Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Guest Post from Brian Stubbs: A Response to Chris Rogers’ “A Review of the Afro-Asiatic: Uto-Aztecan Proposal” in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies

I'm pleased to offer an important guest post from Brian Stubbs, one of the world's leading experts in Uto-Aztecan languages and a scholar whom I deeply respect for his insights and courage. After years of doubting some of the puzzling relationships he kept encountering in his linguistic studies, he finally decided he could not remain silent and needed to share the surprising trends he had uncovered, knowing that it would be highly controversial and easy to dismiss. Brian found very strong and compelling evidence of infusion of Old World languages into the Uto-Aztecan language family, at a degree that vastly exceeds what could happen by chance along and that vastly exceeds the standards that have been used to legitimately establish connections between once presumably distinct language groups in past scholarship. He has urged others to look at the evidence and criticize any genuine flaws in his work--that's the path for scientific progress, of course. Some of the responses to his work, such as that of linguist Dirk Elzing in BYU Studies or linguist John S. Robertson in The Interpreter, clearly recognize Stubbs for his credentials, with no obvious reason to dismiss the controversial case he has built. Ditto for my positive review in The Interpreter.

Declaring that there is evidence of an infusion of Semitic and Egyptian languages into ancient America is highly controversial not just because it fits as possible evidence supporting Book of Mormon plausibility, but because crazed amateurs since the 1800s have periodically claimed to find that Native American languages and Hebrew are related, often on the basis of completely made up "correspondences." Understandably, any expert in linguistics is likely to have an eye-rolling reflex upon hearing such a claim today. "Here we go again: another amateur thinking that Amerindian languages come from Hebrew." That reflex has, in my opinion, kept many people from digging into Stubbs' work to consider its merits. I suspect that such a reflex may have guided the approach that a young and promising professor at BYU took with respect to his review of Brian Stubbs' work.

As soon as I began reading Chris Rogers’ review in the lastest issue of the Maxwell Institute's Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, “A Review of the Afro-Asiatic: Uto-Aztecan Proposal,” I felt something was wrong. I felt like Rogers was responding to some caricature on Reddit of Stubbs' work, and must not have had the time to dig into the meat. He makes a casual remark that the two volumes of Stubbs that he was reviewing are essentially the same book, when they are worlds apart, one a tiny, easy-to-read volume for a general audience of members of the Church, and one a mammoth compilation of intricate details for scholars. Further, Rogers didn't seem to recognize that Stubbs was proposing relatively recent infusions of Old World influence into the Americas, not a very old genetic relationship, and didn't seem to recognize that Stubbs is a leader in the field of Uto-Aztecan languages who wrote some of the most definitive and broadly cited materials in that field. Things that Stubbs allegedly neglected or overlooked were there, sometimes abundantly so, but somehow missed. These kind of mistakes, if I am right and mistakes have been made, are not uncommon in the swirling forums of the academic world and remind us of the need to do our own diligence. Reading Stubbs' review below clarifies the many things that are seriously wrong. I hope you'll read that response, kindly shared here for my readers, and also please read Brian Stubbs' profound works, including the one with all the meat: Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan, as overwhelming as it may be (it can be downloaded at BMSLR.org for free, courtesy of Jerry Grover, or rather, at his expense). For a much less technical general overview, read his Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now

If you know what Stubbs has done and respect his work, don't be upset at Rogers for the negative review.  Great scholars often make some mistakes in the course of their work. In fact, his is an entirely understandable reaction from a linguist who has heard about some crazy amateur  once again imagining a connection between Hebrew and Native American languages -- understandable until one recognizes (1) the depth of detail and proficiency behind Brian Stubbs' work, and (2) what serious credentials Stubbs has. (For example, Stubbs is among key publishers of articles on the Uto-Aztecan language family in linguistic journals. His book Uto-Aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary is the largest in the field, doubling the size of previous works on comparative Uto-Aztecan studies.) Neither of those two issues seem to be recognized by Rogers, which suggests to me that he is responding less to a serious examination of the detailed content in Stubbs' books and more to what he thinks he already knows about it. It's a natural human mistake, in my opinion, but we all make mistakes in our assumptions and can easily jump to errant conclusions based on flawed assumptions. I hope Rogers will reconsider and look more carefully at what Stubbs has given us. Or if you agree with Rogers, let me know why and let's discuss the issues politely, please.

