Proto California Mormons?

John McWhorter [1] finished a description of the three consonant structure of words in Semitic languages, such as Hebrew and Arabic, with these words:

That is what makes a Semitic language. This system with the three consonants is very rare in the world. There are only a few other languages in the world that act like this, and they are, oddly enough, just a few (depending on how you count few you could say one and a half) Native American languages of California. And there’s no relationship. If there’s perhaps some story about wandering Jews who wound up as hunter gatherer Indians in California, I’m not aware of it. But I think there’s no relationship, and so this kind of grammar only arose anywhere else on Earth once.

So remember, there are no traces whatsoever of Lehi’s children in America. Except for funny anomalies that none should give a second thought.

[1] John McWhorter, Senior Fellow in Public Policy, Manhattan Institute, former Associate Professor in Lingustics at UC Berkeley, in “Lecture 10: Language Families–Diversity of Structures,” of The Story of Human Language, The Teaching Company.

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About John Mansfield

Mansfield in the desertA third-generation southern Nevadan, I have lived in exile most of my life in such places as Los Alamos, Baltimore, Los Angeles, the western suburbs of Detroit, and currently the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. I work as a fluid dynamics engineer. I was baptized at age twelve in the font of the Las Vegas Nevada Central Stake Center, and on my nineteenth birthday I received the endowment in the St. George Temple. I served as a missionary mostly in the Patagonia of Argentina from 1985 to 1987. My true calling in the Church seems to be working with Cub Scouts, whom I have served in different capacities in four states most years since 1992. (My oldest boy turned eight in 2004.) I also currently teach Sunday School to the thirteen-year-olds. I hold degrees from two universities named for men who died in the 1870s, the Brigham Young University and the Johns Hopkins University. My wife is Elizabeth Pack Mansfield, who comes from New Mexico's north central mountains and studied molecular biology at the same two schools I attended. We have four sons, whose care and admonition, along with care of my aged father, require much of Elizabeth's time. She currently serves the Church as Mia-Maid advisor, ward music chairman, and choir director, and plays violin whenever she can. One day, I would like to make shoes.

6 thoughts on “Proto California Mormons?

  1. Odd bits of grammatical similarity don’t quite add up to evidence, but that is one funny line: “If there’s perhaps some story about wandering Jews who wound up as hunter gatherer Indians in California, I’m not aware of it.” Somebody, hand that man a pass-along card!

  2. I don’t want to make more out of this than it deserves, and Jonathan Green is himself a linguist. However, this word structure issue seems a pretty big deal to the Semitic language group if McWhorter says “This is what makes a Semitic language.” That this structure is found in no other languages in the whole wide world, except for a small group of California Indians, is striking.

    It seems, though, that some common uses of particular triconsonant sequences would have to be shown first before this similarity could be assigned too much significance.

  3. I am not a professional linguist, but I would imagine that indigenous languages in the Americas would change drastically over the course of 2,000 years, especially if they lack a unifying written language. Just as one small example, compare 13th century English to English today — virtually a different language, especially in spoken form.

    So it is very possible that there may have been a lot of Semitic languages 1500 years ago that have mutated into something completely different-sounding today.

    I agree about that quotation on Jewish hunter-gatherers — what a hoot!

  4. Of course the Nephites wrote in the language of the Egyptians (with Jewish learning), so I am not sure why people are looking for Semetic words. Perhaps what they should be looking for is Jewish thought in Egyptian writing.

  5. Nephi considered himself a Jew, living in the Kingdom of Judah. Jerusalem especially at that point had spillover from all the tribes.

    John McWhorter did have seven “Articles of Faith” in one of his books.

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