Uto-Aztecan and Its Connection to Near Eastern Languages, Part 1: A Credible Proposal from Brian Stubbs?

In a previous post, “Bigger Than Nahom?,” I mentioned that the “next big thing” in LDS apologetics could well be the thoroughly documented discovery of Brian D. Stubbs that there is a significant amount of Semitic and Egyptian influence in the Uto-Aztecan language family. Stubbs’ work is provided in two recent books, one for LDS audiences and one for linguists. They are, respectively, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now (Blanding, UT: Four Corners
Digital Design, 2016) and Exploring the
Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan
(Provo, UT: Grover
Publications, 2015).

Is Stubbs’ Work Credible?

Brian Stubbs is a linguist whose credential and skills cannot be lightly dismissed. He is among a handful of specialists in Uto-Aztecan who has published significant works in the field (e.g., Brian D. Stubbs, “More Palatable Reconstructions for Uto-Aztecan Palatals,” International Journal of American Linguistics 66/1 (Jan. 2000): 125-137)  that appear to have been well received among linguists,  particularly his significant scholarly work, Uto-Aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary (Blanding, UT: Rocky Mountain Books and Publications, 2011),  with over 400 pages of analysis exploring 2700 cognate sets among the Uto-Aztecan languages. In his review of Stubbs’ work for the International Journal of American Linguistics, fellow Uto-Aztecan specialist Kenneth C. Hill described it as “a monumental contribution, raising comparative UA to a new level” (see Kenneth C. Hill, “Uto-aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary by Stubbs,” International Journal of American Linguistics 78/4 (October 2012): 591-592). 

Stubbs earned an M.A. in Linguistics from the University of Utah and completed coursework and comprehensive exams (ABD) toward a Ph.D. in Near Eastern languages and linguistics at the University of Utah. He has studied Hebrew, Arabic, Egyptian, Aramaic and many Native American languages. While he does not have a Ph.D., he is among key publishers of articles on the Uto-Aztecan language family in linguistic journals. His book Uto-Aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary is the largest in the field, doubling the size of previous works on comparative Uto-Aztecan studies. He recently retired from teaching at the College of Eastern Utah.

The “elephant in the room” for critics, at least, is why this recent work linking the Near East and the New World has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Based on personal correspondence with Brian Stubbs, peer-review is his goal. His work, inherently controversial since it clearly supports Book of Mormon claims, has been sent to his fellow Uto-Aztecan specialists, with no public but several private comments so far, and eventually will be ready for the challenges and pains of the peer review process, but this takes time and faces some practical and political considerations.

One must recognize that this work is highly controversial and easy to dismiss without serious consideration, based not just on its ties to the Book of Mormon but also on the centuries of past abuse from amateurs claiming linguistic connection between Native American languages and Hebrew. This abuse is reflected in a statement on the Native American Languages (Native-languages.org) website:

Q: Are Amerindian languages descended from Hebrew, Ancient Egyptian, Scandinavian or Celtic languages?

A: No. The people who claim this are trying to prove that American Indians arrived in the Americas very recently…. I have seen many websites claiming to “prove” that Amerindian languages are descended from Semitic or Germanic languages. 90% of these websites are deliberately lying, making up nonexistant “Algonquian” words that resemble words from Semitic languages. A quick glance at a dictionary of the Amerindian language in question will reveal these websites for what they are. The other 10% are using linguistically unsound methods–searching two languages for any two vocabulary words that begin with the same letter, essentially, and presenting them as evidence. Using this method, English can be “proved” to descend from Japanese–English “mistake” sounds a little like Japanese “machigai”. In fact, if you randomly generate some vocabulary with a computer program, you will be able to find a few words with surface resemblance to any language you want. Real linguistic analysis requires dozens of vocabulary relationships which are regular and predictable, as well as similarities in phonology and syntax, to show that one language is related to another…. No linguist has ever shown a relationship between any Amerindian language family and a Semitic, Germanic or Celtic language.

