José Smith

The Spanish-language scriptures use the name José Smith. This raises interesting questions: Which names do we choose to translate and which do we choose not to translate, and why?

For instance, Joseph Smith’s name is a curious mix of translation and non-translation. We translate Joseph into José — but not Smith into Herrero. Why not? It can’t be for ease of pronunciation, because Smith is essentially unpronounceable for most monolingual Spanish speakers.

And why translate Joseph at all? The Spanish-language scriptures lave many other names untranslated, even where easy translations are available. For instance, they don’t translate John Taylor into Juan Taylor (or Juan Sastre, for that matter). Take a look at DyC 138:53, for instance:

El profeta José Smith y mi padre Hyrum Smith, y Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff y otros espíritus selectos que fueron reservados para nacer en el cumplimiento de los tiempos, a fin de participar en la colocación de los cimientos de la gran obra de los últimos días,

And what’s really weird — Joseph F. Smith doesn’t get his name translated. The header to Sección 138 reads:

Visión manifestada al presidente Joseph F. Smith en Salt Lake City, Utah, el 3 de octubre de 1918 . . .

So —

Does anyone know the logic or history behind the translation decision? Is this mixture (translating Joseph Smith’s first name, but little else) the same in other languages as well? Is it really just Joseph? (I could have sworn I’ve seen discussion of Oliverio Cowdery in Spanish-language church documents, but I can’t find any at the moment.)

Why do we say, José Smith?

55 comments for “José Smith

  1. In the Arabic scriptures Joseph is generally kept intact (as “Joozif”) as opposed to the Arabic “Yousef”. I think there may be a few instances here and there of Yousef, but generally not. Smith is also kept intact in transliterated form, though I suppose you could translate it as “Haddad” (“blacksmith” which if I understand correctly is what the original English refers to and not a generic form of “-smith” that could be applied to any trade, am I right?). Haddad is actually quite a common Arabic last name, especially in the Levant. Yousef Haddad…would actually seem quite Lebanese, but then in Lebanon especially among the upper classes they’re quite snooty about preferring western (especially French) names, so these days they’d probably quite prefer a transliterated “Joozif Smeeth” over something as common as Yousef Haddad.

    Frankly I think the reasoning here comes down to linguistic arguments and personal preferences made by translating committees. It wouldn’t appear any blanket or universal decision has been made, and indeed that probably wouldn’t be appropriate anyhow.

  2. Interesting question, Kaimi, and surprising they would do that in Spanish. Probably because of a long ingrained tradition to do so since very early days, and then changing it now would prove pretty disturbing? I remember that, around 1990, it was proposed to re-spell some names in the new Dutch Book of Mormon translation, e.g. Nefi instead of Nephi (to avoid the pronunciation Nep-Hi). The idea was (imo wisely) rejected.

  3. The new versions of the Spanish scriptures call Oliver Cowdery \”Oliver\”, but the older versions all called him \”Oliverio\”. Not sure what prompted the change or why Joseph Smith is the only one with his name translated.

  4. Kaimi, in Guatemala, did they say “ehSMEET” for “Smith” ?

    Most spanish speakers I’ve met put an “eh” before any English word beginning with “S”

    Also, the church recently changed the Chinese spelling of “Mormon”, adding a 4th character to the title. (Or a 3rd character, to the previous 2 characters used for “Mormon”. But they haven’t updated the book covers on the site.

    Kaimi, as you are probably a book-lover, I suggest you go to and buy one each of all the 103 printed translations of the Book of Mormon. They make for a nice bookshelf display. :-)

    Not only will foreign-language speakers start coming out of the wood-work (seriously, if you own a Swahili Book of Mormon, you’ll likely meet a Swahili-speaking person shortly thereafter), but it’s interesting to see how the various names are translated according to the “rules” of the target languages.

    For some languages, it seems you can’t have a consonant after the “R” sound, so Mormon become Moromon. Or proper names have to end with a vowel, so Moromon becomes Moromoni. And then you have to figure out how to differentiate the already closely sounding pairs of some proper names in the BoM, that already have an extra vowel or two on the end.

    Or if there are no “R” sounds in the target language, Mormon becomes “Molamon” or similar.

  5. I checked my Spanish and French Books of Mormon (both from at least 15 years ago). The French translation uses all English spellings in the Testimonies of the Witnesses. The Spanish translation uses “José Smith, hijo” and “Oliverio Cowdery”, but all other names use the normal English spellings, including “Joseph Smith, Padre.”

  6. The latest (2000?) round of Italian scriptures do not translate any names – even “Senior” and “Junior” are left intact. I know this was not always the case.

    Also, Italian goes against the grain and _does_ translate “Elder” as “Anziano”.

