Interesting times for linguists

These are interesting times for linguists. Church leaders and administrators are working to change names in order to emphasize the correct name of the Church of Jesus Christ, as asked by the First Presidency.

A main question is semantic: to what extent will the overuse of Jesus Christ lead to a devaluation of its meaning and sanctity? For example, what will be the effect of the perception of Jesus Christ as it is now included as jesuschrist in churchofjesuschrist.org as domain name for tens of thousands of mundane email addresses and web pages? Compare with how Muslims handle the name of Deity in their exchanges. Linguists know how the contingent nature of meaning is bound up with the context of use and therefore subject to upgrading or degrading modification.

In the lexical field a known challenge is the lack of a proper adjective to identify the church. For other religious bodies we have official single identifiers such as Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Muslim or Islamic. What Mormon church leaders and authors have been using for a long time, in order to circumvent Mormon or to simply alternate, is the compound adjective Latter-day, since it is part of the official church name, as attributive to Saints. For over a century it has been used in church literature to modify other names. The Journal of Discourses contains noun phrases such as Latter-day elders, Latter-day glory, Latter-day Kingdom, Latter-day laborers, Latter-day prophets and Latter-day work.

More recently we have seen the introduction of Latter-day Saint as attributive adjective, such as in Latter-day Saint leader. I did not research since how long it has been in use, but occurrences go back to the twentieth century, with more intense use in recent years (for example in texts on the Newsroom). It appears to have become a new standard to replace the adjectival use of Mormon and LDS. For example, in a recent Deseret News article on President Nelson’s visit to the Pope, one could read:

“The pope extended the invitation for a private audience to the Latter-day Saint leader …”
“After the meeting, the Latter-day Saint leaders smiled as they walked arm in arm …”
“President David O. McKay would arrive under the guise of visiting a Latter-day Saint patient …”
“ … Latter-day Saint Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé said.”
“In the afternoon, a Latter-day Saint humanitarian senior missionary couple managed a new Friendship Centre …”
“The Latter-day Saint program launched last May with 25 refugees per week.”

These adjectives are thus useful to avoid Mormon and LDS, but it will be interesting to see if they will become common in oral language since they are more cumbersome than a single word. Moreover, the adjective Latter-day and the adjectivation of Latter-day Saint do not do anything to “emphasize the correct name of the Church of Jesus Christ,” as asked, nor do they refer to Jesus Christ.

Noteworthy is also that in internal communication terms such as church, (church) leaders, (church) members, and many more, seldom require more identification. No references to Christ or to Latter-day are needed.

The next major question pertains to translation in the many languages in which the church operates. The short Latter-day and Latter-day Saints require (many) more words in other languages. Also, English can create compound adjectives from even compound noun phrases, such as in a Latter-day Saint humanitarian senior missionary couple, but only some languages have that ability. Even a simple expression such as a Latter-day Saint leader becomes in French un dirigeant des Saints des Derniers Jours or in Dutch een leider van de Heiligen der Laatste Dagen — which, moreover have connotations of “from the holy beings of the final period”. And also here, no reference to Jesus Christ, while the whole adjustment, as announced, “is intended to help keep the name of Jesus Christ prominent in all the Church does”.

The First Presidency recognizes that “this is a complex effort in numerous global languages and much work remains”. They ask to be patient. For linguists, meanwhile, the discussions and suggestions are valuable to follow and document. Not often are we able to witness such a massive effort to revamp or rectify a religious identity in dozen of languages. In daily language use, the reactions and corrections among members, as some continue to use Mormon or LDS, should provide a wealth of data for pragmatics. Moreover, how do outsiders — other churches, press agencies, publishers, “non-Latter-day Saints linguists”, and others react to our lingual efforts in various countries? How do they handle the requested name change, if at all? From a purely linguistic viewpoint, all fascinating. The religious implications are something else.

45 comments for “Interesting times for linguists

  1. Clark Goble
    March 12, 2019 at 12:34 pm

    It’s clear the brethren – particularly Pres. Nelson – are doubling down on this. They’ve already gone much farther than I expected. The problem the last time they did this back in 2001 is that there was no short identifier. Say what you will about “Mormon” but it’s short, catchy, and easy to type. Latter-day Saint is problematic (IMO) because it misses the original aim of emphasizing Jesus, has that hyphen one has to type, and is too long. If they can come up with short term that fulfills Pres. Nelson’s aims I’m all for it. I’ll certainly congratulate them on how hard they’re trying. I never expected them to rename the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But thus far their solutions really aren’t great. Still, some elements have been a success. The AP Style Guide was a long holdout but even they have switched to Latter-day Saints. A lot of the holdouts now are Mormons – I mean Latter-day Saints – still used to calling themselves Mormons.