Naturally, with or without a favorable review from other scholars, the critics will have plenty of opportunities to cry foul. Already critics have dismissed his work by mischaracterizing it as merely compiling a list of random hits, and they justify their dismissal by pointing to a handful of examples of chance coincidences that can occur in any language. Some anti-Mormon forums, for example, cite a few random coincidences or point to a list of “Amazing Coincidences” among languages to show how chance can lead to apparent correspondences.  That list does illustrate how chance can lead to a interesting parallels between two unrelated languages, and also reflects the very small number of such correspondences, a mere handful, that one tends to find between any specific pair of unrelated languages. As stated in the quotation from the Native American Languages site above, “Real linguistic analysis requires dozens of vocabulary relationships which are regular and predictable” (emphasis added) — dozens, not a handful. Perhaps 1500 might be considered a good start.

Is 1500 genuinely significant? Relative to the 2700 cognates in UA languages published by Stubbs  in his well regarded scholarly work, Uto-Aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary,  his 1500 cognates with Near Eastern languages may involve roughly 30% of the 2700 entries in his Comparative Vocabulary (some of the 1500 Near Eastern words are reflected in UA words that don’t belong to the set of 2700 or sometimes a single Proto-UA (PUA) cognate may have related UA words that are connected to multiple items on the Near Eastern list, so the ratio is not simple 1500/2700). That percentage may be shifted up or down with future work and peer review, but this is a level of relationship that far exceeds the minimal criteria to establish a legitimate linguistic relationship.

However, critics can also argue that combing through three languages to find cognates for the 30 languages of the UA family will unfairly inflate the odds of finding random hits to proclaim as amazing successes. But the body of cognates for all three Near Eastern languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Egyptian are each independently large enough (hundreds, not just dozens, and vastly more than chance would explain) to demand respect. Further, the hits reported by Stubbs are frequently cognates to PUA with many related descendants among the 30 individual languages.

Further still, the consistent patterns of sound changes are a vital issue that show meaningful relationships beyond random chance. Indeed, it is the explanatory power of Stubbs’ work that demands particular attention and further scholarship, perhaps several lifetimes of scholarship, for that is the level of commitment that such challenges tend to require of those who bring major breakthroughs in understanding language.

Laying a Linguistic Foundation

While some readers will want to dive into the “wow” factors in the evidence right away, Stubbs properly demands more patience from his readers, particularly in Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, where a basic foundation is laid regarding the approach linguists take in exploring the changes in languages over time and the methodologies requires to establish plausible connections between languages. I found these sections engaging and interesting without being overly technical, and should be enlightening to lay students of languages. 

Stubbs offers many words of caution in presenting his work, and recognizes that linguists will look dimly at his proposal, at least initially. Over the past 3 centuries, they have grown weary of amateurish attempts in the past to link Egyptian or Hebrew to New World languages. “Most such claims have been bogus to borderline or amateurish at best, … void of sound methodology” and “lacking what linguists have found to be established principles and patterns for verifying language relatedness: rules of sound change that create consistent sound correspondence, hundreds of vocabulary matches consistent with those sound correspondences, and some grammatical and morphological alignments, which sum constitute the comparative method. Thus, the language similarities in this work are presented within such a framework of sound correspondences, etc. In fact, the Semitic of Egyptian forms proposed to underlie the UA forms often answer questions and explain puzzles in UA that Uto-Aztecanists have not yet been able to explain, and explanatory power is a cherished quest among linguists.”  Nevertheless, many details remain to be worked out. Stubbs is cautious in presenting his work as an initial effort that may yet require lifetimes of further research, just a many decades of work were required to unravel sound shifts in Germanic and other languages.

Let us now turn to the details in these recent works of Stubbs.

Abbreviations and Other Notes

Several abbreviations will be used here, following Stubbs. UA = Uto-Aztecan, PUA = Proto-Uto-Aztecan, a proto-language that is reconstructed from the evidence available from related languages and hypothesized to have existed as an ancient  parent language, like Proto Indo-European for the Indo-European language group.

A capital C denotes an unspecified consonant and a capital V denotes an unspecified vowel. Thus –Cr– denotes a word with a consonant before an “r.” Capital N denotes a nasal consonant: n, m, or ŋ.

An asterisk denotes a proto-language that is reconstructed and hypothesized to have existed as a parent language, like Proto Indo-European. Thus PUA *p represents the p sound in Proto-Uto-Aztecan, a proto-language that is reconstructed from the evidence available.