Stubbs' approach is completely unlike the amateurs making up stuff or repeating false rumors or snatching at a tiny handful of purported parallels. He offers an overwhelming level of analysis, extensive correspondences, intricate parallels that go way beyond chance alone, and along the way provides an overarching framework that helps solve multiple mysteries in Uto-Aztecan with significant predictive power.

As a reminder on the level of evidence compiled by Stubbs, with over 1500 cognates linking Uto-Aztecan to Semitic and Egyptian, here is an excerpt from my review article at The Interpreter:
To put things in perspective, compare Stubbs’s collection of [over 1500] cognates with the works that have inaugurated other new language groupings in previous linguistic work:
After Sapir (1913, 1915) established Uto-Aztecan as a viable family of related languages, Voegelin, Voegelin, and Hale (1962) produced the first numbered list of 171 cognate sets .… Klar (1977) brought the Chumash languages to clarity with 168 sets. Taylor (1963) established Caddoan (a language family of the central plains), assembling 107 cognate sets. Hale (1962, 1967) did the definitive study for Kiowa-Tanoan with 99 sets. This work’s proposal may better compare to tying two distant language families, as did Haas (1958) by ending four decades of controversy in uniting Algonkian-Ritwan, an eastern US family with a west coast family, by means of 93 sets. Chamberlain (1888) began the union of Catawba with Siouan via 17 comparisons, and Siebert (1945) secured it with mostly morphological correlations, as not enough clear cognate sets were known at the time to establish correspondences .… Thus, the going rate is between 50 and 200 sets to establish most Native American language families.
What follows is the text from Stubbs' response paper. Since The Journal of Book of Mormon Studies is now only published once a year, Stubbs naturally does not want to wait a year for a chance to have his response published, and very kindly is allowing me to share it here. Assume any errors in format or other problems below are mine; the original PDF of paper can be obtained from my website, JeffLindsay.com.

Update, Aug. 30, 2019: Brian sent me a minor revision today with a few minor changes and corrections. I've made those changes in the text below and linked to a revised PDF. I tweaked formatting in a couple of places.

Brian Stubbs' Review

A review of Chris Rogers’ “A Review of the Afro-Asiatic: Uto-Aztecan Proposal” in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 28 (2019), 258-267, wherein he reviews Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan (Stubbs 2015b) and Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now (Stubbs 2016).

Brian D. Stubbs, 2019

The purpose of this paper is to grant a clear view of Chris Rogers’ review. By way of background, Uto-Aztecan is a family of some 30 related languages in western Mexico, the U.S. Southwest, and the several Nahua dialects from Mexico to El Salvador. After 30 years of research and publishing several articles on Uto-Aztecan (UA) in peer-reviewed journals, I published Uto-Aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary (2011), the new standard in comparative UA and well received among specialists in the field. After 35 years of research, I published Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan (2015b), which linguistically establishes a Northwest Semitic (Hebrew/Aramaic) and an Egyptian infusion, language mix, or massive borrowing into UA. Though skepticism was always the initial reaction, the LDS and non-LDS linguists, Uto-Aztecanists, and Semitists actually examining the data, offered favorable assessments, silence, or dismay, but none refuted it. Following those reference works, the smaller Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now (2016) emerged for LDS lay-readers, addressing the relevance of the research to The Book of Mormon.