    I’ve brainstormed for something better than Latter-day Saints (which to my mind isn’t much better than the “LDS” they want to stop). Most of my solutions like “restored Christian” don’t really work well. (Although I think is still better than “Latter-day Saint”)

    BTW – what’s up with the hyphen in Latter-day Saints. Anyone know the history? I did a quick google and it seems pretty old. The Millennial Star was using the hyphen in the 1850’s. Obviously D&C 115:4 uses the hyphen. But I’d guess it wasn’t in the original scribal record. The original printing of the D&C uses “Latter Day Saints” with no hyphen. I’d love to get rid of the hyphen as part of this refocusing on our name.

  2. Daniel O. McClellan
    March 13, 2019 at 7:22 am

    As a sacred materials translations supervisor for the Church, I can confirm that this is a headache. Right after the announcement of this initiative, we had to review the name of the Church in all languages and had certain things to look for and try to standardize. It’s been an enormous challenge that is still ongoing.

  3. March 13, 2019 at 7:48 am

    I thought about some of this quite a bit when they changed the name of the choir. It was interesting that the new name did nothing to directly emphasize the correct name the church. After all, it’s not the “Church of Temple Square” any more than it is the “Mormon Church.”

    It seems that, even apart from directly using the Church’s full name more often, there’s a concern that the use of the term “Mormon” is particularly problematic. I’m curious as to what those concerns are. How does the term Mormon affect how members think of the church and their own identity? How does it impact how others perceive the Church and it’s members? Why is eliminating that term so important, even if we’re not actually replacing it with the name of the church?

  4. March 13, 2019 at 8:03 am

    This is fascinating to watch. Painful to be part of. The lack of an all-around acceptable adjective is the most troublesome, in my opinion and experience so far.

    I am also bothered by the lack of clarity or direction. The negatives seem pretty clear—not “LDS” and not “Mormon.” But the positive is more elusive. Are we headed toward “Church of Christ” or “the Church of Christ” or “The Church of Christ” (harking back to 1829-1834)? Probably not as an historical reference, but maybe as a 21c desire. Probably not “The Church of the Latter Day Saints” (1834-1838)—I sense little fondness for Latter Day or Latter-day, with or without Saints, and a clear preference for Jesus Christ or Christ in the name. Nor “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” (1838-1851), the original text of D&C 115:4. We abandoned that one long ago, leaving a quibble or more regarding the authority of the D&C reference. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (since 1851) is the one distinctive clearly identifying name for the largest branch of the Restoration, and maybe that’s the end of the road.

    But I think (speculative) the real objective will turn out to be “The Church of Jesus Christ” including the capitalized demonstrative adjective.

    [Historical references all come from “Name of the Church” a Church History topic available at LDS.org and the LDS Library app. The topic entry appears to end at 2001.]

  5. MH
    March 13, 2019 at 8:31 am

    Another thing that’s also unique about English is that it has separate adjective/adverb forms for comparatives (-er/more) and superlative (-est/most). In Spanish, by contrast, the difference is often one of indefinite vs. definite article. In the name of the Church, however, you don’t get the English sense of “later” (if people even parse the literal meaning of “latter-day” anymore; it’s a somewhat archaic phrase); instead, you get “Santos de los Últimos Días”: “Saints of the Last Days.” Especially in Catholic countries (most Spanish-speaking countries), this sounds simultaneously 1) weird — what are these “Saints”? and 2) quite apocalyptic — are these people cultists?

  6. Robert Osborn
    March 13, 2019 at 9:24 am

    It’s all ramping up to the transition for the millennium where the name of the church will no longer be identified as a latter day church but an eternal church-goer the Church of the Lamb, even Jesus Christ; The church of the Firstborn.

  7. Wally
    March 13, 2019 at 10:46 am

    The simple solution to finding an adjective to describe people formerly known as Mormons and also emphasize that they believe in Jesus Christ is to follow the New Testament and Book of Mormon and call them Christians. Oh, wait, that name is already spoken for? Well, maybe it’s time we stopped being so elitist. Let’s just join other believers and call ourselves Christians. If we feel a need to distinguish ourselves based on a unique belief we hold that others don’t, how about Mormon. It worked for almost 200 years.