Inequality signs denote the direction of change: > means the preceding word or sound changed to or became another as in b > kw, and < means the preceding word or sound changed from or derived from the following word or sound.

Some abbreviations of UA languages:

Ca Cahuilla; Ch Chemehuevi; Cm Comanche; CN Classical Nahuatl; Cp Cupeño; Cr Cora; CU Colorado Ute; EU Eudeve; HP Hopi; KTN Kitanemuk; KW Kawaiisu; LS Luiseño; LP Lower Pima; MN Mono; NP Northern Paiute; NT Northern Tepehuan; NU Northern Ute; NUA Northern Uto-Aztecan; NV Nevome; OP Opata; SH Shoshoni; SP Southern Paiute; SR Serrano; ST Southern Tepehuan; SUA Southern Uto-Aztecan; TB Tübatülabal; TBR Tubar, TO Tohono O’odham, in Arizona; TR Tarahumara; UA Uto-Aztecan; UP Upper Pima; WC Huichol; WMU White Mesa Ute; YQ Yaqui.

Today we’ll look at some data for one infusion, Semitic-p, and in later posts will review some of the data for the other two infusions considered.

The Semitic-p Infusion

The Semitic-p infusion into Uto-Aztecan includes words where Semitic b became p in Proto-Uto-Aztecan, a concept written as Semitic b > Uto-Aztecan *p. Examples below are listed with the cognate number from Stubbs’ 2015 technical publication, Explanatory Power:

(527) baraq ‘lightning’ > UA *pïrok; MY berok ‘lightning’

(528) byt / bayit / beet ‘house, spend the night’

> UA *pïtï; TR bete ‘house’

> UA *pïtï ‘lie down, spend night’; Numic *payïC ‘go home’ [recall that the “C” denotes an unknown consonant]

(528) Semitic bytu / bat-uu ‘spend the night, pl’

> UA *pïtu ‘lie down, spend the night, pl’

(531) Hebrew boo’ ‘coming (used as ‘way to’)’

> UA *pooC ‘road, way, path’

(534) Hebrew batt ‘daughter’ > UA *pattï ‘daughter’

(550) Aramaic bǝsár ‘flesh, penis’ > UA *pisa ‘penis’

(559) Semitic *bakay; Syriac baka’ ‘cry’ > UA *paka’ ‘cry’

Just as b changes to p, the other voiced stops also tend to devoice in this infusion. Thus, Semitic b, d, g > UA p, t, k; also Semitic q > k. Several examples include:

(606) dubur ‘buttocks, rear’ > UA *tupur ‘hip, buttocks’

(607) dobɛr ‘pasture, vegetation’ > UA *tupi ‘grass, vegetation’

(1484) dwr / duur ‘go round, turn, revolve’ > UA *tur ‘whirl, roll, twist’

(1103) dakka ‘make flat, stamp, crush’ > UA *takka ‘flat’

(1279) Aramaic *yagar ‘hill, heap of stones’ > UA *yakaR / *yakaC ‘nose, point, ridge’

(608) gdʕ ‘cut off’ > UA *katu’ ‘cut, wound’

(57) *siggoob ‘squirrel’ > UA *sikkuC ‘squirrel’

(1014) qədaal ‘neck, nape of neck’ > UA *kutaC.

Another characteristic of this infusion is that “Proto-Semitic *đ (> Arabic đ, Aramaic d, Hebrew z), corresponds to UA *t (note that UA t best matches Aramaic d (> t) and the vowelings also match Aramaic).”  Examples:

Aramaic dakar ‘male’ > UA *taka ‘man, person’

Aramaic diqn-aa ‘beard / chin-the’

> UA *tï’na ‘mouth’ (not Hebrew zaaqaan)

Aramaic di’b-aa ‘wolf-the’ > UA *tï’pa ‘wolf’ (not Hebrew hazzǝ’eb)

Semitic *đabboot(eey) ‘flies’ > UA *tïpputi ‘flea’

Another sound change here is Semitic ’aleph or glottal stop ’ > w in UA (also known in Arabic), or other times a glottal stop and round vowels occur (o, u). A few of Stubbs’ many examples include:

(566) Hebrew ’ariy / ’arii ‘lion’ > UA *wari ‘mountain lion’

