There are 31 thoughts on “The Next Big Thing in LDS Apologetics: Strong Semitic and Egyptian Elements in Uto-Aztecan Languages”.

  1. Are Stubbs or Grover able to publish any of this in the upper tiers of the truly rigorous, peer-reviewed, professional academic literature?

    Are there any citations or links to their work in the rigorous, peer-reviiewed scholarly lit?

    Do any of their Book of Mormon-related works receive notice and positive citation within the truly rigorous, peer-reviewed academic world?

  2. Pingback: 112 Archaeological Evidences For The Book Of Mormon | Conflict of Justice

  3. Great comment, Beau, and thanks for the homework you did. Very much appreciated! Looking forward to scholars like Dr. Campbell more fully and directly engaging with the specific arguments developed by Stubbs regarding Old World influences on Uto-Aztecan.

  4. I know this article hasn’t been commented on recently, but just in case people interested in this subject come across this article, I would like to add to this conversation.

    I became aware that Brian was working on this language proposal sometime around 2012-2013. I sent him an email inquiring about it and he very generously made available to me a pre-publication copy of the larger book that Jeff mentions in this article.

    I found the proposal so professionally prepared and interesting that I immersed myself in it, trying to see if Brian’s arguments were truly as persuasive as they seemed to be. That pre-publication copy got so over-used that I heard it breathe an audible sigh of relief when I bought Brian’s finished book after it was published.

    I also reached out Lyle Campbell, a (non-LDS) foremost scholar in historical linguistics and in Uto-Aztecan languages. Lyle quite literally wrote the book on what it takes to establish “long-distance” relationships between language families.

    Lyle was kind enough to provide me with some general feedback regarding Brian Stubbs’ work, language relationships in general, and Uto-Aztecan in particular. I think it is particularly helpful to hear from a prominent non-mormon historical linguist about what he thinks of Brian Stubbs previous Uto-Aztecan publications and professionalism:

    “Brian kindly sent me his [Semitic/Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan] work a few months ago, and I haven’t had time to do more than scan parts of it. Brian’s UA Comparative Vocabulary is excellent, the major source for checking UA cognates. It’s based on sound principles and rigorous scholarship. I refer to it often, and am grateful to Brian for sharing it with me.” (Lyle Campbell, personal correspondence, January 2016, shared with Lyle’s permission)

    The book “UA Comparative Vocabulary” that Lyle mentions as being “based on sound principles and rigorous scholarship” presents its data in a very similar fashion as the language proposal, although the language proposal tends to provide even more detailed information and much more useful indexes and appendixes.

    After working to understand the validity of Brian’s work for several years, I can’t say enough about how powerful I think the case is for significant Semitic & Egyptian influence in Uto-Aztecan languages.

  5. Brian Stubbs is not the only one claiming to find Semitic influence in a Mesoamerican language family. Adan Rocha of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, grew up Jewish, then converted to Mormonism. He believes he can demonstrate Semitic influence in both Uto-Aztecan and Mayan. Brant Gardner and I have a trip planned to Mexico where we hope to visit with Rocha.

  6. Stan Spencer pleasantly asked a fair question about swadesh word lists, mentioning tiberian Hebrew and Nahua, which deserves more explanation. Mulekite Semitic-kw would better correspond to hebrew, but Mulek vocabulary is less prominent in UA than Lehite Semitic-p. UA pronouns are more from Lehite Aramaic and Egyptian, and you Sg is from you pl, just as English ‘you’ (originally pl) replaced ‘thou’ (related to German du, Latin tu, etc). So explainable changes make the Swadesh vocabulary lists problematic. E.g., the Hebrew word ‘ish ‘man’ is minimally found in UA, but the common UA word for man is from Aramaic dakar ‘male’ > UA / Nahua taka ‘man’, etc. The books explain things quite well, but plowing thru such books is not everyone’s priority, tho the smaller, lay-reader friendly Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now explains, in ways, more than the larger. Thank you Stan and all for your congenial discourse.