  8. Clark
    March 13, 2019 at 10:55 am

    Wally that doesn’t work because people want to use the term to clarify what group they are talking about. I agree it’d be an ideal term except for that issue of distinguishing Catholics from Protestants and Mormons. That’s a big deal particularly for reporters. (Who are I suspect Elder Nelson’s primary target)

  9. Wilfried
    March 13, 2019 at 11:27 am

    Clark Goble, your question as to the hyphen in the adjective Latter-day: the origin is indeed pretty old but in conformity with rules. The OED has occurrences going back to 1677 (“How may a Believer now grow up into the spirituality and heavenliness of the duties and priviledges of the later-day glory?” and 1725 (“The Dawn of Latter-day Glory will be preceded by the blackest Shadows of Latter-day Darkness). The hyphen became normal for compound adjectives when added to a noun, as in the examples above.
    The definitions in the OED give:
    1. Belonging to the latter days; of or relating to the end of the world.
    2. Belonging to (more) recent times; modern. Frequently designating a person, event, etc., regarded as the contemporary equivalent of a historical counterpart.

    Thanks for your question! I hope we can keep the discussion focused on linguistics rather than on the choice church leaders made.

  10. March 13, 2019 at 11:31 am

    Wilfried, you write: “Compare with how Muslims handle the name of Deity in their exchanges.” What does this sentence mean? I have some familiarity with the topic, but I’m not sure what the comparison is supposed to mean.

  11. March 13, 2019 at 11:46 am

    Wilfried, I don’t think you/we can side-step choices church leaders made and make. I accept that (linguistically) “Latter-day” is in conformity with the rules. However, the complication is that it was not there in Restoration practice from the beginning. The hyphen-lower case form was chosen in 1851 and was a change from prior practice and a change to the text of the D&C. That puts us squarely into the world of choice and decision.

  12. Dsc
    March 13, 2019 at 11:50 am

    While I don’t think that “Latter-day Saint” is perfect, I think it has some serious advantages over “Mormon”.

    First, it has fewer associations with some cultural baggage. “Mormon” has a tendency to bring to mind some cultural markers associated with Utah, “pioneer stock”, green jello, etc. That’s less-so with “Latter-day Saint”.

    Further, as a part of the official name of the Church, “Latter-day Saint” has the advantage of drawing one’s mind to the full name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even when the rest is left unspoken. Its common usage would have a tendency to reduce the incidence of the long-loathed term “Mormon Church”.

    Lastly, since “saint” is a scriptural term meaning those who have been made holy, and used in scriptures to denote those striving to do so. While Mormon is certainly a worthy person to emulate, “saint” is more focused on the purpose or our membership in the Church and our desire to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. It helps unite people in purpose rather than culture. It is in contrast with terms like Jew, Gentile, Nephite, Lamanite, etc. Sure, the change in usage over the centuries to refer to dead people who have been formally beatified may lead to some confusion, but I think that’s a minor problem at best; most people don’t give it that much thought, and for those that do, opening the scriptures to see how the term was used by Paul clarifies and focuses the discussion on our efforts to be disciples of Christ.

  13. March 13, 2019 at 12:02 pm

    Another feature of “Latter-day Saint” (with that typography) is that it is unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of the problems with “LDS” and with “Mormon” from President Nelson’s point of view (as I imagine it) is that they are too broad. “Mormon” quickly encompasses all of big-tent Mormonism. And “Latter Day Saint” and “LDS” have been used as a collective for all branches of the Restoration, including but not limited to the western Brighamite branch.

  14. queuno
    March 13, 2019 at 12:08 pm

    My daughter served her mission in the Church Office Building, leading the team of missionaries at Publishing Services who provided support to members who would find errors with church publications (esp. the Gospel LIbrary App). I can’t imagine what the next few years look like for that team as they fix everything.

  15. Wilfried
    March 13, 2019 at 12:23 pm

    Daniel O. McClellan, thanks for joining us from HQ and confirming that it is indeed an enormous challenge that is still ongoing. Keep us posted!

    Joshua Boot, yes, your questions as to the alleged problematic nature of “Mormon” are certainly valid. President Hinckley had a different take on it than the present guidelines.

    Christiankimball, thanks for referring to the Church History topic at lds.org. The history of the names is illuminating.

    MH, the translation of Latter-day Saints in other languages is indeed confusing and often even weird. Perhaps, in the present lingual upheaval, will Latter-day be translated by the local equivalent of contemporary, recent. See the discussion here.

    Wally and Clark, I think you are in agreement. Christians is our generic term with others, but when needed for distinctions, another short term is unavoidable. And, indeed, Mormon has done that well for almost 200 years, moreover recognizable in all languages.

