Uto-Aztecan and Its Connection to Near Eastern Languages, Part 3: The Egyptian Infusion, Plus the Explanatory Power of Stubbs’ Framework

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we introduced examples of cognates characteristic of two Semitic infusions into Uto-Aztecan, named by Stubbs as the Semitic-p and Semitic-kw infusions, which could correspond well with the infusions of Semitic language from the Nephites and later from the Mulekites into the Americas. These two groups existed for several centuries in different environments, presumably interacting with different peoples and languages, before merging into Nephite society. Finding significant elements of two distinct Semitic infusions is truly fascinating, both from a purely academic perspective but especially for students of the Book of Mormon.

Things get especially interesting, in my opinion, when we look at one further streak of Near Eastern linguistic influence in the Uto-Aztecan language family. Stubbs has identified over 400 cognates with Egyptian, far beyond the level of cognates often used to establish linguistic connections among New World languages. A remarkable phenomenon is that the Egyptian cognates generally have the same sound correspondences as the Semitic-p data, such as b > p, etc. The Egyptian infusion is not as strong as the two Semitic infusions, but on its own still exceeds the threshold in terms of number of cognates that are required to establish a language family. If this came from Lehi’s group and the early Nephites, it would suggest that their spoken language was influenced by both Semitic (a flavor of Hebrew in particular) and Egyptian, possibly from the influence of the brass plates.

Stubbs leads the Egyptian discussion in Changes in Languages with the observation that -i, the old perfective/stative verb suffix in Egyptian corresponds with -i in UA, which is the intransitive/past/passive/stative verb suffix. Further, “the stative of Old Egyptian 3rd person verbs ended with -i and perfectly matches UA *-a/-i ‘alternation on the end of verbs, i.e., UA *-a ‘transitive, active’ and *-I ‘intransitive, passive, stative’ (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 104). Further, Egyptian’s -w / -iw ‘passive verb suffix’ appears to be reflected well in UA -wa / -iwa, a ‘passive verb suffix’ (ibid., 105). But generally, the grammar of both Egyptian and Semitic is much different than that of UA.

A few examples of Egyptian cognates follow, taken from Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, pp. 104–106:

(115) sbk / *subak ‘crocodile’ > UA *supak / *sipak  ‘crocodile’ (b > p)

(124) tks ‘pierce’ > UA *tïkso ‘pierce, poke’

(125) km ‘black’ > UA *koma ‘dark, gray, brown, black’

(126) nmi ‘travel, traverse’ > UA *nïmi ‘walk around’

(129) wnš, pl wnšiw ‘jackal’ > UA *wancio / woncia  ‘fox’ (-ns- > -nc- as in sense/cents)

(131) šm ‘go, walk, leave’ > UA *sima ‘go, leave’

(219) iqr ‘skillful, excellent, capable, intelligent’  > UA *yikar ‘knowing, intelligent, able, good’

The subak/supak cognate between Egyptian and Nahuatl was actually noted by Cyrus Gordon before Stubbs completed his work. As Stubbs puts it, “I merely added another 400 Egyptian-with-UA similarities to what he started” (Brian Stubbs, “Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now,” FAIRMormon Conference presentation, Aug. 2016). As seen in the subak/supak example above, the Egyptian infusion is like Semitic-p in the way b becomes p in UA. Several examples include:

(132) sbq ‘calf of leg’ > UA *sipika ‘lower leg’ (b > p)

(133) sbty ‘enclosure’ > UA *sapti ‘fence of branches’

(134) qbb ‘cool; calm, quiet, cool breeze’ > UA *koppa ‘quiet, calm’

(137) bbyt ‘region of throat’ > UA *papi ‘larynx, throat, voice’

(138) bši ‘spit, vomit’, bšw ‘vomit, vomiting’ > UA *piso-(ta) ‘vomit’

(139) bnty ‘breast’ > UA *pitti / *piCti ‘breast’

(141) bit ‘bee’ > UA *pitV > *picV ‘bee, wasp’

(142) bik ‘falcon’ > UA *pik ‘hawk species’

(154) sb’ ‘star’ > UA *sipo’ > *si’po ‘star’

Also following a trend in the Semitic-p data, Egyptian x > UA *k, as in:

(170) txi ‘be drunk, drink deep’, txw ‘drunkard’ > UA *tïku ‘drunk’

(294) xpš ‘foreleg, thigh’ > UA *kapsi ‘thigh’

(295) xpd ‘buttock’ > UA *kupta ‘buttocks’

(295) xpdw ‘buttocks’ > UA *kupitu ‘buttocks’… (452) xt ‘fire, heat’ > UA *kut ‘fire’

The Egyptian infusion also demonstrates other sound changes found in the Semitic-p infusion, including “Egyptian glottal stop ’ > w, or glottal stop next to round vowels (o, u),” for which many examples are given, and “Egyptian initial pharyngeal ђ > UA *hu, and non-initially ђ > w/o/u.”Among the many examples of the latter, two should suffice:

(181) ђnqt ‘beer, drinkers’ > UA *hunaka ‘drunk, alcohol’

(182) ђtp / hotpe ‘be gracious, peaceable, set (sun), bury’ > UA *huppi ‘peaceable, go down, sink, dive’

UA *huppi is related to the Hopi tribal name, meaning “peace.” Stubbs discusses this word in a section on sound clusters and their behavior on sound change patterns. Sound clusters often lose some of the original sounds, just as the -ght- in “daughter” and “night” has become merely -t- as pronounced in English . A sound cluster can also preserve a sound that otherwise would have changed. For example:

[M]any UA languages have intervocalic *-p- > -v-. That happens in Hopi, the Numic languages, and others. So when we see a -p- between vowels, it is due to an underlying consonant cluster being reduced to -p-, but showing -p- (instead of -v-) because of -Cp- or the cluster strengthening the -p-: [thus] Egyptian ђotpe ‘peace’ > UA *hoppi > Hopi hopi ‘peace, peaceable’; otherwise, *hopi > hovi (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 55–56).

Stubbs also notes that Egyptian d corresponds to Semitic ṣ, so there are many examples of Egyptian d > UA *s, just as Semitic ṣ > UA *s in the Semitic infusions. A few of many examples include:

(200) dbt / *dubat ‘brick, adobe brick’ > UA *supa ‘adobe’

(199) db’ ‘to clothe, garment, clothing’ > UA *sipu’ > *si’pu ‘slip, skirt, shirt, clothing’…

(197) dʕb ‘coal-black’, dʕbt ‘charcoal’ > UA *so’opa ‘black, dark’

(194) d’i ‘pierce, transfix’ > UA *so’a/*so’i ‘pierce, sew, shoot arrow’

(390) dwt ‘mosquito, gnat’ > UA *suti ‘mosquito, gnat’ (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 108.)

Egyptian initial r- > UA t-, though the Tarahumara (TR) language retains r-. Thus, for example, Egyptian rmt “man, person” > UA *tïmati “young man” but TR ŕemarí (ibid.).  The behavior of Tarahumara in this aspect is one of several puzzles in UA studies that Stubbs’ work helps resolve. The puzzle, discussed in detail in Exploring the Explanatory Power, is that the initial t in Proto-UA was retained in all UA languages except Tarahumara (TR), where it become initial r; i.e., PUA *t- > UA t- but TR ŕ-, yet surprisingly, TR also retains initial t in many words. Stubbs states that this is explained by Egyptian and Semitic t and d sounds being retained as t in TR, while initial r in Egyptian and Semitic are retained as r in TR, while Egyptian and Semitic r > t in the other UA languages.

Of the 40 TR words with initial r- or t- having cognates with Near Eastern languages, 37 (93%) follow the pattern that TR initial r- corresponds to Semitic or Egyptian initial r, while an initial t- corresponds to Semitic or Egyptian initial t or d sounds: t, t, or d in Hebrew or t, d, or ṭ in Egyptian (Stubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan, 303). The 93% correlation is meaningful if the identification of cognates was done by considering TR initial t as possibly coming from either initial t- or r- in Near Eastern languages, which appears to be the case, otherwise possible Near Eastern cognates that underwent the r- > t- sound change would have been excluded and the (already high) number of cognates under consideration would have been reduced in a way that would skew the numbers. The resolution of this puzzle is one of many subtle indicators that Stubbs’ work is not an artifact chance alone and does indeed provide explanatory power.