  7. This is a style question that must come up all the time — not only would it affect the occasional scripture translation, but it must occur constantly in preparation of lesson manuals and Liahona articles — and you’d think the Church would have a style guide to settle those questions both for consistency and efficiency. The only style guide I’ve found so far in the church catalog is not public (unpublished internal procedures are always treated as private documents), but I’ll keep looking and asking.

  8. In the example above why didn’t they write “Juan Taylor” as that is a very common translation of John?

    Also for reverse translation – I don’t start calling all the Jose’s that I meet on the street here Joseph. Instead I always use their formal given name.

    The bigger point should be – Are the scriptures translated correctly? As anyone heard of translation errors in any of the standard works. Josephy Smith may have had control on how the scripture reads in English, but how controls how reads and sounds like it say Chinese or Russian?

  9. Translation presents lots of interpretive issues. I remember hearing that in Thai there is no word for “brother,” just words for “older brother” and “younger brother”. So when the Thai translators came across the Brother of Jared, they supposedly asked the First Presidency if Mahonri Moriancumr was Jared’s older or younger brother. Unfortunately I’ve forgotten the answer. Anyone know that story more accurately? It would be interesting to see a list of all the translation-motivated insights. Great trivia to toss out during Sunday School.

  10. I think this raises an interesting question about standardizationof translation. As John Taber already mentioned, none of the names are translated in the Italian standard works. And I too have wondered why Italian Elders are “Anziani,” while missionaries in Spanish-speaking countries are “Elders.” “Anziano” is a colloquial form of “old man” in both languages, so why avoid the confusion in one language and not the other? These decisions seem to have been made one at a time in an uncharacteristically decentralized fashion. It’s interesting that the Church is so uniform in most practices, but apparently not in translation efforts.

    I have always had another question that is somewhat related. At least in Italian, the names of Book of Mormon prophets are spelled to resemble the English spelling as close as possible: e.g. “Nephi” as “Nefi.” Given that we have a pronunciation guide that I believe was furnished by the Prophet, why not spell the names in foreign languages to most closely approximate the proper pronunciation? E.g. in Italian, “Nifai” would be pronounced as “Nephi” is in English. Just a thought. My guess is that many of the pronunciations could not be duplicated (e.g. no Italian sounds for “th” in “Ether”), so translators simply made a uniform decision to approximate spelling at the expense of pronunciation in every case. I would be interested in hearing what has been done in other languages.

  11. Bookslinger:

    Spanish speakers only put an “eh” in front of words where the first letter is ‘s’ and the second is a consonant.

    For example, ‘staple” would be “estaple”; scrap “escrap”.

  12. Opening the German version of Gospel Principles, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (English spelling) are mentioned in the same paragraph as Petrus, Jakobus, and Johannes.

    I seem to remember that a small percentage of the German members called the prophet “Schmidt” while most of the rest called him “Smiss.”

  13. A lot of the reason behind these apparent inconsistencies is tradition. When the Church first entered these countries, certain spoken practices began and continued, before any of the standard works were translated. For example, in Italy, Elders are called Anzianos (ancients–not sure I’ve got the Italian spelling right) but the word is untranslated in Portuguese. It’s just Élder.

    Where a name is commonly spoken in a certain way by the members of the target culture, translators are usually keen to keep the spelling close to the oral tradition.

  14. It’s sounds like a committee’s decision to me.

    In German, I’d hear everything from a confident “Joseph Smith” by some of the better English speakers, to the halfway “Zhoseph Smitt” by those who weren’t quite sure, to the fully German “Yosef Schmidt” by those who just didn’t care. I went back and forth among them, but finally settled on “Joseph Smith” because, after all, that is his name.

    The Germans call Nephi “Nay-fee” — I never heard someone even trying to call him “Nee-phai”. Elders are still “Elder” and Sisters are still “Sister” but occasionally are called “Schwester”. (When I go over there, 10 years after the fact, I still get called “Elder” rather than “Jon” by some of the members.)

    Here’s my favorite translation issue, involving the unassuming words “you” and “yours”:

    In modern English, they are always singular, but they stem from the plural forms and are related to the German “ihr”, “euch”, and “euer”. Most modern English speakers don’t understand this difference, but it all German speakers do. (This is probably similar in other languages.)

    In the KJV Bible, any time it reads “thee”, “thou”, or “thine”, you can know the speaker was referring to one person. And when it says “you” and “yours”, you should understand that it refers to a plurality of persons.

    In the Book of Mormon, though, my observation leads me to believe that Joseph Smith didn’t comprehend this difference, even though he is supposed to have understood German (Ardis, didn’t he once comment about the Luther translation being the most correct Bible?).