  16. rogerdhansen
    March 13, 2019 at 1:50 pm

    I’m 73. I was born Mormon and LDS and that’s what I will remain until I die, unless I’m excommunicated or choose to leave the Church. I can’t help but think that there are much bigger issues for the Church to concern itself with at this time.

    Of course there is baggage associated with the name Mormon and LDS. But you don’t unload the baggage by “changing” your name or nickname.

    All this appears to be “fiddling while Rome is burning.”

  17. Dsc
    March 13, 2019 at 2:07 pm

    rogerdhansen,

    Since the Church isn’t doing anything else?

  18. March 13, 2019 at 2:30 pm

    Just trivial procedural stuff mainly. So far they’ve managed to avoid the big issues by barraging us with minor stuff. And it’s keeping us appropriately preoccupied. You think things are changing but their not.

  19. Wilfried
    March 13, 2019 at 2:38 pm

    Thanks, Dcs and rogerdhansen, but I suggest to leave this discussion out of this thread. Appreciate your understanding.

  20. Wilfried
    March 13, 2019 at 2:58 pm

    Jonathan, with reference to Muslims, I should indeed have been clearer. Or, even better, I should not have tried to make a comparison. I only wanted to point out that, from my experience reading exchanges between devout Muslims on social media, naming Allah and the Prophet is nearly always accompanied by reverent attributes. There is a constant confirmation of deference. So I wondered if by making churchofjesuschrist.org a domain name in all the church email addresses and other pages, we may sacrifice to deference. I found it interesting that “allah.org” does not seem to allow any other pages with that domain name, but directly refers to “islamicity.org”. As if “churchofjesuschrist.org” would immediately point to “mormonism.org” or “Melchizedek.org” in order to avoid the too frequent use of the Lord’s name.

  21. Brian
    March 13, 2019 at 6:19 pm

    I like “LDS Christians.” It has Christ’s Name; it shows we’re Christian; it is appropriately specific (LDS); its shorter than most alternatives; and it doesnt sound so weird to non-members (“Latter what?”).

  22. Wilfried
    March 14, 2019 at 2:03 am

    Several commenters have given suggestions and preferences for a proper short name for church members. Dsc and christiankimball mentioned their preference for the plain “Latter-day Saints”, Brian for “LDS Christians”. The main problem with any name that includes LDS or Latter-day is that it is only valid in English. In translations it is mayhem. A church that aims to be global or universal is well served by a name that is recognizable in all languages, like Catholic, Anglican, Muslim or Islamic. Hence, of course, Mormon.

  23. March 14, 2019 at 7:18 am

    Wilfried, responding only because your last comment mentions me but reverses my preference. I would put any version of LDS or Latter Day Saints last on my preference list.

    If I go to preference, I would use:
    The Church of Jesus Christ (Mormon).

    I would thus recapture Mormon, which seems perfectly fine linguistically and culturally, except for President Nelson of course. (The latter point meaning I should just bow out.)

    I would capitalize The because it seems required to assert the Church’s doctrinal stance, without reference to my personal beliefs, and confident that journalists will get it wrong or refuse to follow suit.

  24. A Turtle Named Mack
    March 14, 2019 at 7:56 am

    There are also important linguistic differences between coming up with a name that works in print, and something that is effective in conversation (or speech). I like Christian’s The Church of Jesus Christ (Mormon), but don’t think it works as a self- identifier, or in simple reference to the Church. The other alternatives are even more unwieldy. There are always differences in how we write and how we talk. Speech often requires less precision, and a greater reliance on colloquialisms. And anything colloquiall seems to be frowned upon.

  25. p
    March 14, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    “I am not afraid to make a mistake,” Stephen Dedalus says, “even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake, and perhaps as long as eternity, too.”

  26. Brian
    March 14, 2019 at 12:42 pm

    Hi Wilfried,

    Thank you for your response. The issue with foreign translation is a real one for “LDS Christians” or any other name.

    That said, I don’t think the translation issues are unique to our Church. Consider multinational companies with a valuable brand name- “Boston Consulting Group” for example, which is commonly known as BCG. Is BCG known as BCG in every country? Or do they have a different acronym for each country? I suspect they just go by BCG rather than translating “Boston Consulting Group” into 200 languages. We could do the same, i.e. in French, “Les Chretiennes LDS,” or, if you prefer, “Les Chretiennes SDJ” (for “Saints des Dernier Jours”). Off the cuff, I don’t know how BCG deals with the translation of its name in foreign languages – but whatever solution they’ve come up with, I bet we could adopt similarly.