In addition to resolving the puzzle of initial t- in Tarahumara, there are six other technical and fascinating UA puzzles that Stubbs’ work clarifies, treated in Chapter 6 of Exploring the Explanatory Power.

Stubbs argues that “the language of the Egyptians” spoken of by Nephi in 1 Nephi 1:2 “means the language of the Egyptians and that the learning of the Jews means the education Lehi received in the Jerusalem environment for writing Hebrew (or Aramaic) in the Phoenician alphabet, and that Lehi, Nephi, and later record keepers to varying degrees (lesser degrees later) knew both Hebrew and Egyptian” (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 86).

In Changes in Languages, Stubbs provides 100 cognates with Egyptian, a small fraction of his total but enough, as with the Semitic cognates, to be startling and often impressive. The relationship between Egyptian stative/passive features and Uto-Aztecan was particularly surprising and nicely documented (ibid., 64–65).

An Example of Explanatory Power: The Lamanite Term Rabbanah

Stubbs’ framework also helps resolve questions about a rare glimpse at a Lamanite term in the Book of Mormon record, where a Lamanite servant after Ammon’s miraculously victory at the Waters of Sebus addresses him with the honorific title Rabbanah. Stubbs adds this insight:

Returning to Rabbanah, the final -anah may be entirely different than any of us are guessing, possibly an unknown suffix from a deceased Native American language. However, in agreement with [the Book of Mormon Onomasticon at] https://onoma.lib.byu.edu, I think it more probable that Rabbaan– has the Semitic noun suffix –aan (Book of Mormon orthography does not distinguish long and short vowels). As mentioned in the Onomasticon, -aan (in Aramaic and Arabic) is cognate with Hebrew -oon due to the Canaanite vowel shift of long aa > oo. LDS scholars have tended to contort explanations for Aramaic in Lehi lingo, because the assumption has been that the Lehi-Ishmael party spoke Hebrew, not Aramaic, which I assumed also, until after I found UA suggesting much Aramaic, and after I found renowned Semitists also suggesting a continued Aramaic substrate among northern Israel’s areas…. Nevertheless, UA shows both -aan in some terms and -oon in other terms (though Hebrew also has some -aan terms among the more frequent -oon), and the UA -aan / -oon mix is consistent with what we see as Lehi’s Semitic being a heavy Aramaic-Hebrew mix. The New Testament Rabboni ‘my master’ (John 20:16) has the same Semitic stem rabb- with the Hebrew suffix -oon and -i ‘my’. Yet interestingly this Lamanite term has the -aan suffix like Aramaic and Arabic, not the -oon more common in Hebrew, because the Lamaniyyiim would be continuing the spoken language of the Lehi-Ishmael party, without access to the records containing Egyptian and Hebrew writing and vocabulary. In other words, the evidence in UA would suggest that the Lamanite languages would probably have had more Aramaic and less Hebrew and Egyptian than the Nephite languages had, and Rabbanah is consistent with that….

After the -aan, the Onomasticon suggests a feminine abstract noun ending -aa. Possibly. However, more likely in my mind is a continuation with Aramaic morphology in the suffix -aa ‘the’. In some Syriac / Aramaic dialects, the suffix -aa ‘the’ becomes part of the citation form or part of the noun, similar to English ‘the horse’ to mean ‘horse’, and to Aramaic reemaan-aa ‘antelope-the’ > UA *tïmïna ‘antelope’. Similarly, Aramaic Rabbaan-aa ‘great one-the’ or ‘great one’, consistently Aramaic throughout all 3 morphemes, seems at least as viable as other proposals, if not more so (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 142–143).

This is one of many tentative insights that Stubbs offers from his analysis. There may be many more to consider in the future.