    Most of the time (I haven’t checked every last reference, okay?) “thee”, “thou”, and “thine” are translated using the singular “du”, “dich”, and “dein”. And most of the time, where the context is obvious (e.g., Alma and Amulek in a tag-team preach-a-thon) “you” and “your” are translated into the plural “ihr”, “euch”, and “euer”. And sometimes the English version is wrong, i.e., a singular “thee” is used where a plural “you” is more correct, and this inconsistency is corrected in the German.

    But sometimes the context is not clear at all (sorry, can’t cite anything right now), and a committee obviously had to make a judgment call (or at least a call to Salt Lake). Not a bad thing either way, but interesting to note the lack of consistency in the English translation and the attempts to correct them in the German.

    I do have a bone to pick about the “new and improved” German triple combination. The translation sounds like it was written by a committee. Which of course it was. What it gains in literal translation, it loses in warmth and familiarity of tone. Seriously, it feels cold and calculated, as if Babelfish did the first draft and a team of lawyers argued over the final version. When I was there last summer, my native-German in-laws confirmed my suspicions. Not to mention the typos that were all over the books when they came off the first printing run. The improved Index/Dictionary and new maps are nice, but the actual text has not been improved — just made different.


  15. P.S. I just noticed that my English cases are mixed up. I should have typed, in this order, “thou”, “thee”, and “thine” to correspond with the German “du”, “dich”, and “dein”. (Nominative, accusative, dative).

  16. Duke of Earl Grey,

    Thanks for the helpful history about Book of Mormon pronunciation. I had long assumed that the English pronunciations were all based on how Joseph Smith pronounced the names during translation. You answered my question wonderfully and provided me with another reason to be grateful for the increased flow of information made available by the internet. Thanks.

  17. “17. “…didn’t he once comment about the Luther translation being the most correct Bible?”

    “”The Germans are an exalted people. The old German translators are the most nearly correct – most honest of any of the translators.”

  18. Well, it’s time for the professional translator to pipe in on this question. My answer is a forceful “I don’t know.”

    But if I had to guess, I would have to go with the entrenched tradition theory. Mexico was one of the first foreign countries where the Church carried on proslyting in a major way, and a decision may have been made to use José in order to make the Prophet more accessible to the people. But this is pure speculation. It would be interesting to see how the Prophet’s name is rendered in Hawaiian, another early proselytizing language. If is is “Iosepe” or something like that, it could add credence to this theory.

    Even today, there is controversy in Spanish lexicography and usage about whether to translate the first names of famous persons from universal history. In my Pequeño Laurousse Ilustrado I find “Jorge Washington” and “Alberto Einstein”, while other dictionaries and usage experts would insist on “George” and “Albert”.

    Concerning the name “José” in Spanish. About ten years ago I did name extraction with my mother-in-law, covering about two hundred and fifty years of parish records of a small town in northern Spain (early 1600’s through late 1800’s). During the early period, virtually every man had “Joseph” in his name and almost every woman had “Mary” in her name. But how did they spell it? Joseph, just like in English! I’m not knoweldgeable enough about philology to say for sure how they pronounced it, especially the final consonant, but there was clearly a consonant at the end, making it much more like the Italian “Giuseppe” and the modern-day Catalonian “Josep”. At one time the “J” was probably pronounced something like the “s” in “pleasure”.

    Certainly those early-day Mexican Saints could have learned to say “Yosef” or “Zhosef” Esmeet. By now, after several generations of Spanish-speaking Church members, it would be very hard to go back to “Joseph” without a whole lot of correlation. On second thought, maybe not so hard . . .

  19. akl,
    I have the Hawaiian Book of Mormon in front of me. It’s dated (either translated, published, or copyrighted, not sure) 1855, and was printed in 5/2006. This is still a pre-versification edition. Chapter divisions are mostly different than our current chapters, and chapters are divided into numbered paragraphs, not verses.

    It appears to have been printed on the church’s current modern printing systems, and the typesetting appears to be a photo-reproduction of an original Hawaiian edition. IE, the type is old-style, and there are slight imperfections throughout as if the modern master was a photo-reproduction from a printed edition.

    1. On the title page that starts “The Book of Mormon / An Account Written by / The Hand of Mormon / upon plates / taken from the plates of Nephi / Wherefore, …”

    where in the English it says “translated by Joseph Smith, Jun.”, the prophet’s name is rendered in Hawaiian: “Josepa Samika, Opio.”

    2. In “The Testimony of Eight Witnesses”, in the first sentence, where in English it says “Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of…” the prophet’s name is rendered in Hawaiian: “Iosepa Samika, Opio”.

    3. In the list of 8 names following “The Testimony of Eight Witnesses”, the prophet’s father’s name is rendered in Hawaiian: “Joseph Smith, Makua.”

    So there you have 3 different renderings of “Joseph”.