    “Mormon” was the great identifier; we’re looking for the least problematic alternative, at this point. I don’t understand why people are gravitating toward “Latter-day Saints” in light of President Nelson’s address. Where is the name of Christ in that moniker? To quote President Nelson:

    “When it comes to nicknames of the Church, such as the “LDS Church,” the “Mormon Church,” or the “Church of the Latter-day Saints,” the most important thing in those names is the absence of the Savior’s name. To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan. When we discard the Savior’s name, we are subtly disregarding all that Jesus Christ did for us—even His Atonement.”

    Either Christ is offended because we’re not using His name when referring to His Church, or He’s not. President Nelson said the Lord was upset, so I think we ought to be consistent and try to please Him! Latter-day Saints is not an acceptable name according to this criteria; in fact it remains “a major victory for Satan” since it does not include the Lord’s name.

    I leave it to people smarter than me to come up with a name for our people that includes either “Jesus” or “Christ” in it, and that is workable. (Solutions such as “The Church of Jesus Christ (Mormon),” in spite of their other virtues, have difficulty being used as adjectives). I’ve already made my vote clear.

  27. Troy Cline
    March 14, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    This is all just so much effort for something that will not stick very well. The aspects of this that do stick temporarily will, more than likely, quietly fade away in the years following Nelson’s death because, let’s face it, this is something that Nelson has cared about very much and has been waiting for the opportunity to attempt to make these changes. Apart from Nelson, there just hasn’t been much interest in changing the language. Rightly so, because it matters so, so little. Changing the name of the choir was a pretty bold move, though. I think it was the wrong move, but it was bold and not one that is likely to change back after Nelson departs.

  28. March 14, 2019 at 1:57 pm

    I should have clarified . . . if we really did use “The Church of Jesus Christ (Mormon)” there’s no doubt (in my mind) that the adjective would be “Mormon.” That’s one of the reasons I like it. Also why it is a non-starter in the current administration.

  29. Wilfried
    March 14, 2019 at 2:45 pm

    Christiankimball, indeed, I should have rendered your preference more accurately. The phrase “The Church of Jesus Christ (Mormon)” reminds me of the Home Front Messages, where the name of the church was always followed by “The Mormons”. It strengthened the connection between the two in a positive sphere.

    A Turtle Named Mack, you are absolutely right to draw the attention to the difference between written and oral language use. It’s in the spoken word that language evolves. Experts in pragmatics should be eager to record conversations between church members as they talk naturally about the church, in particular in conversations that compare churches and religions, and even better in discussions with outsiders (hint to students in linguistics: great thesis or dissertation topic!)

    Brian, thanks for your long comment. Good point about acronyms in other languages. Yes, indeed BCG or IBM or items such as CEO, HR and PR are used in all languages. It would be interesting to study (yes, again, I’m pointing students to topics) to what extent “LDS” is used as an acronym in other languages and related to what aspects of church life. The tendency, though, seems to be to use the acronym in translation, hence JUNS, OSZA, HLD, SPD, HLT, SDJ, KMNAKN, FMMMHN … Pandemonium. Plus, of course, the use of acronyms is now being discouraged or “forbidden”. The final remarks in your comment put the finger on the central problems: where is Christ and where is the adjective?

    Troy Cline, thanks for pointing at the human factor beyond all this. This is, of course, the most delicate aspect: a prophet has spoken, quite strongly, thus putting people’s different opinions in an uncomfortable zone. Some speak up freely, others feel restrained. For church personnel in the translation department, as Daniel O. McClellan candidly mentioned above, “this is a headache … It’s been an enormous challenge that is still ongoing.” We sympathize.

  30. Dsc
    March 14, 2019 at 4:58 pm

    Wilfried,

    Translation is a problem, but I don’t think it’s an insurmountable problem or even a particularly challenging problem. Sure, “Santos de los Ultimos Dias” is a little cumbersome, but that can be overcome with alternate translations like “Santos Modernos”. Spanish speakers don’t seem to have a problem getting through “Testigos de Jehova”, so I’m sure “Santos Modernos” could gain currency. I’m sure other languages can find some similarly shortened alternate translation. You could even adopt such a name for individuals without attempting to change the translation of the name of the Church (although I wouldn’t be opposed [while we’re at it, let’s make Priests in Spanish “Sacerdotes” and Elders “Prespiteros”].

    Yes, it’s more challenging to translate into other languages, but I think ultimately it’s worth the effort, especially in other languages. Mormon is a convenient term for identifiying a group, but that same convenience can obscure beliefs. A name that is evocative of early Christian worship is easier to tie to Christianity for people who are completely unfamiliar with the Church than a name that is foreign in any language.There are plenty of other organizations that seem to manage: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Assemblies of God, etc.