  7. Dear readers and questioners,
    How delightful to read civil discourse on Jeff’s review of my works! I’ve never experienced such a high percentage of reasonable commentary on such topics. Most of the questions were answered by later commenters. I might add two comments. One, Yes, I returned from two years among the Navajo, and immediately looked into that possibility, but within days of looking at Sino-Tibetan and other Far Languages, I could see that Athapaskan came from across the Bering Strait. So if I were of a mind to “create” something from nothing, it would have been there. Two, all the main UA pronouns are from Semitic or Egytian, as is a relatively high percent of its basic vocabulary: head, eyes, nose, cheek, neck, hair, shoulder, chest, breast, waist, leg, calf, finger/toe, sun, sky, moon, rock, water, several kinds of trees / plants, man, woman, several kinds of animals and insects, etc, etc. Of course, much remains to be figured out of how it all happened, yet it’s beginning to look like, rather than a near east infusion into UA, that other things came into the Near-Eastern base that UA actually is, because both Semitic-kw terms (Mulek) and Semitic-p and Egyptian terms (Nephi) are in all branches of UA, besides the actual Semitic terms for Nephites, both masc plural and feminine pl in some UA languages.

    • Is it possible that what you are seeing is that Pre-Columbian languages in the Americas originated or were at least influences by the languages of the Old World carried through the Bering Straights?

      I have no idea if you thought about this, if it’s possible, or the linguistic similarities appeared later than the crossing.

      • Thanks for the question, Steve. Stubbs does consider alternate possibilities. However, any theory drawing upon flux over the Bering Straight runs into the problem of chronology since migration via the Bering Straight was only possible thousands of years before Hebrew, Egyptian, and Aramaic existed. The ancient roots of those languages if carried across the Bering Straits would not be close enough to those Near Eastern languages much later to convey the clear and specific evidence of influence that we can now see in the America.

  8. Stubbs served a mission to the Navajo and he notes that that language is not included in Uto-aztecan and no semitic influence is noted. However, their close neighbors the Hopi, is an uto-aztecan language. Stubbs has a most unusual background. To have expertise in Uto-Aztecan languages plus a degree in semitic languages, a masters in linquistics, able to speak Navajo and Spanish to boot, is truly amazing!

  9. Jerry, I was amazed and delighted to see that your website features a page with a link to a free (!?) download of the PDF to Exploring the Explanatory Power. Wow, very generous of you and Stubbs! May I suggest you at least request a donation for user downloads?

    Wish I had had this PDF in preparing my article! I was working off the physical book (which I am very happy to have on my equally physical bookshelf) in preparing this paper. Am glad to see that it is available electronically.

    • Jeff,

      It is not really free, I will be paying Brian a certain amount per download. I make all of my own personal work available for free. If you need some really interesting reading specifically written for Book of Mormon ‘eggheads’, I would recommend the Translation of the “Caractors” Document book.

      Jerry

  10. Jerry, thanks for your feedback and thank you for taking on the challenge of bringing this vital work to light. I hope more LDS people will rise up and show an interest in language and the Book of Mormon, and of course buy many copies of these works!

    By the way, your book, Geology of the Book of Mormon, is another tremendous contribution to understanding that sacred text with the aid of modern science. Wonderful work! Partway through right now, but hope to report on my experiences with your terrific work sometime soon.

    • Right now, I can tell that the Stubbs work is over my head, although I can appreciate that it has great significance. I also agree with Ryan Dahle that, “an accumulation of consistent, circumstantial evidence from a variety of fields meld together into a synergistic whole that is far stronger than any of its constituent parts.” For a nod to one of the other fields, I read “Geology of the Book of Mormon” and was blown away much in the same way Jeff Lindsay was blown away by the Stubbs work.

  11. Thanks for the questions, Gerald. Regarding the influence to the north, I wouldn’t say the Book of Mormon requires us to find language influence to the north or anywhere else. It’s the data that is showing this for Uto-Aztecan. The expertise required to compare Uto-Aztecan thoroughly to Near Eastern languages is rather rare. There may be similar treasures to find in other language families elsewhere in the America, but the studies have probably not been made by people competent in both the New World languages and the Near Eastern ones. This work may lead to other experts making the heavy investment needed to evaluate other possibilities.

