Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Language of My Father

Nephi makes it quite clear that he made a record of his life “in the language of his father.” What language was that? Nephi tells us that language was in two parts: 
1. Consisting of the learning of the Jews, which would be the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures, and the teachings of the synagogue Lehi would have been exposed to over his lifetime and taught to his family.
2. The actual language that Nephi used to keep his record was that of the Egyptians. About one thousand years later, Moroni called that language of the Egyptians a “reformed” language, saying it was “handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech” (Mormon
As an example homorganic consonants is a phonetics term for consonant sounds that are articulated in the same position or place of articulation in the mouth, such as “m,” “p,” or “b,” pronounced with both lips, or “t,” “d,”  “s,” “z,” “n,” and “l,” pronounced by touching the tip of the tongue to the upper gums. Consonants that are not articulated in the same place are called heterorganic. Thus, these descriptive phonetic classification relies on the relationships between a number of technical terms that describe the way sounds are made, and one of the relevant elements involves that place at which a specific sound is formed and voiced, as the tongue strikes the roof of the mouth, giving the consonant its distinctive sound.
As an example, in modern journalism, it has always been characteristic for reporters to adopt the style of the newspaper or radio station in their writing and speech. Some years ago on a trip through Texas speaking with CEOs and senior management, I was astounded to hear how many times the term ‘y’all’ for “you all,” was used at that level of sophistication. The further into Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia I went, the more “southernisms,” were heard in daily conversation. It was quite evident that the characteristic style or manner a person used to express themself greatly differed the further one traveled into regional enclaves.
    It is interesting that the Nephite “altered language” occurred in a written language, not a spoken one. That is, Egyptian was the language the sacred record was written in, it was not a language that was used in daily communication, since Moroni makes it clear, even after a thousand years, the Nephites were far more comfortable and capable with the Hebrew than with the Egyptian, for as Moroni put it, “if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record” (Mormon 9:33)
    Consequently, the alteration to the Reformed Egyptian would have been in the characteristics used, not in any word pronunciation change, for as Moroni also said, “we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian” (Mormon 9:32).
The same dictation taken in seven different stenographic forms showing that different symbols could be adopted to establish meaning or replacement for words or phrases
    Thus, since characters were being changed to represent the same meaning, it must be understood that this “reformed Egyptian” was alterable, or had been altered, over time, perhaps like a type of shorthand, where one starts out with a series of standard shorthand symbols, first developed in 1817 by German Franz Xaver Gabelsberger, which led to the more widely-known and used, Pitman shorthand, developed in 1837 by Isaac Pitman (based on an earlier system by John Byrom in 1740), or Gregg Shorthand, developed by John Robert Gregg in 1888, or Speedwriting developed in 1924 by Emma Dearborn and finally the Teeline Shorthand developed by James Hill in 1970. However, the history of “shorthand” dates as far back as Ancient Greece (the Akropolis stone) in the mid-4th Century B.C., while Hellenistic tachgrphy daters back from at least the 2nd century B.C.
Today no one knows what is written on the Akropolis Stone (left), though some comparisons have been made to the Mi’kmaq-Recollet script, though that came along centuries later. The point is, it cannot be read, which would be true of any ancient shorthand system that did not carry foreward. Thus, it would have been both accurate and easy for Moroni to lay claim that no man knew their writing and that it would take the hand of the Lord in its deciphering.
    In any event, as  business picked up speed around the turn of the century, dictation increased in speed, and the result were changes where the same alphabet was used, but they differed in degree of abbreviation and, as a result, speed. The 1916 version is generally the fastest and most abbreviated version and used by writers who desired more shortcuts—after all, it became obvious that those who could take dictation faster than others got the better jobs, were paid more, and became more valuable as business became more and more competitive. It should also be noted that although the primary use of shorthand was to record oral dictation or discourse, some systems were adapted for compact expression, where space was as important as speed.
Our experience with Gregg Shorthand, or any shorthand (stenography, stachygraphy or brachygraph) system, is that they evolved, becoming more simplified, quicker to learn, easier and faster to use. Here and there Gregg officially made more and more shortcuts, “ab” for “about,” “hund” for “hundred,” “mp” for “important,” “ur” for “your,” “kres” for “correspondence,” “n” for “in,” etc. Individual secretaries, in an effort to improve speed, often made their own shortcuts, especially for a particular word or phrase used very often by their “dictator.” 
    No doubt, in some manner, the longer versions of the Egyptian language of Lehi was replaced over the centuries by quicker or shorter versions, such as an easy symbol for the oft used “it came to pass,” “behold,” and “Nephite,” or “Lamanite,” etc. Such changes by the users of Reformed Egyptian would not have been for monetary reasons, but simply for ease and exactness of use.
    There is some speculation among scholars that the language of Moroni's day was considerably different than that of Nephi's day. Moroni admits that the language he used for keeping the sacred record had been handed down and altered by him, according to their manner of speech.  Any linguist knows that languages can transform quickly, especially over hundreds of years. 
    On the other hand, Nephi doesn't name the language he used; he says it was the language of his father.  Lehi was a Jew of the tribe of Manasseh, who “lived all his days at Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 1:4). Hebrew would have been his primary language, however, scholars have noted Lehi's wealth and the obvious influence of Egyptian culture on Book of Mormon writings and practices. These suggest that Lehi was a prosperous merchant who would have had much trade with Egyptian merchants. He undoubtedly knew their business language, or a language certain merchants might have used in brief to keep records pertaining to their business.
    Nephi suggests that this language was part of the learning of his father and the learning of the Jews. Some claim this would have included learning how to speak and write the Egyptian language of Lehi's day—or whatever type of Egyptian Lehi and his business associates might have used. However, Gregg shorthand is not a spoken language, it is an abbreviated manner of writing a commonly spoken language. Reformed Egyptian might not have been a spoken language at all, but a manner of writing a known language (Egyptian or Hebrew) in a totally different way—in a shorthand manner.
A stenographer taking dictation from a manager in the early days of shorthand
    Shorthand is a form of stenography, that is, an abbreviated symbolic writing method that increases speed and brevity of writing as compared to a normal method of writing a language. Its design was to allow someone to write down words as fast as a person could speak them. In whatever business Lehi was involved in with the Egyptians, perhaps the speed of note-taking, or writing down, information was essential—as would have been the case of his stopping the Arab caravans coming up the Frankincense Trail and purchasing a number of items hurredly to later sell to merchants in Jerusalem after the caravan continued on its way up the King’s Highway and Lehi returned to Jerusalem.
    In this way, Lehi’s sons would have learned the language, or the recording “shorthand” in order to write down the lists of items as Lehi went through the caravan picking and choosing what would sell best with the merchants of his city. While this is merely a guess and based only on the events of the period, it would answer why Lehi knew another language, a different type of language that most people did not know about. It also would answer the reason why no one else knew this language, or as Moroni wrote on the matter: “And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record. But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof” (Mormon 9:33-34).

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