  31. queuno
    March 14, 2019 at 9:55 pm

    The big advantage to dropping “Mormon” is that it draws a hard line between active members of the Church and those who call themselves “culturally Mormon” (generally meaning, was born into the Church but haven’t had anything to do with the Church in many years). They lose some of their social currency…

    (I have family members who call into this category.)

  32. lehcarjt
    March 14, 2019 at 10:01 pm

    It would be interesting to see what a native Spanish speaker thinks of Santos Modernos, especially one from Spain. Nuance is so important in these things. Interesting topic though.

  33. Wilfried
    March 15, 2019 at 11:18 am

    Dsc, indeed, the alternative to translate latter-day by an equivalent of modern, contemporary would be a better rendering of its meaning. Indeed, santos modernos. I would not be surprised if the Translation department has been considering it and is still working on it, but the implications are enormous. It would make a shorter noun phrase for Latter-day Saints in other languages. But it still would not give us the needed adjective, equivalent for the adjective Mormon.

    queuno, what you raise is a touchy topic with a risk of starting a tangent discussion. I see your point, but I don’t think we can nor do we want to draw a hard line between active members and cultural members. We’re all on a continuum with many shades of light and darkness. General authorities have spoken on this – one can be Church-active on the outside, but less Gospel-active in the inside, and one can be very much Gospel-active without being much Church-active. Lost sheep still belong to the fold.

    lehcarjt, it would indeed be nice to get echo’s from native speakers on what we discuss and suggest. But presumably we’ll get the same diversity of opinions!

  34. A Turtle Named Mack
    March 15, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    I agree that a translation equivalent to ‘modern’ is preferable over something that implies these are the ‘last days’, but I’m not sure that’s consistent with how early Saints intended, or interpreted the term. They were very much millennialists (not to be confused with Millennials). Now, those assumptions have not been realized (at least not in the time frame they expected), so transitioning to something that suggests ‘modern’, or ‘contemporary’ probably aligns more with what the Church has become for many members. Linguistically, this suggests the power of the words we use. For many English-speaking members, dropping ‘latter-day’ from their common usage (preferring LDS, or Mormon) allows them to avoid invoking the millennialism of our predecessors, which sounds somewhat cult-like. President Nelson’s mandate that the full name of the Church be used, while re-inserting the name of Christ in common usage, also re-inserts a term many members have been shy to emphasize. Translations in other languages may have the benefit of blunting some of this, but it can’t happen in English without an obvious substitution of terminology.

  35. JR
    March 15, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    Turtle, I don’t doubt you are right about many English-speaking members’ confusion about the name of the Church. But confusing latter days with last days is not necessary, if only anyone bothered to teach what “latter” means. The primary/first definitions in Webster both now and in 1828 do not support the confusion with millenialism. See below.

    I suspect the intended meaning of “latter-day saints” was always merely to distinguish members after 1830 from members in New Testament times. It would be interesting, however, to search the speeches of 19th century members to see if they used latter and last interchangeably. If so, then the confusion was there from the start. I don’t think I’ll be the one to undertake that search.

    But, in any event, education without substitution of terminology could work in English. On the other hand, at least German may need a substitution of terminology more than English does because there is no clear distinction between “letzten” as meaning “latter” and “letzten” as meaning “last.”

    Merriam-Webster https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/latter
    Definition of latter
    1a : belonging to a subsequent time or period : more recent the latter stages of growth
    b : of or relating to the end in their latter days
    c : recent, present affected by latter calamities

    Webster 1828:
    LAT’TER, adjective [an irregular comparative of late.]
    1. Coming or happening after something else; opposed to former; as the former and latter rain; former or latter harvest.

  36. Wilfried
    March 16, 2019 at 2:55 am

    A Turtle Named Mack and JR, thanks for the discussion. The various meanings of latter and of latter-day have been discussed in a previous post on the topic. See here. Jonathan Green remarked  that he suspected “that a study of historical usage would find that “latter-day” does in fact have strong apocalyptic connotations, including in early LDS usage”. I commented then:

    “”There is a blending of restorationist [= latter-day as opposed to previous ] and millenarian [= latter-day as end time ] connotations in latter-day. Excellent to point to the 1835 hymn “The latter-day glory begins to come forth”. It expresses that the Saints felt a new period was ushering in… The early Saints, in this latter-day, could already be safe in their Zion. That’s why they gathered.