While many BYU linguists, Semitists, and other scholars have followed the work with interest or approbation the last 35 years, I began hearing that one Chris Rogers, a new hire among BYU linguists, was disparaging the work. I was curious what fault he found, so I sent him a friendly email 4/23/18: “I’d like to amicably answer what questions you might have.” I also explained that I had sent 2015b to the best 15 Uto-Aztecan specialists, all non-LDS PhDs in linguistics. Ten were silent, but five found it sound, with valid correspondences, etc.; “but none of the 15 refuted it with specifics. So maybe you are the first, as soon as I know the specifics you have in mind.” However, Mr. Rogers never answered me. He seemed not interested in answers or discussion, but preferred a public forum for his attempt to discredit. So we can do it that way. A major problem in fairness is that the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies comes out only once a year now. Other linguists have expressed a desire to rebut his review in next year’s issue. For my part, such a flawed denigration deserves a more immediate response.

Rogers’ first error is found in the title and in several pages throughout, claiming that I am proposing a long-distance relationship between Afro-Asiatic and Uto-Aztecan (UA). Not at all! That would involve a time-depth of more than 7,000 years. The thousands of coherent sound correspondences suggest, rather, that UA received a substantial infusion or mixing or borrowing from something resembling a pre-exilic stage (before 600 BC) of something Northwest Semitic with early forms specific to Hebrew and Aramaic, along with much Late Egyptian (not Middle Egyptian nor Old Egyptian, nor Proto-Afro-Asiatic). The data point to a time-depth of perhaps 2500-3000 years, not much more than Proto-Romance or Germanic. The infusion / mixing / borrowing of these two Near-East elements into UA is mentioned at least 21 times in the two books (Stubbs 2015, 26, 35, 80, 158, 237, 320, 354, 356, 360-362; and Stubbs 2016, 64, 86, 89, 96, 104, 112, 114, 154, 161, 170), and such an infusion / mixing is very different from common descent from something ancestral to Afro-Asiatic and UA, as many paragraphs below will show.

In fact, I cannot understand what Rogers read or saw to make him assume this work deals with common genetic descent from something pre-Afro-Asiatic. An electronic search of 2015b shows Hebrew is mentioned 3132 times, Aramaic 1370, (Late) Egyptian 2136, Akkadian 140 times, and Ethiopic 27 times. Even within Semitic, Hebrew and Aramaic (4,502) are the topics of discussion, as the fewer mentions of Akkadian (140) and Ethiopic (27) are incidental to a few of the phonological or semantic discussions. So the focus is not even general Semitic, let alone Afro-Asiatic. In fact, Afro-Asiatic occurs only 6 times: once in a bibliographic title, once in a misphrased compliment of my work by the late Roger William Wescott (President of the Linguistic Association of Canada and U.S.), and 4 times in discussing phonological details. Furthermore, other branches of Afro-Asiatic (Berber, Chadic, Cushitic, etc) are not mentioned at all; and never was Afro-Asiatic mentioned as part of the comparison. How does a focus on two Semitic languages (out of many) and Egyptian, but no other branches, and practically no mention of Afro-Asiatic, become construed as a proposal having anything to do with Proto-Afro-Asiatic?

Second, Rogers frequently misrepresents my work. An example among many is his claim that the Nahuan or Aztecan languages “are systematically ignored in the comparisons” (Rogers 2019, 266, my emphasis). A search of 2015b revealed over 800 references to the Nahuan or Aztecan languages! Might he have missed such details as CN being an abbreviation for Classical Nahuatl, for which there are over 400 occurrences of that alone?

Third, Rogers’ choice of quotes are often lifted out of context to turn positive comments into negative. For example, John S. Robertson, Harvard PhD, leading Mayanist, former chair of the BYU Linguistics Department, who has been following the progress of the work for 35 years, in his positive review more fully said, “I cannot find an easy way to challenge the breadth and depth of the data [in Stubbs 2015b]”, yet Rogers claims, “there is ample reason to ‘challenge the breadth and depth of the data’,” citing Dr. Robertson 2017:114 at the end of the clause, to appear as if Robertson said that, when Robertson said the opposite. He does similarly with the Elzinga quote immediately afterwards in the same sentence (Rogers 2019, 259).