    The books’/prophets’ names are: Mua a Nepai, Lua a Nepai, Iakoba, Enosa, Iaroma, Omanai, O na Olelo a Moramona, Mosia, Alama, Helamana, Nepai, Nepai, Moramona, Etera, Moroni.

    On November 26, 2006, the sister missionaries in the ward I was visiting had a Hawaiian lady (who spoke Hawaiian) as an investigator, who came to church that day.

  20. That’s weird, Bookslinger. I’ll have to take a look. Traditionally, Hawaiian does not have a T (though there was some ambiguity in pre-written Hawaiian). And it definitely doesn’t have a J.

  21. I might be wrong, but when I first noticed this inconsistency, I figured it was so that the prophecies in the Bible would read correctly in relationship to the restored gospel. For example, it’s prophesied that one would come in the latter days to restore the gospel and his name would be Joseph (like Joseph of Egypt), and named after his father. Joseph of Egypt is Jose in Spanish, so it would only make sense to make sure Joseph\’s name was translated as Jose also. The names of other important figures of the modern church remain untranslated because there\s no need to translate them.

    That’s the way I’ve always thought of it. What do you think?

  22. I agree that the use of José for Joseph Smith Jr. in Spanish is in line with the tendency that I previously noted to give Spanish first names to people of universal historical impact. The fulfillment-of-prophecy theory as also fascinating and somewhat convincing.

    However, if you google “Iosepa Smith” you’ll find that the references are to Joseph F. Smith, the sixth president of the Church and certanly a key figure in Church history in Hawaii.

  23. Wasn’t there a Hawaiian colony in Utah called “Iosepa” from the early days of the gathering?

  24. \”because Smith is essentially unpronounceable for most monolingual Spanish speakers\” Totally wrong. Spanish speakers pronounce it just Smit, since the \’h\’ is silent in spanish.

    -\”And why translate Joseph at all?\”
    -\”Why do we say, José Smith?\”

    Because the dude who did the first translation, I think it was Pratt?, decided to translate it as Jose, obviously knowing that this is the translation of that name. Today spanish speakers don\’t translate first name so George W Bush is now George W Bush in latin american newspapaers, not Jorge W Bush… Also in Ward/Stake conferences across latin america they now just read out: Thomas Spencer Monson, Gordon Bitner Hinkley etc etc instead of Tomás Spencerore Monson, and, well gordone? Bitnero? Hinkley

    \”with the tendency that I previously noted to give Spanish first names to people of universal historical impact\”: as do English speakers with latin names: ie Pope John Paul wasn\’t that at all, he was il Papa Juan Pablo in latin/italian. Cristopher Columbus wasn\’t that at all but Cristobal Colón in his native spanish/italian. and so on….Spain is Espana (with a enie letter), Italy is actually Italia, Germany is actually Deutchland or something……so English speakers do translate foriegn names into enlish in there own way.

  25. I think it might have something to do with Joseph of Egypt being translated as\”Jose\” in Spanish. In the Book of Mormon, the name Joseph/Jose is important – out of the loins of Joseph will be called a prophet and seer who will also be called Joseph and will be named after his father Joseph.

    Translating Joseph Smith as Jose shows the correlation between him and the Jose of Egypt.

    Just my theory.

  26. Oh, it looks like Dusey (25) and I were thinking the same thing – only he explained it much better than I did!

  27. #28. “Spain is Espana (with a enie letter), Italy is actually Italia, Germany is actually Deutchland or something…”

    Germany is Deutschland.

    Norway is Norge, Denmark is Danmark (Copenhagen, BTW, is København), Sweden is Sverige, Iceland is Island…

  28. \”because Smith is essentially unpronounceable for most monolingual Spanish speakers\”

    Totally wrong. Spanish speakers pronounce it just Smit, since the \’h\’ is silent in spanish.

    I think you illustrated or agree with the point he intended. Most monolingual Spanish-speakers don’t pronounce the English “th” sound. Hence, the way we gringos pronounce it is indeed unpronounceable for most monolingual Latin-American Spanish-speakers, who don’t have a “th” sound. (Spaniards do have a “th” sound, as when pronouncing the ending “-cion”.)

    And as has been previously mentioned by kendall smith, if the initial “s” is followed by a consonant, most Latin-American Spanish-speakers add an “eh” in front of the “s”. Therefore, “Smith” becomes “esmit” in most of Latin-America.

  29. Bookslinger: the ‘th’ of English is equivalent to the castillian Spanish ‘s’ -usually- and sometimes the spanish ‘c’. Depends on the sentance. So ‘España’ is (pronauned in spanish): ethpania. And in all spanish speaking nations the ‘z’ is the equivalent of the ‘th’ sound in English when pronounced correctly.

    Then it varies across latin american because, just as US americans have done with the Kings English, the Latin Americans have totally deformed the Kings Spanish!

