Book of Mormon Notes– How deep can you dig?

2009, October 15

“Are There ‘Others’ in the Book of Mormon?: A Critique and Partial Rebuttal of the Book of Mormon article ‘When Lehi’s Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?’ by John L. Sorenson and other similar Book of Mormon articles by Brant Gardner, Matthew Roper, Michael Ash, etc.” PART 11: A CRITIQUE OF THE ARGUMENT FOR “OTHERS” BASED ON NEPHITE AND MULEKITE LANGUAGE by grego

“Are There ‘Others’ in the Book of Mormon?: A Critique and Partial Rebuttal of the Book of Mormon article ‘When Lehi’s Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?’ by John L. Sorenson and other similar Book of Mormon articles by Brant Gardner, Matthew Roper, Michael Ash, etc.”
PART 11: A CRITIQUE OF THE ARGUMENT FOR “OTHERS” BASED ON NEPHITE AND MULEKITE LANGUAGE

grego
(c) 2004-2009

PART 11: A CRITIQUE OF THE ARGUMENT FOR “OTHERS” BASED ON NEPHITE AND MULEKITE LANGUAGE

John L. Sorenson:
Evidence from Language
What Mosiah’s record tells us about the language used by the people of Zarahemla deserves attention in this connection. “Their language had become corrupted” (Omni 1:17), the Nephite account says. Certain historical linguists have done a great deal of work on rates of change of languages, written and unwritten, and in both civilized and simpler societies. What they have learned is that “basic vocabulary” changes at a more or less constant rate among all groups. Even though this general finding needs qualification when applied to specific cases, we can be sure that in the course of the three or four centuries of separation of the people of Zarahemla from Mosiah’s group, because they once spoke the same tongue in Jerusalem, their separate versions of Hebrew would have remained intelligible to each other. But the text at Omni 1:18 says that they could not communicate until Mosiah “caused that they should be taught in his language.” There are only two linguistically sound explanations why this difference should be: (1) the “Mulekite” group might have spoken more than one language and Zarahemla’s people had adopted something other than Hebrew; since we do not know the composition of the boat’s crew nor of the elite passengers, we cannot know what to think about this possibility; (2) but more likely, one or both peoples had adopted a different, non-Hebrew language learned from some “other” people after arrival.

Brant Gardner:
Another of John L. Sorenson’s indications of the presence of “others” relies on an understanding of language change; most readers of the Book of Mormon would be unaware of these issues. Our Sunday School lessons certainly point out that the Mulekites had lost their language, but what those lessons do not explain is that this would have been rather unlikely. Languages do change, but they are not “lost” without the outside influence of another language that becomes more dominant and replaces the lost language. John L. Sorenson does not miss this bit of information but indicates that the study of historical linguistics has revealed a basic rate of change for the same language that develops in two independent locations in which the two populations are unable to communicate (see p. 83). The rate of change from the time of the departure from the Old World for either the Mulekites or Nephites to the time of the arrival of Mosiah and his people in Zarahemla is insufficient to create mutually unintelligible languages, as is clearly the case in the Book of Mormon. Once again, we have a feature of the Book of Mormon that could not represent society accurately unless we understand that “others” were present and interacted with the Book of Mormon populations.