Fourth, it is ironic that Rogers accuses me of “numerous assumptions” (p. 260) without clarifying, but then wildly assumes that “The only motivation for comparing Semitic languages and Egyptian to the Uto-Aztecan languages seems to be Stubbs’ personal investment in Uto-Aztecan languages and linguistics” (p. 262). Nothing could be further from the truth. Navajo and its Athapaskan affiliation were my first language exposure, but my own three-day investigation into Athapaskan and various East Asian languages convinced me that Athapaskan came from East Asia, which other linguists later provided evidence for, receiving considerable, but not universal, acceptance (e.g., Vajda 2010, Rice 2011, Campbell 2011, Kiparsky 2015). After Athapaskan, I looked into Yuman, Pomoan, Wintuan, Maiduan, Shastan, Yana, Kiowa-Tanoan, Keresan, Zuni, Salishan, Karuk, Algic, Siouan, Caddoan, Iroquoian, Muskogean, and Uto-Aztecan in North America; and Mayan, Totonacan, Mixe-Zoquean, Otomanguean, and a few isolates in Central America; and Chibchan, Cariban, Tupian, Paez, Arawakan, Aymaran, Witotoan, Quechuan, Matacoan, Pano-Tacanan, Guahiboan, Barbacoan, Macro-Je, Jivaroan, Movima, Zaparoan, and others in South America. An MA in linguistics and studies in Semitic (Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, PhD/ABD) preceded the perusing and enabled me to see a substantial infusion / borrowing of Northwest Semitic and Late Egyptian in UA. So for Rogers to assume that my investment in UA was the motivation for seeking Semitic similarities in it is astonishing, when it was the opposite: years of investigating dozens of language families throughout the Americas led to or motivated my 40-year investment in UA.

Fifth, Rogers insists that “Linguistic comparisons require like systems” and that “the similarities identified must come from like systems, such as families, languages, or dialects” (p. 262). Does he mean that one can only compare proto-language family to proto-language family, or language to language? Discoveries often call for a language (or two) to be compared with a language family, as when Tocharian A and B were discovered and then proven to belong to the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language family (Sieg and Siegling 1908), and as when Hittite was discovered and was shown to belong to PIE (Hrozny 1917), and as when the Cochimi language was united to the Yuman language family by my former professor Mauricio Mixco (1978). Additional obstacles to his ideal are that:

  1. There is not yet consensus on a system for reconstructing UA. We UA specialists agree on many points, but other matters are still under discussion.
  2. Semitic reconstructions are further along than UA, yet reconstructions of Proto-Semitic are not entirely agreed upon either. Interestingly, UA contains evidence relevant to one Semitic question: whether the so-called Semitic velar fricative x was velar or uvular. The UA evidence suggests uvular (Stubbs 2015b, 313-6; Stubbs 2019, 33-37).
  3. So much remains unknown about ancient Semitic languages; for example, ancient written Hebrew is only a fraction of what was in the spoken language. That is why Semitists in comparative work often list several relevant related forms for a broader perspective or bigger picture for comparison, as I did also on occasion. For example, Rogers (pp. 262-3) listed set 13 as a flawed set:
    Arabic snw; Ethiopic snw; Hebrew šaani; Akkadian sinitu; and Hopi soniwa ‘beautiful, bright’ all sharing common meanings. Rogers shows it as Arabic snw; Ethiopic snw; Hebrew šaani; Akkadian sinitu > Hopi soniwa, as if Hopi soniwa descends from all of them, but that is not how I had it. In Stubbs 2015b, the key forms to consider are in bold, as in two sentences above. From these terms we can see that the original Semitic root consonants are s-n-w (clear in Arabic and Ethiopic), which three consonants are clear in the Hopi form as well.
  4. Because Semitic forms are based on consonantal roots of usually 3 consonants (sometimes 2 or 4 or 5), Semitists do not see vowel variations as invalidating what identical consonants offer. For example, the root ђrm ‘to be sacred, forbidden’ is foundation to many vowelings of words for ‘woman, wives’—Arabic ђuram, ђurm, ђurma, ђaram, ђarama, ђariim, ђirma; plurals: ђaraamaa, ђuraamaa, ђiraamaa, and ma- prefixes: maђrama, maђruma—and all 12 vowelings mean ‘woman, female(s)’. For this reason, consonantal roots, not vowel variation, anchor cognate relationships in comparative historical work in Semitic, especially since only fractions of the ancient languages are attested. So to suppose, for example, that the UA forms, Warihio oerume / oorume ‘woman’, do not reflect Semitic ђrm ‘woman’ for lack of an attested voweling would be ignoring the comparative historical method, especially in light of the fact that pharyngeal ђ always shows rounding w/o/u in UA. Leonid Kogan (2011, 119-123), a prominent Semitist, says it well in noting a “wide variety of unpredictable deviations in the vocalic domain in glaring contrast to the full regularity of the consonantal skeleton.” So in the Semitists’ tradition, I often bring in various Semitic forms to the discussion, but UA is not being compared to Proto-Semitic, but to something of a Hebrew-Aramaic mix.
Sixth, he states, “long-distance relationships are less likely to include a large number of similarities. The sheer number of similarities in Stubbs’ proposal is not likely for the type of linguistic scenario presented” (p. 263). So too many similarities invalidates the case? Of course, again he is mistakenly assuming that I am lumping Afro-Asiatic and UA in a long-distance relationship. True, a time-depth of 7,000-10,000 years would yield fewer similarities. However, the bulk of 2015b identifies much vocabulary, fitting a system of sound correspondences, that accords with a language or dialect of Northwest Semitic (Aramaic-Hebrew, 700 sets) mixed with a substantial amount of Late Egyptian (400 sets), not Middle Egyptian, nor Old Egyptian, nor Afro-Asiatic, but specifically Late Egyptian, exhibiting the Late Egyptian definite article prefixes, which had not yet developed in Middle Egyptian (Stubbs 2015, 137-8). For non-linguists, I might clarify that a long-distance relationship means a deep time-depth, usually connecting language families; so UA compared with a Hebrew-Aramaic dialect is geographically long-distance, but not linguistically a long-distance relationship.

Seventh, he says “lexical similarities are often used as evidence for genetic relationships between languages” (p. 263), then in footnote 17 he adds, “but these are far from convincing; see Campbell and Poser 2008, 165-172.” Lexical similarities are a lesser or larger part of every demonstration of language relatedness, though morphology and other factors are important too. In the Campbell-and-Poser book that my friend Lyle Campbell sent me, pages 165-72 refer to lexical similarities (1) of limited amounts (because any two languages can have some accidental sound-alikes), (2) without additional supporting evidence like sound correspondences, and refer to (3) long-range comparative linguistics, the primary example cited being Greenberg 1987, who is a lumper (unlike me) and lumps language families on lexical similarities without sound correspondences. So none of the three applies to my work! My lexical similarities are based on a system of sound correspondences, and they are many, and they do not involve a long-distance relationship, but show one language family with considerable language contribution from specific languages, at a fairly shallow time-depth of 2500-3000 years.

Eighth, Rogers objects to my straying from the usual focus on Proto-Uto-Aztecan or the whole language family to intermittent focus on certain UA languages, which he claims results in “cherry picking the data to fit the proposal” (p. 262). No, there is no cherry picking. What happens (and it happens in every language family) is that some ancient words leave related cognates in most of the descendant languages, while other ancient words survive in only a few languages or only one.   I list all cognate / descendant forms available for each established UA cognate set in 2015b (as in 2011), sometimes many and other times a few or one, along with the Semitic/Egyptian form or root aligning with the sound correspondences. For example,
  • Hopi soniwa ‘beautiful, bright’ (< Semitic snw ‘gleam, be beautiful’), and
  • Hopi hoonaqa ‘drunkard’ (< Egyptian ђnqt ‘beer’; n’-ђnqt ‘the-drinkers’; no vowels provided in Egyptian, but the round vowel for the initial pharyngeal is exactly as expected in UA).
These two exist only in Hopi, and in no other UA languages. Yet such impressive matches deserve to be listed. Does Rogers think I should leave out single language matches? Furthermore, not many UA cognate sets appear in all 30 UA languages, but from among the two dozen or so that do, a high percentage of them (ca. 70%) belong to the Near-East contribution. That is significant, as it suggests that the Near-East language component was part of Proto-UA. Some might contend that such could not be the case given UA’s supposed glottochronological time-depth of 5,000 years or so, but Campbell and Poser (2008, 167), in the same book that both Rogers and I cite above, also say “It [glottochronology] has been rejected by most linguists, since all its basic assumptions have been challenged.”