    But using that ‘eh’ in front of the ‘s’ is the uneducated spanish speakers way of speaking english. You’ll find that lawers etc don’t add that ‘eh’.

    But the point I was actually trying to get to is that in the late 20th centrury and especially today people across the globe have generally ceased to translate first names. This is one of the consequences of globalization and especially the internet.

    Hopefully US americans will catch on soon and start saying: the apostle from Deutschland (like Hans correctly calls it); or Cristobal Colón…….etc

  30. In regard to “the King’s English” and “the King’s Spanish”:

    “If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me!”

    A quote attributed to “Ma” Ferguson, the first female governor of Texas, in 1925. She was arguing against legislation requiring high school students to learn a foreign language before graduating.

  31. Right, it’s those stupid Latin Americans who screwed Spanish up. Sorry to disappoint, but the Spanish-speakers in the Americas speak the Spanish that was in common usage in Southern Spain, where the z/c “th” didn’t become common until the 20th century. Rather than “deform” Spanish, Latin Americans have made it into the vibrant language it is today. To imply that the only “correct” Spanish is spoken in Spain is simply ridiculous, the equivalent of saying the only correct English is spoken in England.

    One more point–it isn’t “uneducated” Latin Americans who add the “eh” in front of words like “Smith” and “stop”; it’s those who don’t know how to speak English. For me at least, you can be educated and still not speak English.

  32. ““If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me!””
    Typical US american way of thinking. Even Jesus has a US passport right?!!!$$&^

    Kendall: that’s factually incorrect. The ‘z’ sound as ‘th’ goes back as far as castillian spanish goes back.
    And, yes, the King’s English is only spoken in England -Americans have deformed it! I mean you write honour as honor so what’s next sound as sond?
    and yes too, the King’s Spanish is only spoken is Spain, Latin American have deformed that too….

    “For me at least, you can be educated and still not speak English.” Very true. As are lawyers who never study english but have to do latin.

    But the point was that today people don’t translate first names, so if the church was going to latin america for the first time this century we would find that it is simply ‘Joseph Smith’ . Proof is in the list of general authorities presented for sustaining vote in Ward/Stake conferences where no names are translated one the form, even Joseph Wirthlin ie he isn’t sustained as José Wirthlin.

  33. In case no one believes me -which happens a lot- check out the last general conference where GAs where sustained without any first names translated. I would guess that sometime in the future they will translate back the spanish scriptures to leave Joseph in José ‘s place!


    Se propone que sostengamos a Gordon Bitner Hinckley como profeta, vidente y revelador de La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Últimos Días; a Thomas Spencer Monson como Primer Consejero de la Primera Presidencia; y a Henry Bennion Eyring como Segundo Consejero de la Primera Presidencia. Los que estén de acuerdo, sírvanse manifestarlo.

    Si hay contrarios, pueden manifestarlo.

    Se propone que sostengamos a Thomas Spencer Monson como Presidente del Quórum de los Doce Apóstoles; a Boyd Kenneth Packer como Presidente en Funciones del Quórum de los Doce Apóstoles; y a los siguientes hermanos como miembros de ese quórum: Boyd K. Packer, L. Tom Perry, Russell M. Nelson, Dallin H. Oaks, M. Russell Ballard, Joseph B. Wirthlin, Richard G. Scott, Robert D. Hales, Jeffrey R. Holland, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, David A. Bednar y Quentin L. Cook

    Los que estén de acuerdo, sírvanse manifestarlo.

    Contrarios, si los hay.

    Here we could easily translate Thomas as tomás, Joseph as José, Richard as Ricardo…….but the church doesn’t do that anymore. Consequence of globilization.

  34. Dam it! Just got an email from a friend in chile.

    The church is usually for Teaching of church presidents in 2008 a stranger technique. They use José Smith for Josesph Smith Jnr but ‘Joseph Smith’ only for his dad Joseph Sr.

    Strange; I don’t know what the church is doing then.

  35. I’m not going to eat up any more bandwidth correcting your errors beyond this, so after this post you’ll simply be arguing with yourself.

    El ‘seseo’ isn’t a phenomena that was, or even is, present in the entire Iberian penninsula during the development of Spanish. It isn’t the “proper” way of speaking Spanish; no less of an authority than the Real Academia makes that clear in its Diccionario panhispánico de dudas. Neither is the ‘ceceo’–your example of the proper pronunciation of España in your first post–standard usage.

    The wikipedia article of ceceo and seseo isn’t bad if you want further background.

    As far as why the church translates some names and not others, my guess is they mistranslated Joseph as Jose sometime in the 19th century during the first translations of the Book of Mormon and partial translation of the Doctrine and Covenants. At this point, everyone, member and anti-Mormon alike, knows him as Jose. Correcting the error would cause too much confusion to sort it out.