****”but more likely…”
Upon what solid reasoning is that choice “more likely”?
“We can be sure…” Well, I can be sure of one thing: John L. Sorenson is probably misleading the reader, again.
Once again, something that might be “unlikely”, is shown as “impossible”.
Where in the Book of Mormon does it say that “the Mulekites had lost their language”?
“Once again…” in addition to where else? Let’s see if that statement is true, about accurately respresenting society…
Let’s see what it says in Omni 1:17:
“And at the time that Mosiah discovered them, they had become exceedingly numerous. Nevertheless, they had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time; and THEIR LANGUAGE HAD BECOME CORRUPTED; and THEY HAD BROUGHT NO RECORDS WITH THEM; and they denied the being of their Creator; and MOSIAH, NOR THE PEOPLE OF MOSIAH, COULD UNDERSTAND THEM.”
First, note that it does not say that they could not “communicate”–it says that the language had been corrupted, and that they could not be understood by the Nephites.
Let’s step back a second and think… We are unaware of the languages that might have come with Mulek/ been in Mulek’s group. John L. Sorenson touches on this, then drops it. Why? Because it is actually a strong explanation for what happened. Languages mix, and… voila! Especially if the people lived in small villages or groups, or if families were to speak different languages in the homes, this would have easily set up a corruption/ pidgin language system. This has been shown to happen in just one generation (a study done in Hawaii; see “A Language for All Our Children”). The record shows roughly about 330 years, maybe even up to around 470 years.
Or, they could have divided into family or language groups, and then had the “many wars and serious contentions” between the groups/ among themselves; who won, what language might have come out on top, what mixing might have occurred?
The people of Zarahemla (“Mulekites”) had no records with them. A big advantage of having records, a writing system, is to maintain a language, especially if oral tradition talent lacks (memorization and recitation of very long poems, etc.).

Here is what the Book of Mormon says about records:
1 Nephi 4:14 And now, when I, Nephi, had heard these words, I remembered the words of the Lord which he spake unto me in the wilderness, saying that: Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise.
1 Nephi 4:15 Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law.
1 Nephi 4:16 And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass.
Well, Lehi could have just written the important ones down, right? It seems not…
Here’s another part:
Mosiah 1:2 And it came to pass that he had three sons; and he called their names Mosiah, and Helorum, and Helaman. And he caused that they should be taught in all the language of his fathers, that thereby they might become men of understanding; and that they might know concerning the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers, which were delivered them by the hand of the Lord.
Mosiah 1:3 And he also taught them concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, saying: MY SONS, I WOULD THAT YE SHOULD REMEMBER THAT WERE IT NOT FOR THESES PLATES, which contain these records and these commandments, WE MUST HAVE SUFFERED IN IGNORANCE, even at this present time, NOT KNOWING THE MYSTERIES OF GOD.
Mosiah 1:4 For IT WERE NOT POSSIBLE THAT OUR FATHER, LEHI, COULD HAVE REMEMBERED ALL THESE THINGS, TO HAVE TAUGHT THEM TO HIS CHIDLREN, EXCEPT IT WERE FOR THE HELPF OF THESE PLATES; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore HE COULD READ THESE ENGRAVINGS, AND TEACH THEM TO HIS CHILDREN, that thereby THEY COULD TEACH THEM TO THEIR CHILDREN, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time.
Mosiah 1:5 I say unto you, my sons, were it not for these things, which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God, that we might read and understand of his mysteries, and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even OUR FATHERS WOULD HAVE DWINDLED IN UNBELIEF, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct.
And another part;
Mosiah 24:4 And he appointed teachers of the brethren of Amulon in every land which was possessed by his people; and thus THE LANGUAGE OF NEPHI BEGAN TO BE TAUGHT AMONG ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE LAMANITES.

Mosiah 24:6 But they TAUGHT THEM THAT THEY SHOULD KEEP THEIR RECORD, AND THAT THEY MIGHT WRITE ONE TO ANOTHER.
Mosiah 24:7 AND THUS THE LAMANITES BEGAN TO INCREASE IN RICHES, and began to trade one with another and wax great, and began to be a cunning and a wise people, as to the wisdom of the world…
It’s true that this all talks about the records and a knowledge of God; but, is that all?