Ninth, Rogers claims to see “mistaken definitions or incorrect characterizations of linguistic concepts” (p. 260). That is odd, because the best 35 Uto-Aztecanists in the world, most being PhDs in Linguistics, have all received the work by now, and none of them spoke of incorrect characterizations of linguistic concepts. Through 40 years of presenting at professional linguistic conferences and publishing in several journals, I have never been accused of mischaracterizing linguistic concepts. Two different editors of the International Journal of American Linguistics (the most prestigious journal for publishing comparative Native American work, in which I’ve published four articles) both said (20 years apart) that I do good work. The late Jane Hill at an annual UA conference said, “Brian is the only one of us who does a comparative paper every year” (because a grammatical aspect of one language is easier than dealing with 30). I was invited to give a lecture at UCLA on comparative Uto-Aztecan, and Calvert Watkins, Harvard’s internationally renowned Indo-European scholar, happened to attend, and afterwards he told Dr. Munro (the prominent UCLA linguist, accomplished in Uto-Aztecan, Yuman, Muskogean, and Zapotecan) that “we need more lectures like that one.” When MIT decided to publish a volume on UA, the other Uto-Aztecanists voted me to do the first article to introduce the language family with a comparative overview (Stubbs 2003). When the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas decided to do a special session on UA to celebrate the centennial since Sapir’s establishment of UA in 1915, the other Uto-Aztecan specialists selected me to present the lead paper to begin the session (Stubbs 2015a). That is an unusual list of honors for one mischaracterizing linguistic concepts.

Tenth, he calls my work “so replete with disorganization” (p. 260). Organization may be in the eye of the beholder. The organization proceeds from an introduction, then systematically addresses the sound correspondences, then shows how Semitic or Egyptian provides the underlying forms that explain seven of nine phonological puzzles that UAnists have not been able to solve in the last 100 years, since Sapir’s establishment of the language family in 1913 / 1915 (interestingly my work was published exactly a century later 2015), then vowel correspondences, then addresses medial consonant clusters, then shows grammatical and morphological parallels, and then discusses unusual semantic combinations preserved in UA. He may prefer a different organization, but I see nothing radically awry in my organization.

Eleventh, he says that my two books under review are not substantially different (p. 260). Most who examine the two would disagree. The larger work (2015b), with 20 times more detail, is for linguists, Semitists, and other scholars, and establishes the tie linguistically. The smaller work (2016, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now) is greatly simplified for lay-readers, is one-fifth the size, and contains in reduced / simplified form 1/20th of the data, and addresses the data’s relevance to the Book of Mormon.

Twelfth, Rogers’ condescending attitude and derogatory language are apparent throughout: e.g., “it is so replete with disorganization, numerous assumptions, mistaken definitions or incorrect characterizations of linguistic concepts, inexact methods, pedantry, and apologetic rhetoric that the idea [of the language tie] seems dubious, even without careful scrutiny” (p. 260). Wow, that could leave one with a very negative impression, yet the non-LDS linguists, who are the best UA specialists in the world, and Semitic scholars said no such thing, but responded with favorable comments or “no comment.” Like Robertson (2017) says in his review of 2015b, that it includes many of the same cognate sets and the same quality of work as my 2011 Uto-Aztecan Comparative Vocabulary, which was praised in the International Journal of American Linguistics review (Hill 2012).