    But a translation of latter-day by “last days” in other languages puts the emphasis on the end of the world. For people not knowing much of the church, the name “saints of the last days” conjures up the image of the apocalypse — a gloomy perspective. That doesn’t square with the positive and hopeful “The latter-day glory begins…” They probably would not have sung “The glory of the last days begins…”

    I agree that translations simply saying modern or contemporary miss something of the polysemy of latter-day. But moving to “The Church of Jesus Christ of Apocalyptic Saints” is not possible either.””

  37. JR
    March 16, 2019 at 8:46 am

    Yes, the OED makes it clear that both meanings of “latter-day” existed in English prior to as well as after 1835. That doesn’t tell us, however, whether they, or only, or primarily, the first 1828 Webster definition, is what existed in Joseph Smith’s language at the time of the D&C revelation naming the Church. It may be his language that matters to the intended meaning of the name (see 2 Nephi 31:3) as opposed to the meanings or connotations many now give it. It is potentially useful to point to the 1835 hymn “The Spirit of God”, but there seems to be no good reason to conclude that stanzas 1 (“the latter-day glory begins to come forth” refers to the time anticipated in the future (not then beginning) in the last stanza, rather than to the then current reference of stanza 2: “the vail o’er the earth is beginning to burst”). I wonder if anyone has done any thorough analysis of Joseph’s use of “latter-day.”

    Reviewing the earlier post and comments, I find I rather like Ulrich’s “Kirche Jesu Christi der Heiligen der heutigen Tage”. It seems more appropriate to contemporary usage. It loses the possible, but uncertain, apocalyptic meaning of the English. Although “letzten Tage”, the current translation, has the same possible meanings as the English “latter-day”, it seems almost always understood as a reference to the apocalypse.

    I don’t envy the Church’s translators! ?

  38. A Turtle Named Mack
    March 16, 2019 at 11:47 am

    Thanks, Wilfried. I think that’s useful. I don’t want to drag things further down this tangent, but I do see this as an opportunity for the Church to clarify what their intent is with the use of latter-day. I welcome the implication that this is a Church restored for a new dispensation, as opposed to any apocalyptic connotation. But for early Saints, it wasn’t just that this was a new dispensation, but the final dispensation. When Joseph Smith was killed, and they were being driven from their Zion, there was a lot of difficulty in the need to recalibrate their understanding about just how imminent the Second Coming was. While a shift to using latter-day to suggest a modern or contemporary Church can reorient both members and non-members, I’m not convinced that’s what President Nelson wants. In presenting recent changes, he has invoked the need to prepare for the Second Coming as an important motivation behind them. This isn’t something I’m advocating, just noting that there may end up being additional constraints on how this is rendered in subsequent translation efforts. Will be interesting to see this play out. Of course, in English, we’re sort of stuck.

  39. March 17, 2019 at 11:13 am

    I don’t want to continue the tangent farther, but since you bring it up, I might as well restate the obvious. Millennarianism and restorationism are simply two varieties of apocalypticism. There isn’t a well-behaved “latter day” restorationism suitable for polite society versus an uneducated near-term “last days” apocalypticism; it’s all just apocalypticism of various kinds. Joseph Smith and his contemporaries didn’t just see themselves as restoring the church, but instead as deeply involved in an end-time drama that Christianity had elaborated over the last two millennia. It radically distorts the message of Joseph Smith and the church’s current teachings to try to argue that this is not the case, in the same way that it distorts the message of Jesus Christ to try to excise the apocalyptic elements from his message. A church of “apocalyptic saints” may sound less appealing than a church of “modern saints,” but “apocalyptic” has the benefit of reflecting the church’s original and current outlook. The church may someday reject apocalypticsm in all forms, but I see no evidence of that at the moment, and a post-apocalyptic church would look very different than the current one.

    As a church translator explained in that earlier thread, the goal is not simply to find a word that means “later” in other languages. In English, we have a number of terms referring to the Christian end-time drama, including the “last days” and “latter days”; in languages with existing terms for the end times, it’s more accurate to use those terms, even when a direct translation means “last” rather than “later.” A term meaning simply “modern” would be less accurate and possibly even deceptive.

    Like it or not, we’re stuck with apocalypticism. Fortunately the concept is broad enough that we have a lot of scope to decide what we’re going to make of it.

  40. Mek
    March 17, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    Agreed. I was surprised to see some reinvent a new connotation for latter-days.
    Maybe they can serve andwait patiently and faithfully for 50 years or so for God to put them position to finally act :)

    From DC 88,
    It becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor. Therefore, they are left without excuse, and their sins are upon their own heads.