  36. In Polish language scriptures, the church renders JS Jr\’s name as \”Jozef Smith,\” but his father\’s name is left as \”Joseph Smith,\” and Joseph F. Smith and Joseph Fielding Smith are not translated either. This looks like the same translation protocols as used in Spanish.

  37. “so after this post you’ll simply be arguing with yourself.”

    -We call this taking your bat & ball and going home -grumpy.

    “As far as why the church translates some names and not others, my guess is they mistranslated Joseph as Jose sometime in the 19th century ….”

    I did write in my first comment that it was the first dude to translate them, probably Pratt, who decided to use José. Obviously u aint reading all my comments!

    (Oh, and the ‘seseo’ is to pronounce all those as the english ‘th’ ie all as the old Spanish ‘z’! You obviously don’t know much Spanish at all, do you?)

  38. #36. “““If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me!””
    Typical US american way of thinking. Even Jesus has a US passport right?!!!$$&^

    Lighten up, Carlos. I only submitted that quote to show how ridiculous it was for a so-called educated politician to think that Jesus spoke the “King’s English”.

  39. Besides, according to a friend of mine from South Africa, “Everyone knows that God is an Englishman!” :-)

  40. Carlos:

    I’m going back on what I posted earlier, simply because you came into this thread throwing around insults and haven’t stopped since. You implied bookslinger didn’t know what he was talking about, that Latin Americans speak “deformed” Spanish, and now have insulted me. Generally that sort of behavior is labeled “trollish”, but on the off-chance you aren’t a troll, I’ll post the definition of “seseo” for you.

    From the earlier link I posted to the “RAE Diccionario… dudas”:

    seseo. 1. Consiste en pronunciar las letras c (ante e, i) y z con el sonido que corresponde a la letra s (→ s, 2); así, un hablante seseante dirá [serésa] por cereza, [siérto] por cierto, [sapáto] por zapato

    2. El seseo es general en toda Hispanoamérica y, en España, lo es en Canarias y en parte de Andalucía, y se da en algunos puntos de Murcia y Badajoz. También existe seseo entre las clases populares de Valencia, Cataluña, Mallorca y el País Vasco, cuando hablan castellano, y se da asimismo en algunas zonas rurales de Galicia. El seseo meridional español (andaluz y canario) y el hispanoamericano gozan de total aceptación en la norma culta.

    For non-Spanish speakers, this simply says that ‘seseo’ is used throughout Latin America and in parts of Spain and consists of pronouncing the letters ‘z’ and ‘c’ (in certain instances) as if they were the letter ‘s’. Thus, while someone from Madrid might pronounce the Spanish word for cherry as “therétha”, someone from Chile would pronounce the word “serésa”.

    The final sentence in the Royal Academy’s dictionary goes on to say that this pronounciation is accepted for educated speech.

    In your opening salvo against bookslinger, you wrote “the ‘th’ of English is equivalent to the castillian Spanish ’s’ -usually- and sometimes the spanish ‘c’. Depends on the sentance. So ‘España’ is (pronauned in spanish): ethpania. And in all spanish speaking nations the ‘z’ is the equivalent of the ‘th’ sound in English when pronounced correctly.”

    The pronunciation of ‘s’ as ‘th’ is called ceceo; while accepted it is no where near as common as the ‘seseo’ and among many people is seen as “hickish”.

    The RAE’s dictionary definition of “ceceo” can be found at the following link:

    A discussion of how the ‘ceceo’ is seen can be found here:

    More in tune with the original spirit of this thread, below is a link on the history of the translation of the Book of Mormon into Spanish:

    The original translation was done by a Spanish convert, Meliton Trejo, in conjunction with Daniel Jones; the first full translation was published in 1886. This edition was revised by “Pratt”, as Carlos calls him, in the 1920s.

    Someone with access to an original Spanish Book of Mormon could easily see where the “Jose” snuck in, whether the team of Trejo and Jones was responsible or whether it came in later.

  41. Kendall, I haven\’t even started insulting. Chill out a bit, you\’re overheated.

    The expression that americans don\’t speak the Kings English is tongue in cheek, something all englishmen use from time to time to piss off americans. I paraphrased that to create the King’s Spanish. Obviously you didn’t get it and you get offended very quickly. You ought to study Elder Bednar\’s talk on this more carefully girl(or boy whatever).

    Fact is that the \’th\’ sound is indeed pronounceable by Spanish speakers when one uses the castilllian \’z\’. I know you know this? But here some folks claimed that spanish speakers effectively can\’t pronounce it like Bookslinger who wrote: the way we gringos pronounce it is indeed unpronounceable to them. This is not correct so I tried to point that out but not insult him,?? We all know how to speak spanish from Spain when necessary. I\’m sure you also know this too, why argue?