    However, the Book of Mormon does clearly show a tendency for groups to migrate to the north. Hagoth heads north and takes many in that direction. Nephites and their enemies strive to move northward. Nephite population grows to the north. There are many hints that north is the direction of choice. So it is possible that Nephites and their kin moved from Mesoamerica to the north and brought linguistic influence with them. There is also a growing body of scholarship supporting the influence of ancient Mesoamerica on northern Native Americans.

    Regarding the second question, Navajo is in a different language family, Athabaskan, not Uto-Aztecan. This kind of thing happens all the time. In the vicinity of the little Fox Valley of Wisconsin, where I lived in Appleton for many years, one finds not only many English and Spanish speakers (Indo-European groups) but also several thousand Hmong speakers (Hmong-Mien language family, an Asian group) and a group of Oneida speakers (an Iroquois language). Thus, we have notable groups of 3 different language families from different continents clustered in a small location. Human migration and historical patterns of contact can result in such messy mappings of language. Uto-Aztecan is not a geographic grouping, but a linguistic grouping, and does not include all the families in the broad area that UA spans.

  12. Thanks to the author for a detailed review of an exciting new area of Book of Mormon related research. I have a couple of questions, perhaps better asked of Professor Stubbs:
    1. Why would one expect languages from the Central America area where the Book of Mormon peoples lived to influence tribes far north, like the Paiute and the Comanche?
    2. In the list of UA language groups prominent tribes in the UA tribal areas like the Navajo and the Apache are not listed. Why is this?

    Thank you.

    • In answer to the first question, languages and people that speak them migrate over time. For the second, Apache and Navajo are not part of the Uto-Aztecan language family, they are Southern Athabaskan.

  13. Stan, thanks for the input and for the question about Swadesh lists. I’ll give my answer as a non-linguist, hoping that some of the linguists among us will step in and correct me.

    The numerical aspect of Stubbs’ work is most clearly manifest in the large numbers of cognates, far greater than are normally required to establish that languages are part of a common language family. Over 10% of the vocabulary of the UA family has apparent Near Eastern influence. Of the 2700 cognates documented among UA languages, about 30% of them are part of the 1500 cognates with Near Eastern languages that Stubbs has found in this work. There’s your quantitative significance.

    Swadesh lists are interesting tools for quick and easy analysis, but this is a very fuzzy instrument (intended for other purposes) that need not give high correlations even when a strong relationship exists between languages. Morris Swadesh developed a list of words while studying a Native American language in Montana. Based on intuition, he proposed a group of words that was later winnowed down to 100 words to be used for dating changes between related languages (glottochronology). These are words that should exist across many different cultures, words like “eat”, “dog,” “liver,” “yellow” and “not.” There are many variations of his original lists, some as small as 35 words and others over 200 words. There is no agreement on which words or how many should be on the list.

    As I understand it, this tool is intended to trace changes between languages known to be related. In Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, Stubbs does provide a table comparing various UA languages using a Swadesh list (pp. 90-91). But there’s no reason to suppose that an infusion of a new language into an older language would tend to displace the common words on a Swadesh list. Why, for example, would the Norman invasion result in the English using “pas” instead of “not” or adopting the French words for, say, hand, knee, or house? Swadesh’s final list of 100 words strikes me as heavily Anglo-Saxon with little hint of the strong influence of French, Latin, and Greek in English. So is that list useful for testing the presence of French, Latin and Greek in English? It’s not the right tool for that, obviously.

    The way an infusion alters a language depends very much on the details: is the new language spoken by elites or servants, conquerors or the conquered, wealthy or poor, merchants or cobblers? Does it provide a vocabulary for war, religion, medicine, diet, etc.? This depends on the unique historical context. It may be possible for one language group to make a significant infusion into another but leave any of the many variant Swadesh lists largely untouched.

    I don’t think it’s the right tool for evaluating contact and influence with an outside language group, or for establishing whether two remote languages should be considered part of the same language group. For that, you look at the cognates and their abundance. That’s what Stubbs offers, in spades.