Broad Explanatory Power

It is the explanatory power of Stubbs’ work that most clearly points to the value of his find. This is not just a zealous hodge-podge of rather meaningless random parallels like, say, the parallels often collected through the passionate work of some Book of Mormon critics whose theories of plagiarism and borrowing fail to provide any explanatory power for Book of Mormon origins and leave the strengths of the Book of Mormon untouched or even ironically amplified. The parallels between Semitic languages and UA identified by Stubbs follow demanding methodologies and show consistent, plausible sound changes that not only provide large groupings of related words, but also help explain some previous puzzles in UA, including:

  • The phonology of medial (middle) consonant clusters, a topic that Stubbs describes as a huge problem in UA, is clarified by considering the influence of Semitic and Egyptian on the effect of adjacent consonants (see Section 7.2 of Exploring the Explanatory Power, 10).
  • Proto Uto-Aztecan (PUA)’s *p has clear reflexes (sound shifts) in the various UA languages. But five languages (Tarahumara, Mayo, Yaqui, Arizona Yaqui and Eudeve) show both initial b and p corresponding to PUA *p (ibid.). This is generally viewed as an inconsistency, but Stubbs’ work adds a significant insight: “The initial b forms in these languages correspond to Egyptian b or Semitic b of Semitic-p, and the initial p forms in these languages to Semitic/Egyptian p. How can such an alignment be coincidental? For the various UA forms of b vs. p to match Semitic/Egyptian b vs. p is significant” (ibid.). See Section 6.2 of Exploring the Explanatory Power, where numerous examples are analyzed, including the Hebrew word for lightning, baraq, which became *pirok / perok, “lightning,” in UA, while the initial b is preserved as berok- in Mayo (My), be’ok in Yaqui (Yq), or becomes a v in ve’okte of Arizona Yaqi (AYq), viriki-t of TaraCahitan (TBr), and vonaq-q Serrano (Sr). Many more examples are offered. The great majority of these puzzling occurrences of both p- and b-/v- from PUA *p- can now be explained by origins from Near Eastern words with initial p and b.
  • PUA initial t* at the beginning of words corresponds to the initial t in most of the UA languages, with a notable exception of Tarahumara initial r. “So if PUA *t became Tarahumaran r, then where does Tarahumara initial t come from? The data in this work suggest that Semitic/Egyptian initial r became t, so in most UA languages initial r and initial t merged to look like PUA *r, but Tarahumara kept them separate. Thus [Section] 6.1 [of Exploring the Explanatory Power] clarifies the Tarahumara r vs. t puzzle, which see” (ibid., 10).
  • A variety of other issues in sections 6.3 though 6.7 of Exploring the Explanatory Power are also explained by Stubbs’ work.

Many specific puzzles are also explained as an understanding of the Near Eastern roots of UA helps clarify relationships between many of the words in UA languages. For example, Hebrew makteš “mortar, grinding stone” is reflected in *ma’ta of Proto-UA, “mortar, grinding stone.” But in Cahuilla (Ca), the noun-made-verb mataš suggests derivation from a verb that has the geminated *-tt- (< *mattaš) because otherwise a single *-t- will become -l- in Cahuilla. The geminated *-tt- could readily derive from a cluster such as -kt-, and helps explain why the Ca word preserves the -t-. The final š is also more consistent with Hebrew makteš, strengthening the case for Hebrew makteš > PUA *ma’ta (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 111. ).

One phenomenon of interest is the occasional existence of two related UA words from related Semitic cognates, one from Semitic-p and one from Semitic-kw. An example is item 617, UA *ti’na ‘mouth’ < Aramaic diqn-aa (Semitic-p), and item 628, UA ca’lo ‘chin’ < Hebrew zaaqn-o ‘chin-his,’ where the Hebrew and Aramaic words are a cognate pair (Stubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power, 362).This is consistent with two infusions that evolved differently or among different groups of people before being united in some way. Stubbs’ work may help explain the presence of some pairs of similar words in UA.

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- > Æ] [1h,2y,3w,4n] [NUA: Num, Hp, Tb; SUA: Tep, TrC, CrC] (Stubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power, 210)

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 ‘opel ‘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 he’epiil ‘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] (Stubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power, 218)

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-) (Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, 99)

Several other dust-related correspondences from Exploring the Explanatory Power 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.