    But this thread was asking why the church translated to Jose, some thought it is because we are incapable of pronouncing that \’th\’, which is incorrect, I only suggested that it was because the first translator dude chose to use ‘Jose’ and suggested that it may have being Elder Pratt, the apostle who died in 1860 something, who opened up Chile and went to Mexico etc. Maybe he could\’ve, but you claim that it was Trejo……fine. Then it was Trejo who picked ‘Jose’, problem solved.

    But the biggest problem, and most offensive comment, was #25 who claimed that spanish speekers give spanish first names to historical figure when english speakers have being doing this for centuries but you don’t seem to see this, like with the Pope’s and Columbus, countries and the kings/queens of spain and other nations. It seems that US people are so into themselves that the whole universe revolves around the US! And that\’s just a comment not an insult. Chill out….dude. (Ah and talk to any southerner from southern Spain and you will hear him use repeatedly the English ‘th’ sound for all z’ds, s’es, and c’ees; no matter what the current dictionary says!)

    As to the church and translating Joseph Smith Jnr, they put up on the the Spanish book for Teaching of the Presidents of the Church for 08 and they are using ‘Jose’ for Joseph Jnr but ‘Joseph’ for his dad, Joseph Snr. Seem the church has its own rules for the art of translations.

    Chill out!

  42. In my admittedly imperfect observation, the average Latin American hispanoablante can duplicate the accent of Espana about as well as the average Estadounidense can duplicate the accent of Mother England.

    Some can pull it off, sure. But if pronouncing the prophet’s name depended on being able to sound like Laurence Olivier, there would be a lot of English mispronunciation, too.

    It’s not meant as an insult. A lot of gringos never do figure out the rolling r. Different languages have different sounds. Latin American Spanish lacks both a th and an initial S+consonant.

  43. Kaimi, look at my name! I know how to speak the language and the lingo and ever curse in Spanish: La que te re……

    We can pronounce the ‘th’ as the continental spanish z.!! Latin americans don’t use it much, only when we pretend to speak correctly; while continental Spaniards use that ‘th’ for everything: z, s and c just about. We can all pronounce it. It isn’t about imitating an accent. And when speaking correctly we don’t add that ‘eh’ to the front of every ‘s’. End of argument.

    But look, obviously I aint gettin throu here, so u’s can believe whatever u want to…..just don’t pollute the King’s English anymore than you (US English speakers) already have done, and hopefully Latin americans won’t pollute the King’s Spanish anymore than they have already done by adding more English words to their daily lingo, like ‘time’, ‘look’, ‘cool’, ‘F…. f’, etc

  44. #46 Interesting.

    After seeing this new manual for 08 priesthood/RS study, I really don’t know what the church is doing in translation.

    That comment #46 seems to confirm that the church has it’s own private rules on languages and translation of manuals/scriptures.

  45. Actually reading #48 again I’d prefer to delete it since some people could say that it breaches comment policy.

  46. There seems to be a lot of silly controversy about the Spanish language here, and I hope I don’t add to it, but here are just a few comments:

    1) It’s true that Latin Americans can generally imitate the European Spanish interdental “z”, which is virtually the same as English “th”. It’s not a particularly hard sound to make if you are trying.

    2) The interdental pronunciation of “z” (and “c” before “i” and “e”) is actually an * innovation * that occurred in Spain. The Latin-American pronunciation (seseo, where all of these letters sound like “s”) is actually more conservative (older).

    3) None of this has anything to do with how Joseph’s name was translated, since the difficult (“Smith”) part has never been changed. Most Latin Americans just pronounce it “esmeet” since the “th” sound is not part of their natural phoneme set, even though they are very familiar with it from European Spanish singers, actors, politicians, etc.

    4) The reason that most Spanish speakers put the “e” sound before “s” followed by another consonant is that the phonological system of Spanish does not allow a word or a syllable to start with a consonant cluster beginning in “s”. It’s the same reason why English speakers would have trouble pronouncing Nahuatl (Aztel language) words beginning with “tl”, or why Germans have trouble pronouncing voiced (“soft”) consonants at the end of words (“pig” and “pick” both sound like the latter). However, as Carlos correctly pointed out, most educated Spanish-speakers who learn English learn to suppress the initial “e”.

    5) The whole business of “corrupting” or “degenerating” a language is nonsense. This was stated well by Gregory Rabassa, the translator of García Márquez’ Nobel-prize winning book Cien Años de Soledad, at a conference I attended many years ago. Someone in the audience asked him his opinion of “pocho” (uneducated border) Spanish. His answer: What is Spanish, after all, if it isn’t “pocho” Latin? And he was right. All human languages are simply the result of gradual transformation over time, including the grafting in of elements from other languages, and dropping elements that are no longer useful. All varieties of English and Spanish, whether European, American, or even the least presigious creole dialects of these languages, are capable of an infinite variety of practical use and literary expression. The definition of a “corrupted” language is something like the definition of a “cult”: a way of talking that I don’t like because it’s not the way *I* say things.