(567) Hebrew ya’amiin-o ‘he believes him/it’ > UA *yawamin-(o) ‘believe (him/it)’

(569) Hebrew ’egooz ‘nut tree’ > UA *wokoC ‘pine tree’

(571) Semitic ya’ya’ / yaa’ayaa’ ‘(be) beautiful’ > LS yawáywa, SR yï’aayï’a’n ‘be pretty, beautiful’

(572) Hebrew ’iiš ‘man, person’ > UA *wïsi ‘person’

(574) Hebrew ’išaa / ’ešɛt / ’išt- ‘woman, wife of’ > UA *wïCti ‘woman, wife’ (reminder: C = unknown consonant; V = unknown vowel)

(577) ’aas- ‘myrtle willow’ > UA *wasV ‘willow’

(579) pa’r- ‘mouse’ > UA *pu’wi(N) ‘mouse’

(1333) Hebrew m’n / *me’’an ‘refuse’ > Hp meewan- ‘forbid, warn’

Another common and logical sound change is Semitic initial r- > t- in UA:

(600) r’y / raa’aa ‘see, v’ > UA *tïwa ‘find, see’

(603) Aramaic rima / rimǝ-taa ‘large stone-the’ > UA *tïmï-ta ‘rock’

(604) Aramaic rə’emaan-aa / reemaan-aa ‘antelope-the’ > UA *tïmïna ‘antelope’

(99) Semitic rakb-uu ‘they mounted, climbed’ > UA *tï’pu / *tïppu ‘climb up’

Other readily understandable sound changes include the loss of a final -r, as in:

(565) makar ‘sell’ > UA *maka ‘give, sell’

(616) dakar ‘male’ > UA *taka ‘man, person’

and the Semitic initial voiceless pharyngeal ђ > UA *hu, or w/o/u, and non-initially ђ > w/o/u, as in:

(672) ђbq ‘break wind’ > UA *hupak- ‘stink’ (*q > k)

(673) ђnk ‘train, dedicate’; Hebrew ђanukkaa ‘dedication, consecration’ > UA/CA huneke ‘to take an Indian bath’; YQ húnak-te ‘show, direct, raise (young)’

(671) ђmm ‘heat, bathe, wash’ > UA *huma ‘wash, bathe’

But many sounds remain much the same, such as such as t, k, p, s, m, n. Examples include:

(52) Hebrew mukkɛ ‘smitten’ > UA *mukki ‘die, be sick, smitten’

(769) *taqipa (sg), *taqipuu (pl) ‘overpower’ > UA *takipu ‘push’ (*q > k)

(755) Hebrew kutónet ‘shirt-like tunic’ > UA *kutun ‘shirt’

(754) Hebrew participle pone ‘turn to, look’ > UA *puni ‘turn, look, see’

(851) Hebrew panaa-w ‘face-his’ > UA *pana ‘cheek, face’

(852) pl. construct paneey- (< *panii) ‘face, surface of’ > UA *pani ‘on, on surface of’

(1339) šippaa ‘make smooth’ > UA *sipa / *sippa ‘scrape, shave’

(56) šεkεm / šikm-, Samaritan šekam ‘shoulder’ > UA *sïka ‘shoulder, arm’, Numic *sikum ‘shoulder’

(563) sapat ‘lip’ > UA *sapal ‘lip’

(879) šwy / šawaa ‘broil, roast’ > UA *sawa ‘boil, apply heat, melt’…

(1105) kali / kulyaa ‘kidney’ > UA *kali ‘kidney’

(1409) Aramaic kuuky-aa’ ‘spider-the’ > UA *kuukyaŋw ‘spider’

An interesting subtlety is that Semitic-p apparently distinguishes between two H sounds in Proto-Semitic, written as *x and *ђ, that merged in Hebrew after the Exile and were merged much earlier in Phoenician. Thus, while ђ > UA *hu or w/o/u, Semitic *x > UA k:

(630) *xole ‘be sick, hurting’ > UA *koli ‘to hurt, be sick’

(631) xmr ‘to ferment’; *xamar ‘wine’; Arabic ximiir ‘drunkard’ > UA *kamaC ‘drunk’

(632) *xnk ‘put around the neck’ > UA konaka ‘necklace, string of beads’

Impressive Depth

The entries in Exploring the Explanatory Power are far more than the amateur list of stray parallels that some critics are imagining from Stubbs. I’ve been impressed with how consistently deep and expansive Stubbs’ analysis is, though I speak as a non-expert. To let readers judge for themselves, I provide a couple of his 1500 entries.