A Note on Metals

Stubbs’ work touches directly or indirectly upon a variety of Book of Mormon topics such as the issue of metals. Metals are one of the weak spots in the Book of Mormon, for their presence among the early Nephites is said to be an anachronism in the Book of Mormon. Many scholars claim that metals were unknown in Mesoamerica until roughly 900 A.D. In addition to disputing this conclusion on the basis of numerous finds of ancient metals that can push that the date of metal use to much earlier dates, John Sorenson has also appealed to linguistics to show that metals must have been known much earlier. In Mormon’s Codex, for example, Sorenson states that “decisive evidence for the presence of Classic and Pre-Classic metallurgy” can be found in the linguistic data showing “that words for metal or (metal) bell appear in five reconstructed proto-languages of major families in Mesoamerica: Proto-Mayan, Proto-Mixtecan, Proto-Mixe-Zoquean, Proto-Huavean, and Proto-Otomanguean (John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex [Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2013], 331–5. See also John L. Sorenson, “An Open Letter to Dr. Michael Coe,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 1 [2012]: 91–109, http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/an-open-letter-to-dr-michael-coe/).

Since Huastecan split from the main Mayan group by 2000 BV and both have words for metal, knowledge of metals must have been very ancient. Data from Proto-Mixtecan also supports a date of 1000 BC or earlier for a word for metal (Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, 331–2). Interestingly, Sorenson then points to an early speculation from Hyacinthe de Charency who suggested that the Mayan term nab (gold) is related to Egyptian nb or nbw (or noub) (Hyacinthe de Charency, “Les noms des metaux chez differents peuples de la Novelle Espange,” Proceedings of the 8th International Congress of Americanits (Paris, 1890; rept. Nendeln, Leichenstein: Draus, 1968), 536–47, as cited by Sorenson, ibid., 343). Though uncertain of the merit in that proposal, Sorenson also notes that Yucatec Mayan tau or taau (lead or tin, but literally “moon excrement”) may relate to Arabic taws (moon), and wonders if Zoquean hama-tin (gold, silver) might relate to Egyptian hmty (copper), or if Zoquean ?anak (lead, tin) could be connected to Akkadian (Babylonian) annakum (tin) (Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, 343). He calls for further study on this issue, and I would concur.

Stubbs pays little attention to the issue of metals, but some linguistic hints appear in the data. In Exploring the Explanatory Power, item 465 looks at ties to the Egyptian word meaning metal, ore, or iron, as well as sky (the place where [meteoric] iron comes from), though the linkage may point to flint knives. More relevant is item 466, where Egyptian nm, “knife,” and p’-nm, “the knife,” may relate to UA *panomi, “knife, iron, tool,” which undergoes a *p > v/w shift in several UA languages to give words meaning “iron, tool,” “metal, money,” or “knife, metal.

Item 98 brings a Hebrew connection: Hebrew rqʕ ‘stamp, beat out (metal), spread out’; Hebrew raaqiiaʕ ‘extended surface, expanse, sky’ > UA *tukuN- in * tukuN-pa ‘sky’ and ‘metal’. The analysis in Exploring the Explanatory Power has nearly a full page on this connection. “Of interest is that Hebrew *raqiiʕ literally means ‘beat broad or flat,” used in beating metal flat, but also means sky, as a broad expanse, and the Ca [Cahuilla], Cp [Cupeño], Sr [Serrano], and La forms all mean both ‘sky’ and ‘iron/knife’” (tubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan, 83). A related word in Kw (Kawaiisu) means “pounded metal” (Jane Wheeler Pires-Ferreira and Billy Joe Evans, “Mössbauer Spectral Analyisis of Olmec Iron Ore Mirrors: New Evidence of Formative Period Exchange Networks in Mesoamerica,” in Cultural Continuity in Mesoamerica, ed. David L. Browman (Chiacago: Aldine / Mouton Publishers, 1978), 101–154). Such words need not imply that metallurgy was known, but could point to ancient work with iron ore, a material treasured by the Olmecs (ibid.). The apparent sky/metal correspondences in the Old and New Worlds are worth further exploration.

With further work, perhaps the UA language family might be added to the five Mesoamerican language families Sorenson has listed providing linguistic evidence of an early knowledge of metals in the Americas.


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.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

10 thoughts on “Uto-Aztecan and Its Connection to Near Eastern Languages, Part 3: The Egyptian Infusion, Plus the Explanatory Power of Stubbs’ Framework

  1. "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."

    It certainly would be an impressive contribution to the study of language in the Americas if Dr. Stubbs would get his theories published in credible academic journals and have them received and accepted by mainstream scholars.