    6) The business of translating foreign names into one’s own tongue is widespread and certainly not limited to Spanish. Thus, in English we talk about such famous Spaniards as “Ferdinand and Isabel” (Fernando and Isabela) and Raymond Lully (Ramón Lull). What I noted previously (and I hope I wasn’t offensive about it), was a trend that I noticed in perusing the proper noun section of the Pequeño Larousse Ilustrado, of applying name translation to more recent figures such as “Alberto Einstein”. But it’s fairly random, as on the same page we have his contemprary, the Russian film-maker “Serghei (not Sergio) Eisenstein”. All of which seems to demonstrate that these naming conventions are just that: conventions:

    7) Which brings us back to “José Smith”. The first person who had a shot at it decided to use José, for whatever reason: user friendliness or prophetic role, we’ll probably never know.

    By the way, I have run a language translation service company for 20 years, and I’m in daily contact with Spanish-speakers from all parts of Latin America and Spain. My wife is Central American and our home is fully bilingual. I’m more than a little confident about the points mentioned above. If they hadn’t been beaten to death previously, they probably have been now.

  47. “5) The whole business of “corrupting” or “degenerating” a language is nonsense”
    You still don’t get it. When an Englishmen, ie a man actually from England, refers to US American English speakers (jokingly), what will he say? he says this: These bloody yanks, always deforming the King’s English! (in an english accent!)

    Of course its a a growing language and transforming one, but that isn’t the joke. The joke is that US people ‘deform’ the Kings English and hence Latin Americans ‘deform’ the King Spanish!

    On point 4) what about: vamos a superar esto; porque no salen de…; we have only being taught that a double consonant should have a noun before it as a general rule, hence the ‘eh’ in estandard, but it isn’t because one can’t pronounce it -or that we can’t pronounce ‘Smith’. Once told that it is ‘Smith’ people just say that, it isn’t similar to the English problems of with Nahuatl at all. It about information and being told how to say this properly.

    But the main point here is that things have changed radically in this 21st century. People are still developing the language and, in the case of Latin American Spanish, the influence of US English is enormous. Just listen to a radio for a few hours, say, and you’ll hear many English words during conversations. And this is especially so with names, none are translated today. So Mike Huckabee is called ‘Mike’ not Miguel, and Tom Cruise is ‘Tom’ not Tomas (Mitt can only be Mitt!).

    My point was that the church should do likewise, stop translating first name because the people in latin america don’t do that anymore.

  48. Look at today’s article on the presidencial race, from

    “Des Moines (Estados Unidos).- El largo y complejo proceso de elección interna de los candidatos … comenzará hoy en el estado de Iowa, ….. punto de partida de la campaña para suceder a George Walker Bush al frente de la Casa Blanca.
    Para los demócratas, la carrera hacia la Casa Blanca comienza en Iowa con una contienda a tres bandas entre los senadores Hillary Clinton -quien aspira a ser la primera presidenta del país- y Barack Obama -que busca ser el primer mandatario afroamericano-, y el ex senador John Edwards.

    En el campo republicano, los ex gobernadores Mike Huckabee y Mitt Romney luchan denodadamente por inclinar la balanza, mientras el senador por Arizona John McCain busca acomodarse en el tercer puesto ”

    Notice that no names are translated! But they use la casa blanca -tradicional maybe.

    Now going by what some argue here the Latinos who read this are having a tongue twister exercise with this article, but off course that’s nonsense. People hear on the radio that it’s Mike ie with the eye for ‘i’ and not “miqué”, so they say ‘Mike’ and ‘John’ and ‘Hillary’ with a ‘j’ for the normally silent H.

    Also note that they point out that Hillary’s trying to be the first woman president and Barack the first africanamerican but make no mention of Mitt’s mormonism, since mormons are seen as all gringos anyway.

    Maybe the problem is that there is just so much information going from the US outwards across the world but very little going the other way, especially news on culture and how it changes. Maybe that’s the main problem in that US folk just don’t find out about what is happening in these vibrant nations but use whatever local Latinos tell them in casual conversations, about what happened in the ’70 when they left their native lands? I say this because it’s quit unbelievable what some have claimed here in this thread.

  49. Agreed, akl, it’s all convention. There’s similar inconsistency with place names. In the U.S., we say “Mexico City” for Mexico D.F., but not “St. Luke’s Cape” for Cabo San Lucas.

Comments are closed.