Friday, March 17, 2017

Why Are Native American Languages so Diverse if they All Came from Lehi? – Part I

“If all native Americans came from Lehi, why are their languages so diverse,” is often asked of us by both members and critics alike. However, the answer is not that complicated, at least regarding the language.
     It is documented that Lehi left Jerusalem in 600 B.C., or more accurately, the first year of Zedekiah’s reign, which date is more accurately placed at, according to historians, 597 B.C. We know they spent at least 8 years in the wilderness (1 Nephi 17:4), and probably close to two years in Bountiful building their ship. So this makes their landing in the Land of Promise somewhere around 587 B.C.
    We also know that Mulek and those who brought him, for he would have been near a baby or very young child at the time, escaped the Babylonians sometime between 597 B.C. and when the siege of Jerusalem began in 587 B.C. through the summer of 586 B.C. If it took Mulek the same ten years to reach the Land of Promise that it took Lehi, then he arrived around 576 B.C.
Nephi and his brothers return to Lehi’s tent in the wilderness with the records of Laban

    Lehi, of course, sent Nephi back to get the records held by Laban, in which effort the Spirit told Nephi “It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief“ (1 Nephi 4:13). Thus, Lehi had the scriptures, which not only had the language of their fathers upon them, and the history and heritage of his people dating back to Adam, but also a record of their language and a record of the law of Moses (1 Nephi 4:15). At the same time, the Mulekites came without records, or history, or knowledge of their heritage in any written format (Omni 1:17).
    Thus, in time, the Nephites were able to maintain their language, both the Hebrew they spoke and wrote in on a daily basis, and the Reformed Egyptian of the sacred records, which enabled them to keep before them both their heritage, as well as their language. Something the Mulekites did not possess.
    In fact, Benjamin made this quite clear when he taught his sons, Mosiah, Helorum and Helaman, saying: “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 these 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. For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help 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 1:3-4).
In fact, Benjamin made it even clearer: “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” (Mosiah 1:5).
    On the other hand, by the time Mosiah discovered Zarahemla and the Mulekites, which would have been around 200 B.C., thus they had been without records or knowledge of their language in written form for nearly 400 years, 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” (Omni 1:17).
    The Nephites, contrary to John L. Sorenson’s belief, were literate, and kept many records. In fact, Mormon highlights the issue in his abridgement, saying: “now there are many records kept of the proceedings of this people, by many of this people, which are particular and very large, concerning them” (Helaman 3:13), adding “But behold, there are many books and many records of every kind, and they have been kept chiefly by the Nephites” (Helaman 1:15). And as for illiterate, “Now behold, all those engravings which were in the possession of Helaman were written and sent forth among the children of men throughout all the land, save it were those parts which had been commanded by Alma should not go forth” (Alma 63:12).
    In just that period of time, from about 586 B.C. to about 200 B.C., two groups of people, coming from the exact same area, within a handful of years of being the exact same time, that would have been speaking the exact same language—Hebrew—grew so far apart, that they could not understand one another nearly 400 years later (Omni 1:17).
Now the Lamanites, beginning as brothers (Laman and Lemuel), and the Nephites (Sam and Nephi), drew far from each other in language as well, both groups coming from the same family generation, but after landing in the Land of Promise and separating from one another, around 585 B.C., by 125 B.C., 460 years later, the Nephbite defector Amulon was appointed by the Lamanite king to teach the Lamanites the language of the Nephites (Mosiah 24:4).
    Just over five hundred years later, in 385 A.D., after some 150 years of separation once again, the Nephites were wiped out by the Lamanites at Cumorah. What language the Lamanites spoke at this time we are not told, nor whether they could still read and write the Hebrew language of the Nephites. However, after 36 years of devastating civil wars, with no end in sight, it is highly unlikely they were spending any time in reading or writing, or in furthering the teaching of such to their younger generations. During and especially after this time, the Lamanites were broken up into small groups or tribes where everyone not of their own tribe was a stranger and an enemy to be killed or brutally treated.
    It is conceivable that each of these tribal groups degenerated their languages into that which was tribal specific, i.e., one tribe did not speak the same as another any longer—their language, after a thousand years when the Europeans arrived, had fallen into, for the most part, single-syllable, guttural sounds. In North America, Algic was the most commonly used language, then Uto-Aztecan and Siouan, followed by Athabaskan, with Muskogean and Iroquoian and Salishan bringing up the rear. All other languages made up a very small percentage.
    It eventually became so variant, that these different tribes augmented their languages with hand signs when communicating among tribes, and eventually only sign language since no two languages were the same. Even today, or especially when the Europeans first arrived, some of these separate tribes could communicate with one another, though not necessarily in great detail. But, again, over time, languages change.
Even Moroni made this clear when he said, “And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech. 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” (Mormon 9:32-33).
    Even the language the Nephites had spoken and written for a thousand years, over time, had become altered. How much, we are not told, but Moroni was well aware of the fact that their language had become different in 385 A.D. from when it had first arrived in the Land of Promise with Lehi and his family.
    So not only is it understandable that language changes over time, even among literate and knowledgeable people. Our English language today, is so different from the English of a thousand years ago spoken in England at the time of the Conquest of William the Conqueror, it can barely be understood in written form, and doubtful understood at all in spoken form. Thus, we would not expect the various Lamanite tribes found in the Americas in the 15th-16th centuries by Columbus and the following Europeans to be the same from tribe to tribe, from region to region, and from land to land.
(See the next post, “Why Are Native American Languages so Diverse if they All Came from Lehi? – Part II,” for more information on the differences of Native American languages from their combined original single language)


  1. Old English & Modern English of Caedmon's Hymn

    Old English
    Nū scylun hergan hefaenrīcaes Uard,
    metudæs maecti end his mōdgidanc,
    uerc Uuldurfadur,suē hē uundra gihwaes,
    ēci dryctin ōr āstelidæ
    hē ǣrist scōp aelda barnum
    heben til hrōfe,hāleg scepen.
    Thā middungeard moncynnæs Uard,
    eci Dryctin, æfter tīadæ
    firum foldu, Frēa allmectig.

    Modern English

    Now [we] must honour the guardian of heaven,
    the might of the architect, and his purpose,
    the work of the father of glory[b]
    as he, the eternal lord, established the beginning of wonders;
    he first created for the children of men[c]
    heaven as a roof, the holy creator
    Then the guardian of mankind,
    the eternal lord, afterwards appointed the middle earth,
    the lands for men,[d] the Lord almighty.

  2. Excellent. There are so many such examples, it is amazing to me why linguists dealing in Mesoamerica try to claim that languages change over time only from outside influences and not by itself as described with the Mulekites.