    Prepare the saints for the hour of judgment which is to come;
    That their souls may escape the wrath of God, the desolation of abomination which awaits the wicked

    For not many days hence and the earth shall tremble and reel to and fro as a drunken man; and the sun shall hide his face, and shall refuse to give light; and the moon shall be bathed in blood…

    We absolutely miss something crucial about God our Father and our faith if we want to reduce its teachings to kind platitudes.

  41. JR
    March 17, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    Jonathan is mostly* right if one reads “apocalypticism” as broadly as it can be and not as “now usually [referring] to the belief that the end of the world is imminent, even within one’s own lifetime.” (Wikipedia) However, there is a significant distinction between the early/mid-19th century LDS apocalypticism which strongly held to imminence and the version preserved in church teaching but rarely encountered in church meetings in places I’ve attended (as opposed to some very “conservative” locales and on AVOW and among some LDS preppers). There is in many places a qualitative, though not doctrinal, difference even between the LDS apocalypticism of the 50s and 60s that I grew up with (Got your hiking boots ready to walk back to Missouri?) and that of the every-Sunday LDS churches I’ve attended in the latest 3 decades. The “church’s original and current outlook” are not the same in practical emphasis or expectations of imminence, even if both original and current outlooks are apocalyptic in a broad sense and even thought the church continues to teach preparedness. If the church generally is now mostly without that expectation of imminence in its common teaching (and not just in my little corner) then a term meaning “apocalyptic” (in the modern usual sense) would be less accurate than “modern” and “possibly even deceptive,” at least without further explanation. I don’t know a good way to balance these concerns about communication to a current, rather than a 19th century, audience.

    *There is such a thing possible as restorationism that is not apocalyptic, but that would not be something recognizable to me as a part of our church.

    Mek, I must have missed something. I didn’t see anyone here advocating reducing the church’s teachings to kind platitudes or proposing any new meaning of “latter”. (But I’m still working on trying to understand how it may be possible to “reinvent” something “new.”) The major thing I’ve learned in the course of this discussion is that neither meaning of “latter” is remotely new.

  42. March 17, 2019 at 10:37 pm

    JR, I mostly agree; our apocalypticism has, inevitably, shifted over time, and visibly so during our lifetimes. I do think it’s still present and vital. (As for using a wide definition: I highly recommend the essays in The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism [1998]. Apart from a few clunkers, the rest of the essays range from very good to outstanding.)

  43. GEOFF -AUS
    March 17, 2019 at 11:58 pm

    As Pres Nelson got half a revelation on this (He was very clear what was wrong, but even after many years not what to replace it with), I think for the few years while it matters to him we could be Nelsons Christians.

  44. Wilfried
    March 18, 2019 at 8:48 am

    Thanks, JR, Turtle, Jonathan, for the useful discussion and clarifications. I think we all agree that latter-day is not only a peculiar English word, but moreover in Mormonism semantically rich in its connection to doctrine and history. So many shades of latter-day. Hence, the challenge for a proper equivalent in dozens of other languages. Many present and proposed translations fall short because too narrow.

    On the side: I remember the day when President Harold B. Lee told the 14,000 church members assembled for the European Area Conference in Munich in August 1973: “How simple it would be if all of you would try to learn English besides your own mother tongue.” He doubled down in General Conference of October, praising the European members who had started to learn English. The counsel was well-meant, born from frustration that the GA’s could not communicate directly with so many members. President Lee also saw the challenge at the Munich conference, with its complexity of both sequential and simultaneous translations and thousands of headsets being passed around. But his Anglocentric view, despite its merits, was not likely to succeed. Though we should admit that only non-Anglophones who are fairly fluent in English are able to experience Mormonism with many more resources, also resources from the Church.

    Perhaps we could distill from President Lee’s message the idea that some typical Mormon words are untranslatable and are better internationalized as such. So many English words have entered the vocabulary of other languages. Would that be possible for latter-day and other Mormonspeak terms? Even then, of course, such terms would need clarifications in the local language, in the Topical Guide and in talks and lessons, and these clarifications would indeed enrich the members’ insights. I guess wishful thinking.

  45. Clark Goble
    March 18, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    It’s worth noting that English words with unique connotations not found in other languages are no more unique than Greek or Hebrew words with connotations often lost in translations of the Bible. This isn’t really that unique a thing. So for instance in the other thread I mentioned the problem of how to translate the term. Does it relate to mystery religions, as many scholars think? Or is it just a reference to Christ? These words often have all sorts of associations in the original setting that are lost when they’re moved to a translation divorced from the original context. We should just accept that not everything will come with the translation.

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