It is very likely that the language of a small group, of probably mixed first (and possibly other) language, without writing, will become corrupted over 400 years. While the Nephites could not understand them, the Mulekites seem to have learned very quickly, which leads me to think that the language was not so badly corrupted. It’s possible that there was a situation where the Mulekite language understood the Nephite language better than vice-versa (I believe some related languages have a much easier time understanding another, than vice-versa: Bulgarian/ Russian, French/ Spanish, etc.). Especially if it was the pronunciation that had been corrupted, the language could be learned very quickly. (Hey, I couldn’t understand my mission president for a while just because of the way he pronounced two common words!) If the pronunciation of some basic syllables were the main change or corruption, that could well account for why the Nephites couldn’t understand them, yet the Mulekites could quickly learn the language.
It seems that the Nephite language doesn’t change much, over all that time. If Nephi’s group were so small, and there were many “Others” in the land that they mingled with, especially from the very beginning, how is it that Nephite language didn’t change, as the verses imply?
The language of the Lamanites changes, but they didn’t have any written records, and writing was lost (if ever had?) at least by the time of Amulon and the priests of Noah:
Mosiah 24:4 And he appointed teachers of the brethren of Amulon in every land which was possessed by his people; and thus THE LANGUAGE OF NEPHI BEGAN TO BE TAUGHT AMONG ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE LAMANITES…
Mosiah 24:6 But they TAUGHT THEM THAT THEY SHOULD KEEP THEIR RECORD, AND THAT THEY MIGHT WRITE ONE TO ANOTHER.
Mosiah 24:7 AND THUS THE LAMANITES BEGAN TO INCREASE IN RICHES…
Can anyone think of anything else, or any other reason or possible explanation? How much do unwritten languages change, compared to written ones, when there is no oral tradition or history or anything to memorize, and there were no learned ones to keep the standard? What happens to language when only two people raise a large family?

-=-=-=
John L. Sorenson:
The people of Zarahemla are more likely to have made a change than the Nephites, yet both could have done so.

****Is there any logical reason behind why that would be?

-=-=-=
John L. Sorenson:
The text does not clarify the point. Considering that the “Mulekites” were present in the land in time to encounter Coriantumr, perhaps some unmentioned Jaredite survivor groups were also discovered and were involved in linguistic change among the newcomers.

****And perhaps not…

-=-=-=
John L. Sorenson:
If Mulek arrived via a single ship with only a tiny party, they would have been a minority in the midst of those with whom they associated and so became subject to losing their original speech to the larger host group even if they came to rule over the locals.

****At times it’s argued like this, and other times the Nephite ruling elite are separated from the commoners; which is it; just whatever is convenient for the argument? “Even if they came to rule” would actually help the purity of the language a lot more–their children wouldn’t likely be running around with other children.

-=-=-=
John L. Sorenson:
Although the scripture does not tell us much about the languages used among the peoples it reports, the topic is significant if we attempt to make connection with languages known from modern scholarly sources. In whatever region in America we place Book of Mormon lands, we find that numerous tongues were being spoken when Columbus arrived. Probably on the order of 200 existed in Mesoamerica alone. As modern languages have been analyzed, comparisons made, and histories reconstructed, it has become clear that the ancient linguistic scene was also complex. The differences between those languages and their family groupings are so great that no plausible linguistic history can be formulated which relies on Book of Mormon-reported voyagers as a sole original source tongue. The mere presence of Hebrew speech in Mesoamerica has yet to be established to the satisfaction of linguistic scholars, although there is significant preliminary indication.

****Were the Nephites and Lamanites isolated, then their languages would have had no bearing or relationship to any of the languages spoken there–at all.
Why would Mulek’s tiny group have so drastically changed its language because of “Others”, yet Lehi’s tiny group, and after the split, with Nephi’s and Laman’s even tinier groups, wouldn’t?

-=-=-=
John L. Sorenson:
As with the dicultural or archaeological record, that from linguistics cannot accommodate the picture that the Book of Mormon gives us of its peoples without supposing that “others” were on the scene when Lehi’s group came ashore.

****This has been discussed above.
Or they were “on the scene” after, or in the lands around them but not having any connection with Lehi’s group, or if the land were separated from Mesoamerica, or… Where’s the direct and necessary connection between the Book of Mormon peoples and these peoples? Or does John L. Sorenson just assumes from the archeological record that is just had to be that way?

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