    • Thanks for your response, Jeff, and for your helpful review. I’m sure it will make Stubbs’ work more accessible and promote needed discussion and further analysis. Stubbs does propose that the “infusion” of Semitic into Uto-Aztecan replaced much of the basic vocabulary, including the types of common words found in Swadesh lists: “much basic vocabulary and most of the pronouns,” including animal terms, body parts, basic nouns of nature, gender, etc. Although borrowing between languages presents analytical difficulties analogous to the phylogenetic confusion produced by hybrid speciation in plants, if there is a true Semitic signal present in an actual (not reconstructed) Uto-Aztecan language, it should be detectable by quantitative means, which verification, I think, would be a huge boon to Stubbs’ hypothesis. If anyone is interested, I can go into this further offline–stanspencer1 at gmail.

  14. As the publisher of this work, it did go through a pre-publication peer review. The book or preliminary drafts were provided to Uto-Aztecan scholars and other historical linguists, most were not LDS. Comments were received back, primarily by a fairly famous non-LDS historical linguist and incorporated into the book. The obvious difficulty with peer review for this type of book is to find an academic who is competent in Semitic languages, Egyptian, and Uto-Aztecan. Unfortunately, other than Brian Stubbs, there are none.
    The book went through a professional editing process. Unlike articles in journals, for an academic press to accept any work their first determination, just like other businesses is whether it will actually sell. A specialized work like this has a very limited potential for distribution. The print run on the book was only 100 books, and the demand has not been overwhelming although they have virtually all been distributed or sold. The most significant portion peer review of most books, as opposed to articles, occurs post publication in the form of book reviews.
    In any event, there are two other book reviews so far that have been done by professional linguists, they can be found at my website http://www.bmslr.org. There are some indications that another book review may be done by a Semitic journal, and the book is free to others of competence that desire to do a book review.

    Jerry Grover

  15. Alternate causes are always possible. However, the data shows evidence of two distinct infusions bringing a mix of Near Eastern languages that align well with the two separate migrations of Mulekites and Lehites, including corresponding with their differing origins and dates. If not relevant to the Book of Mormon, it would at least be a fascinating set of coincidences. And if ancient transoceanic contact from Hebrew and Egyptian speakers was significant enough to influence a large chunk of New World languages, it certainly should at least overcome some of the common arguments made against the Book of Mormon. Alternate causality or not, the data remains keenly relative to the debate around Book of Mormon plausibility. It is big indeed.

    The debate gets much more entertaining if the standard argument from our critics becomes, “Sure, there were boats from the ancient Near East landing in and influencing the Americas, but there’s no proof that Nephi was on one of them.”

    • Jeff, your last paragraph was exactly my thought. This study is valuable in that it should refute critics who claim a dearth of linguistic commonalities. However, as positive evidence for the Book of Mormon I think it will be useful but a long way from proof. It is well known that Israel was scattered and there is no reason other Israelites couldn’t make it to the western hemisphere.

    • Hi Jeff,

      I read your update about this topic on mormanity and thought I would revisit the comments section. After rereading my previous comments, I feel like maybe I came off as too dismissive of Stubbs’ research. I said it wasn’t “revolutionary” and that it would make a “relatively small splash in the overall apologetic argument.”

      After giving this topic another look, I think that these comments were not accurate. Stubbs’ work is revolutionary and it is already making a fairly substantial splash in the overall apologetic argument. And I think you are right about the specific nature of the dual linguistic infusions providing fascinating evidence. Yes, it’s possible that this could be ascribed to some other cause, but it is also awfully consistent with the Book of Mormon narrative. Stubbs should be highly commended for his work, and I didn’t give him enough credit.