  2. Tapir rider, so what you are trying to say is

    "I can't counter any of these claims so I will use insinuation as an Ad-Hominem to imply that he only self published to get past peer review."

  3. @Zera BP
    No, not at all. My understanding is that Dr. Stubbs is considering submitting to academic publications and I look forward to that. What I am saying is that it is too soon to consider it an impressive contribution to the study of language in the Americas. If there comes a time when it is accepted by mainstream scholars, then it will be a most significant contribution. In the meantime it does offer hope to some LDS members but I get frustrated because Dr. Stubbs is a very competent and respected scholar and his theories would be considerably better by being validated in the academic world. As they are now, many non-LDS have the opinion that it lies in the realm of pseudo and it is disappointing that the credibility of his theories is lacking in academic publications .

  4. It is always interesting to see those who outsource their thinking to others. As much as critics accuse members of holding the position "when the Brethren speak the thinking has been done" it is so often those who fetishize peer review who allow others to think for them. Make peer review a gatekeeper function, and create a culture that refuses to publish material that supports a sacred viewpoint, and you have successfully created a non-falsifiable worldview supportive of atheism. It doesn't make atheism any more true, but it makes many comfortable in their cocoon safely ensconced away from troubling things such as opposing viewpoints.

    Science is wonderful, and continuing study is a magnificent thing. But an academic environment is as vulnerable to corruption as any other environment. People with Ph.Ds are no more virtuous than anyone else. Listening to them is fine, and learning from them is fine. But allowing them privileged position to determine what you accept as true and what you dismiss as false or irrelevant is madness.

    Nibley wisely spoke of doctoral robes as "the black robes of a false priesthood."

  5. Also, note that my comment isn't specifically directed at tapir rider, who at least appears to have read the articles.

  6. @Jonathan A. Cavender
    My comment isn't regarding the sacred or spiritual. I am simply pointing out that Dr. Stubbs' work is not an impressive contribution to the study of language in the Americas at this time. For it to be so, it will require it to be published in credible scholarly journals for peer review and will require the concurrence and acceptance by scholars not just in linguistics but in anthropology, archaeology and other disciplines. The ramifications of his theory are huge and carry over into many fields besides his own. I am not saying that Dr. Stubbs is in error nor am I mocking or ridiculing his theory. I am simply pointing out that Jeff Lindsay's claim that it is an impressive contribution to the study of language in the Americas is academically premature.

  7. I am simply pointing out that Jeff Lindsay's claim that it is an impressive contribution to the study of language in the Americas is academically premature.

    Well put, Tapir Rider.

    It seems to me that when we skeptics make a perfectly reasonable request for peer review, we typically get two responses.

    One is Yes, peer-review is crucial, and we will pursue it. But be patient. Give us time. Maybe tomorrow. But tomorrow never seems to come. It's always a day away.

    The other is Don't fetishize peer review. Academia is biased against religiously oriented scholars and will never give us a fair hearing. And yet academia and peer review seem to work just fine for many religiously oriented scholars working in the fields of biblical textual studies, archaeology, etc. Many believers have done fine work in these fields and gotten it published. That work has helped us separate the scholarship from the apologetics. It has helped many believers refine and strengthen their own beliefs.

    True, this refinement typically leads away from literalism and fundamentalism. Let the chips fall where they may. It's not the end of the world to accept the 19th-century origins of the Mormon scriptures. Plenty of Mormons have done just that and are doing just fine.

    Many believers want to know whether their beliefs are actually true. If there's a conflict between the subjective feelings of their testimony, the enculturated beliefs of their childhood upbringing, and the findings of secular research, they want to know about it so they can make better-informed choices. They don't want to believe what is false, and they are humble enough to think that their own subjective feelings might be wrong.

    — OK

  8. @Jonathan A. Cavender,

    What you said about Peer Review is exactly right.

    There are many troubling issues and problems in Academia. It has become even more Totalitarian.

  9. Jeff…for the love of Pete, can you please make these blog posts a little smaller? I can only spend so much time at work reading these before I get pulled into something else. Geesh. Fascinating though. I have always loved languages and how they intertwine with each other sometimes with just bits of words…like the word "eye". Thank you for a little insight.

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