-ther. But then the 1981 guide switched it up in favor of EE-ther, apparently on the theory that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. But I’m a creature of habit, so I still pronounce EH-ther.

    Other than that one example, I generally ingore the guide. We are mispronouncing those names on a massive scale anyway. I can guarantee that during his lifetime no one ever called Nephi NEE-fi.

    When I teach OT, I encourage students to just take their best shot on pronouncing a name, and if you say it confidently, everyone will just assume you know what you’re doing and they’ll even be impressed.

  8. As a missionary, we had a fun game where one team would pick a name from the pronunciation guide, and the other team would have to try to pronounce it correctly.

  9. Kevin, sometimes in Sunday School I have said, “Whatever this name is.” Everyone seems to like that.

  10. I submit that men named Ray, Ben, Kevin, Justin, Mark, David and Andrew (Gilgamesh, you’re spared) have little moral authority in the matter of whether a pronunciation guide is a useful thing. Any unfamiliar name, even one pronounced/spelled according to the most ordinary rules of English, is mangled constantly. Ardis? No, it’s Ardeth or Ardith or Artist or Artemis or Amish or Air-dish or ArDEECE or Radish or just about anything else but Ardis. And Parshall? Let’s not get started.

    So if someone sometime somewhere took pity on Nephi and Pacumeni and TRIED at least to standardize the pronunciation, my hat’s off to him.

  11. There should have been smiley faces all over that last one. And for anyone who doesn’t know and is now afraid to ask, Ardis is pronounced “Ardis.” As in “Are dis the Parshall family, or the whole thing? har har har!”

  12. #10 – Good point, Ardis. I can’t think of the last time anyone mispronounced my name when they saw it in print – even those for whom English is not their native language.

  13. I’m so glad I’ve been silently pronouncing you correctly all these years, Ardis!

  14. I submit that men named Ray, Ben, Kevin, Justin, Mark, David and Andrew (Gilgamesh, you’re spared) have little moral authority in the matter of whether a pronunciation guide is a useful thing.

    Yeah, where’s Kaimi when we need him!

  15. I think the pronunciation guide is a stroke of genius. Frist of all, uniformity is a good thing. Second of all, if we are going to standardize, I much prefer an approach like the one they took with arbitrary rules over Nibley giving us his best guess at the proper pronunciation. It emphasizes that we don’t know how any of these names should be pronounced and I appreciate the humility in that. In my experience, people DO pay attention to the guide and I have never heard anyone pronounce it other than PaCUmeni. In my travels (in the western US) there is a remarkable level of uniformity in how the names are pronounced, which must, at least in part, be the result of the guide I would think.

  16. Ardis, as someone whose last name is unpronounceable in an entire region of the world where I’ve spent a lot of my adult life (you’d be amazed at the number of ways most Spanish speakers can’t say Seawright) and whose wife has a name that people simply refuse to believe (“Taryn? Are you sure it’s not Tanya, Karen, or Trayn?”), I think pronunciation guides are a good idea. With the Book of Mormon names, accuracy is irrelevant anyway — I’m sure the good folks from 600 BC through 400 AD or whatever have better things to do with their time than worry about what we’re calling them — so the main goals are uniformity and mutual comprehensibility among contemporary readers. The pronunciation guide at least makes a stab at both goals. So, it seems good to me!

  17. BYU professor of physics and psychology? That’s cooler than the whole pronunciation guide. I’m imagining Fritjof Capra dressed as Brigham Young, and talking about the universal ether, er, ehther as the medium for spirit communication. I love it.
    Does anyone know anything about that guy Hickman mentioned in the FARMS-article?

  18. We need moreMOAN.

  19. Peter LLC says:

    I work with some Koreans whose names are transliterated based (more or less) on American English pronunciation but who live in a non-English speaking country. They feel Nephi’s pain on a daily basis.

  20. Mark Brown says:

    I notice that the pronouncing guide does not appear in the version of the scriptures that are on the church’s website. Therefore, the e-scriptures are the true version.

    Does anyone know whether the pronouncing guide is published in other languages? Why is it that only English-speaking people are in need of standardization and uniformity?

