Book of Mormon Nuggets

Supplementing Jeff Lindsay's Book of Mormon Evidences page.

Nugget #8:
Uto-Aztecan and the Book of Mormon:
Linguists Provide Possible Evidence Consistent
with Book of Mormon Claims

As discussed on my Book of Mormon Evidences page, Brian Stubbs has published significant works showing serious connections between Native American languages (the Uto-Aztecan language group) and Old World languages such as Hebrew. Also on that page, I also quote Matthew Roper regarding the Book of Mormon term "sheum" for grain, which proves to be "a perfectly good Akkadian cereal name . . . dating to the third millennium B.C., which in ancient Assyria referred to wheat, but in other regions of the Near East could be applied to other grains."

Now I have encountered information from a respected non-LDS scholar which may provide a link between Uto-Aztecan and the Book of Mormon term "sheum." The source is Mary Ritchie Key, "American Indian Languages before Columbus," Across Before Columbus?, ed. by Donald Y. Gilmore and Linda S. McElroy, Laconia, New Hampshire: New England Antiquities Research Association (NEARA), 1998, pp. 183-192:

Agricultural people have many uses and labels for "grain, seed." The word was /se/ [written with a curved symbol over the s] in Sumerian. A similar form occurs in South America, for example: /sixe/ in Eseexa (Tacanan, of Bolivia . . .); /*siki/ in Proto Panoan (Peru and Bolivia . . .); and /*zi/ "seed" in Proto Jê (Brazil . . .). Proto Aztecan (North America . . .) has /*s n-/, a form that occurs in several related vocabulary forms.
(p. 189)
Dr. Key is a Professor Emeritus of Linguistics from the University of California at Irvine, and the author of 17 books during her five decades of linguistic research in more than a dozen languages. In the article cited above, she was proposed the idea that ancient Hittite and Sumerian from the Middle East has found its way into some Native American (esp. South American) languages.

More relevant research has tentatively identified hundreds of possible links between Uto-Aztecan languages (in Book of Mormon territory) with the ancient Hebrew language (Brian Stubbs, "Elements of Hebrew in Uto-Aztecan: A Summary of the Data," F.A.R.M.S. paper, 1988; and Brian Stubbs, "Looking Over vs. Overlooking Native American Languages: Let's Void the Void," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1996, pp. 1-49). Stubbs work has received the attention of other non-LDS scholars. For example, Roger Williams Westcott, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Linguistics at Drew University, New Jersey (Ph.D. in linguistics from Princeton, a Rhodes scholar, founder of Drew's anthropology program and author of 500 publications, including 40 books, and past president of the Linguistic Association of Canada and the United States) speaks positively of Stubbs' work in his article, "Early Eurasian Linguistic Links with North America" in Across Before Columbus?, ed. by Donald Y. Gilmore and Linda S. McElroy, Laconia, New Hampshire: New England Antiquities Research Association (NEARA), 1998, pp. 193-197. Dr. Westcott writes:

Perhaps the most surprising of all Eurasian-American linguistic connections, at least in geographic terms, is that proposed by Brian Stubbs: a strong link between the Uto-Aztecan and Afro-Asiatic (or Hamito-Semitic) languages. The Uto-Aztecan languages are, or have been, spoken in western North America from Idaho to El Salvador. One would expect that, if Semites or their linguistic kinsmen from northern Africa were to reach the New World by water, their route would be trans-Altantic. Indeed, what graphonomic evidence there is indicates exactly that: Canaanite inscriptions are found in Georgia and Tennessee as well as in Brazil; and Mediterranean coins, some Hebrew and Moroccan Arabic, are found in Kentucky as well as Venezuela [citing Cyrus Gordon].

But we must follow the evidence wherever it leads. And lexically, at least, it points to the Pacific rather than the Atlantic coast. Stubbs finds Semitic and (more rarely) Egyptian vocabulary in about 20 of 25 extant Uto-Aztecan languages. Of the word-bases in these vernaculars, he finds about 40 percent to be derivable from nearly 500 triliteral Semitic stems. Despite this striking proportion, however, he does not regard Uto-Aztecan as a branch of Semitic or Afro-Asiatic. Indeed, he treats Uto-Aztecan Semitisms as borrowings. But, because these borrowings are at once so numerous and so well "nativized," he prefers to regard them as an example of linguistic creolization - that is, of massive lexical adaptation of one language group to another. (By way of analogy, . . . historical linguists regard the heavy importation of French vocabulary into Middle English as a process of creolization.)

Of the various Afro-Asiatic languages represented in Uto-Aztecan vocabulary, the following occur in descending order of frequency:

  1. Canaanite (cited in its Hebrew form)
  2. Aramaic
  3. Arabic
  4. Ethiopic
  5. Akkadian (usually in its Assyrian form)
  6. Ancient Egyptian
Among the many Semitic loan-words in Uto-Aztecan, the following, listed by Stubbs, seems unexceptionable as regards both form and meaning:

Hebrewbaraqlightning> Papagoberoklightning
Aramaickatpashoulder> Papagokotvashoulder
Hebrewhiskalbe prudent> Nahuaiskalbe prudent
Hebrewyesïvähsitting> Hopiyesivacamp

Lest sceptics should attribute these correspondences to coincidence, however, Stubbs takes care to note that there are systematic sound-shifts, analogous to those covered in Indo-European by Grimm's Law, which recur consistently in loans from Afro-Asiatic to Uto-Aztecan. One of these is the unvoicing of voiced stops in the more southerly receiving languages. Another is the velarization of voiced labial stops and glides in the same languages.

Further work remains to be done, but the tentative evidence for past linguistic contact between the Old World and the New is consistent with the Book of Mormon, particularly if we note the textual and external evidence pointing to other peoples and languages already being on the continent when Lehi and his family arrived (see my discussion of this on my page, DNA and the Book of Mormon).

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Created: July 4, 2002. Updated: July 11, 2004.
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