824 Hebrew hayyownaa / hayyoonat ‘dove’:  UA *hayowi ‘dove’.

Note loss of -n- also in Ktn[Kitanemuk] payo’ ‘handkerchief’ < Spanish paño; similarly, Sapir claims that single *-n- disappears and only geminated *-nn- survived in SP:

UAcv-696 *hayowi ‘dove’: M88-h03; KH.NUA; KH/M06-h03: Two languages (Hp, Tb) agree with *howi: HP höwi, pl: höwìit ‘dove, mourning dove, white-winged dove’; Tb ‘owii-t ‘dove’. In contrast, three Numic languages show hewi: Mn heewi’ ‘mourning dove’; TSh heewi-cci ‘dove’; Sh heewi ‘dove’. Numic forms showing hewi (Mn, TSh, Sh) leveled the V ‘s from -ai- / -ay- in *hayowi > heewi, o shortened to be perceived as part of-w-; so as CU ‘ayövi and Wc haïmï suggest the first vowel was a. Kw hoyo-vi ‘mourning dove’; CU ‘ayövi ‘dove’; Ch(L) hiyovi; and Sapir’s SP iyovi- ‘mourning dove’ with the final syllable as part of the stem, as in CNum, all show -y-. Kw and CU seem to have reinterpreted the final -vi as an absolutive suffix, but Ch, SP, and CNum suggest otherwise, and we again see -w- > -v- in Num. Most of NUA suggest *hayowi. NP ihobi ‘dove’ transposed the h.

*hayowi     > hewi (Sh, Mn, TSh)

> hayo    >     ‘ayö- (CU), iyovi (SP)

> hoyo- (Kw), hiyo(vi) (Ch) > ihobi (NP)

> *howi    > höwi (Hp)

> ‘owii-t (Tb)

Only the -n- is missing. Wc haïmï/’áïmï ‘dove’ and the -howa- of Tr čohówari / čohóbari ‘turtle dove’ are probably related as well. Wc ï could be a leveling of -yow- (*hayow > haï). TO hoohi ‘mourning dove’ is probably related in some way, perhaps with preservative consonant harmony (*howi > hoohi), and TO does keep PUA *h sometimes.

[TO keeps  *h; wN>m in wc?, -n- > ∅] [1h,2y,3w,4n] [NUA: Num, Hp, Tb; SUA: Tep, TrC, CrC]

Having recently discussed the significance of several Hebrew words related to dust-motifs in the Book of Mormon, particularly ’pl related to darkness and obscurity, where an interesting wordplay may occur with the word ’pr meaning “dust” in 2 Nephi 1:23, I wished to look at the details Stubbs had uncovered regarding a  relevant term:

871 Hebrew ‘pl ‘be dark’; Hebrew ‘opεl ‘darkness’; Hebrew ‘aapel ‘dark’; Hebrew ‘apelaa ‘darkness’; Arabic ‘afala (< *’apala) ‘go down, set (of stars)’; like ‘set’ and ‘go down’, this Semitic root also means ‘be late, in the day or in the season’; a causative Hebrew form in Jastrow’s Aramaic(J) is later Hebrew hε’εpiil ‘make dark’ with unattested impfv ya’piil (m.) and ta’piil (f.). The unattested huqtal 3rd sg masc and fem passive of the above root would be Hebrew *yu’pal and *tu’pal ‘become dark, be gone down (light)’ aligning perfectly with UA *yu’pa(l) and *tu’pa(l) in the sets below; in UA *cuppa, the palatalization t- > c- due to the high vowel u, and the cluster doubles the -pp-: Semitic *tu’pal > cuppa:

UAcv-891 *cuppa ‘fire go out’: M67-171 *cupa ‘fire go out’; 236 ‘go out (of fire)’; M88-cu9; KH/M06-co21:

Tb cupat, ’ucup ‘be out (of fire)’ ; Tb(H) cuppat ‘fire to be out, go out’; Wr co’a ‘put out fire’; Wr co’i ‘be out (of fire)’ ; Tr čo’á-ri- ‘have another put out fire’; Tr čo’wi ‘dark’; NV tubanu ‘bajar de lo alto [go down from high up)’. …

In the following, the semantic tie goes from ‘set, go down, end (day)’ to ‘end (of whatever)’:

UA cv-871a *cuCpa/i / *cuppa ‘finish, be end of s.th.’: I.Num258 *cu/*co ‘disappear’; M88-cu1 ‘finish’; KH/M06-cul: Mn cúppa ‘disappear’; NP coppa ‘s.th. sinking’; My cúppe ‘terminarse, vi’; My cúppa ‘terminar, vt’;

AYq čupa ‘finish, complete, fulfill (vow)’; AYq hi(t)čuppa ‘completing, fulfilling (vow), harvesting’, AYq čupe ‘get completed, finished, married, ripe’; AYq čupia ‘be complete’; Yq čúpa ‘terminar (bien)’; Wr cu’piba-ni ‘acabar’; Sr ‘ičo’kin ‘make, fix, finish’; Wc sïï ‘finish’. Note Mn ‘disappear’ and NP ‘sinking’ reflect ‘sun going down’. The over-lapping semantics (finish/harvest) in Cah (My, AYq) may have us keep in mind *cuppV ‘gather, close eyes’. Does Sr ‘ičo-kin ‘make, fix, finish’ have hi- prefix or is it from Hebrew ya-suup ‘come to an end’?

UAcv-871b *copa / *cupa ‘braid, finish weaving’: Tr čobå/čóba- ‘trenzarse, hacerse la trenza’, Tb tadzuub ‘braid it’; CN copa ‘finish weaving/constructing s.th.’; CN copi ‘piece of weaving or construction to get finished’…. [NUA: Num, Tak, Tb; SUA: TrC, CrC, Azt] 

Other groups of UA words related in different ways to Hebrew *yu’pal and *tu’pal  include, in the abbreviated format from Changes in Languages:

(872) ’pl / *yu’pal ‘be dark, go down, m’ > UA *yu’pa > *yuppa ‘be dark, black, (fire) go out’

(873) ’pl / *yu’pal ‘be dark, go down, m’ > UA *yu’pa(l) > Aztecan *yowal, CN yowal-li ‘night, n’  (The Aztecan branch regularly loses a single -p-)

Several other dust-related correspondences include item 591, Hebrew ’adaama and UA *tïma, “earth”;  item 150, Egyptian t’, “earth, land, ground, country,” cf. Coptic to, and UA *tiwa, “sand, dust,” and also UA *to’o, “dust”;  item 162 Egyptian šʕy ‘sand’ (Coptic šoo) > UA *siwa(l) ‘sand’;  and item 665, Aramaic ђirgaa’, “dust,” and UA *huCkuN (C again means an unknown consonant and N is a nasal sound), “dust”. 

The richness of linkages in the vocabulary related to dirt, dust, earth, and sand is reflected in many other areas, ranging from body parts and functions, animals, pronouns, numerous details of daily life, etc.

Overall, these two new works are impressive contributions not just to the study of language in the Americas but also to the study of the Book of Mormon. In terms of Book of Mormon evidence, what Stubbs has begun here may be one of the most significant advances in our ability to relate the Book of Mormon to New World data. Stubbs conclusions were driven by data and unexpected discoveries, not by a desire to prove anything or see something that isn’t really there. It can only be hoped that others will consider the data as well and the impressive case it makes for Old World infusions into the New.  

There is much more to explore in following posts, including the explanatory power of his finds.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

1 thought on “Uto-Aztecan and Its Connection to Near Eastern Languages, Part 1: A Credible Proposal from Brian Stubbs?

  1. I was wondering what the chances of you recording these to make them more accessible on the go would be. I understand the time sink this would be as you already have to spend the time studying reading writing and editing these posts. I also know this is on top of work, family, and church responsibilities. I always enjoy your insights but it is definitely becoming more and more difficult to find the time to sit and read. No matter though, I want to express my gratitude for all of the effort you put into everything you put forth.

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