  21. Researcher says:

    German: no
    French: no
    Spanish: no
    Portuguese: no
    Danish: no

    That’s all I have right here. They all have a section that includes the chapter headings from the entire Book of Mormon in one place though.

  22. I’ve come across Hickman’s name here and there. An old BYU Studies article contains basic biographical information. He wrote a eugenics article, “The Offspring of the Mormon People,” Journal of Heredity 15 (1924): 55-68. And he had a small role in the story of the Miller translation of the BoM.

  23. kamschron says:

    My seminary teacher disagreed with my opinion that the C in Amlici and Amlicites ought to have a soft sound like the letter S. When the 1981 pronouncing guide came out, I was pleased to find that it used an S to represent the sound of the C in Amlici and Amlicites, but now I think that my teacher may have been right after all. Hugh Nibley apparently considered Amaleki and Amlici to be two forms of the same name, and an article by J. Christopher Conkling in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies suggests that the Amlicites and Amalekites probably were the same people.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    Josiah Hickman was a sort of Hugh Nibley type before Nibley came on the scene. He had degrees from Michigan and Columbia (master’s), and wrote a lot about LDS scripture. He’s best known today for his 1937 volume The Romance of the Book of Mormon.

  25. The Amalekites and the Amelicites are the same folks. At least that’s what the original 1830 text strongly suggests. See here, p. 40

  26. Mark, for many languages, such as Spanish, there is no need for a pronunciation guide because the language’s writing system is not ambiguous. A given written word in Spanish, if fully spelled and when necessary trimmed with all the sidings (umlauts, accents, etc.), can have only one pronunciation. So a guide is fully redundant to the text itself. Only goofy languages like English, in which spelling and pronunciation have a radically underdetermined relationship, could really benefit from a guide.

  27. So Ardis —

    How do you pronounce your surname? PAR-shall or par-SHALL?

    Signed, queuno (whose real surname is pretty much mispronounced by everyone, including SPs who I’ve known for 15 years, and whose nom de Internet is rarely spelled correctly but shouldn’t be hard for anyone who speaks Spanish)

  28. PAR-shull, like partial. I think I’ve always gotten queuno right (it’s the “u” that is generally overlooked, no?) exactly because I made it into a Spanish-y two-part word.

  29. I think some of the pronunciations must date back to the time of Joseph Smith:

    The original manuscript suggests that the spelling of names could have been checked whenever the scribe felt unsure of the spelling. This situation would naturally occur with the first occurrence of an unfamiliar name in the text. (It could also occur after a substantial hiatus, during which the scribe might have forgotten the spelling.) As an extended example of this phenomenon, consider the spelling of Amalickiah in the book of Alma. The first couple of occurrences are spelled correctly, but then Oliver Cowdery (the scribe here) starts spelling the second and third vowels of Amalickiah as e’s. At first Oliver catches these errors and corrects them. But eventually he apparently remembers that once the scribe has made sure that the first occurrence of a name is spelled correctly, there is really no need to worry about spelling variance in subsequent occurrences of the name. In this case, the first spelling Amalickiah establishes the correct spelling. As long as this is kept in mind, there is no problem if subsequent occurrences of Amalickiah are spelled differently. So after the first handful of occurrences, Oliver rather consistently spells Amalickiah as Ameleckiah, although sometimes he immediately corrects the second e to an i; or sometimes he later corrects the first e to an a (always with a heavier ink flow). . . .

    The spelling Ameleckiah also provides evidence that Joseph Smith was pronouncing this name with stress on the first syllable, with the result that the second and third vowels were reduced to the indistinct schwa vowel (“uh”). If Joseph Smith had been pronouncing Amalickiah as we do currently, with stress on the second syllable, then Oliver Cowdery would have consistently and correctly spelled at least the second vowel.

  30. We have some of your Parshall family here in central NY, Ardis, if you are truly missing some! ;-)

  31. That’s the old homestead, Nora. Tell ’em howdy.

  32. Will do!

  33. This is the best answer I know of:

    How the Guide to English Pronunciation of Book of Mormon Names Came About
    by Mary Jane Woodger
    Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Volume – 9, Issue – 1