  16. Stubbs has provided an impressive work worth serious consideration and discussion. Maybe a reason the response has been so muted is because the work is so large and complex that most people would have to invest a great deal of study in order to be able to evaluate it and talk about it intelligently. I have studied Explanatory Power but still have questions. If there is a phonetic relationship between Uto-Aztecan and Semitic languages, even extending to fundamental words such as pronouns, wouldn’t you expect to be able to demonstrate such a relationship by quantitative methods? For example, we have Swadesh lists (standardized lists of 200 or so common words) for Tiberian Hebrew and Nahuatl (a well-documented Uto-Aztecan language). We can quantify the relationship between these lists (and, by extension, between the languages) as Levenshtein distances after applying whatever sound transformations may be appropriate to produce a phonetically meaningful comparison. I’ve played around with this, using various transformations, including transformations to account for major sound shifts proposed by Stubbs in Explanatory Power. I have so far been unable to demonstrate that Tiberian Hebrew and Nahuatl are any more closely related to each other than either is to English. I know a fair amount about investigating phylogenetic relationships, but am not a linguist. I’d love to see someone more qualified give it a try with this or some other numeric method, or alternatively, to see an explanation as to why we should not expect to be able to demonstrate a relationship with numeric methods. It seems to me that a charge that Stubbs has cherry-picked from vast amounts of data drawn from dozens of languages would need to be countered with some sort of quantitative evidence.

    • I think one would have to develop a statistical method for evaluation of creole language types (not the evolutionary and branching as most relational methods try to do). The question is not whether Uto-Aztecan and Egyptian/Semitic or phylogenetically related in the standard sense, they are not. I don’t know if anyone has generated any reliable statistical method for comparison to determine loaning or creole, my understanding is creoles are difficult to compare as there is no uniformity of syntax and other elements of the languages. At this point, Brian has followed all of the elements of the comparative method exactly and given the large body of cognates and consistent historical phonetic change, the relationships have been established if one believes the comparative method has any validity.

  17. Thank you Jeff, for another insightful article.

    I’m not sure I would say that Stubb’s research is the “next big thing,” but it is certainly important and underappreciated. I think that even if Stubbs was able to conclusively prove to every professional linguist’s satisfaction that Uto-Aztecan was strongly influenced by Hebrew, Egyptian, and related ancient Near Eastern languages, it would still make a relatively small splash in the overall apologetic argument. Critics would simply shift from “these are weak or meaningless parallels” to something along the lines of “these linguistic changes could easily have been introduced by a transoceanic crossing that had nothing to do with the Book of Mormon.”

    Stubbs’ work is beginning to offer another evidence that is both surprising and consistent with the Book of Mormon narrative, but it is still an evidence that could easily be ascribed to an alternative cause. In contrast, I believe that several evidences from the Arabian Peninsula (as well as a number of other categories) are unexpected, strongly and explicitly predicted by the Book of Mormon text, and yet very difficult to ascribe to some other cause.

    That being said, I think that an accumulation of consistent, circumstantial evidence from a variety of fields meld together into a synergistic whole that is far stronger than any of its constituent parts. I believe that Stubbs’ research is contributing nicely to this holistic argument, and I hope that he and others with relevant training continue to pursue this exciting, if not revolutionary, apologetic avenue of research.

  18. Jeff Lindsay’s carefully written introduction to the work of Brian Stubbs Semitic and Egyptian elements in Uto-Aztecan languages is a careful, even-handed explanation and commentary. I am hoping that this review-essay will draw the attention of serious scholars, and further the conversation on this interesting and seemingly very important bit of scholarship.

  19. I cannot get enough of this! It is SO obvious in many ways that The Book Of Mormon is true! Wayne N. May also shows so much archeological evidence. Yesterday I came across very rare photos of white native americans! There’s so much to say.

  20. https://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php/2019/01/uto-aztecan-and-semitic-too-much-of-a-good-thing/#comments

    For me the overriding issue was parsimony: why does it make more sense to assume that an Uto-Aztecan word is derived from Semitic/Egyptian immigrants and not from an existing Uto-Aztecan root? That’s an extremely complicated solution when a much simpler one might be preferable. Someone more versed in Uto-Aztecan would have to decide if the payoff – the otherwise unsolvable problems in Uto-Aztecan historical linguistics – justify the complication…

    And at the end of the day, there are still weirdly similar words that don’t require a lot of phonological gymnastics to compare. One possibility is that something extremely unlikely happened in history. The other is that something extremely unlikely happened in language. Very weird things sometime do happen – do you realize that Semitic n-suffixed inflexion plays the exact same role in indicating definiteness as the n-suffixed weak adjective inflexion in Germanic? – but I suspect the case of Uto-Aztecan and Semitic will probably turn out to be a case of linguistic rather than historical oddity

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