Thirteenth, he even hints at disdain for the appendices: “Other information of varying usefulness to the proposal itself, but which seems personally significant to Stubbs, is presented in the remainder of both books through a number of appendices” (p. 260). In the 2015b book the appendices are:
  • A) sound correspondences (very important),
  • B) English index to the sets,
  • C) Semitic index to the sets,
  • D) Egyptian index to the sets
It should be obvious that the appendices are indices, helpful in finding forms in the massive 435-page, 365,000-word work. Each of the appendices to Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now (2016) is also relevant, either to a particular chapter, a group of chapters, or to the whole book.

Fourteenth, on p. 261, Rogers says, “A proposal for a genetic relationship … must be supported by two types of evidence: (1) evidence that the languages discussed are in fact genetically related.” That is exactly what the 435-page work (Stubbs 2015b) does: it establishes that a significant amount of Proto-UA descends from the specified Near-East infusion, with sound correspondences, morphological parallels, unusual semantic combinations preserved, and other parallel patterns. It is not genetically related at a bi-family level, but is descended from a sizable Near-East infusion mixed with other. He continues, “and (2) evidence for the reconstruction of the common linguistic ancestor.” His footnote 14 lists a couple of books on historical linguistics, both of which I have and have read, in addition to others. Again, he is insisting on the reconstruction of a non-existent ancestor of Proto-Afro-Asiatic and UA, but that is not what I am proposing, but rather, Aramaic often provides the needed reconstructed form, given the devoicing of voiced stops (b > p, d > t, g > k):
  • (1274) Aramaic kookb-aa(’) ‘star-the’ > UA *kuppaa’: Sr kupaa’ ‘to shine (as of the stars)’
    (a denominalized verb, all vowels as expected; Sr v < *-p-, so Sr p < *-pp- or cluster)
  • (889) Aramaic rikb-aa(’) ‘upper millstone-the’ > UA *tïppa ‘mortar, pestle’
    (initial r- > UA t- is well demonstrated in 2015b, 100-101, 173-174, 221)
    (note that both of the above show the same cluster -kb- > *-pp- in UA, common in UA)
  • (618) Aramaic di’b-aa(’) ‘wolf-the’ > UA *tï’pa ‘wolf'
    (not from Hebrew haz-zǝ’eb ‘the-wolf’)
  • (617) Aramaic diqn-aa(’) ‘beard-the, chin-the’ > UA *tï’na / *tï’ni ‘mouth’
    (consonants and vowels align with Aramaic, not from Hebrew zaaqaan ‘beard, chin’)
    (also note in the 3 above, the vowel assimilation *-i-a > UA -ï-a is natural and common)
  • (616) Aramaic dǝkar ‘male’ > UA *taka ‘man, male, person, self, body’
    (aligns with initial d of Aramaic, but vowels of Hebrew zaakaar ‘male, man’)
    (note the 3 above and several others all suggest Aramaic d > UA t, not from Hebrew z)
  • (1130) Aramaic pagr-aa(’) ‘corpse-the’ > Hp pïïkya ‘skin, fur’
    (not from Hebrew hap-pɛgɛr ‘the-corpse’)
  • (1403) Aramaic šigr-aa(’) ‘drain, ditch, gutter-the’ > Hp sikya ‘ravine, canyon of sloped sides’
  • (743) Aramaic tuumr-aa(’) ‘palm-the / date-palm-the’ > UA *tu’ya ‘type of palm tree’
    (aligns with Aramaic, but not Hebrew taamaar)
    (note in the 3 above that -r- as 2nd consonant in a cluster > -y-: *-Craa > -Cyaa)
  • (967) Aramaic qušṭ-aa(’) ‘bow-the’ > UA *kuCta-pi ‘bow’
    (usual loss of s in a cluster, again from Aramaic, not from Hebrew qešet / qašt- ‘bow’)
  • (1409) Aramaic kuuky-aa(’) ‘spiderweb’ > UA kukyaC: Hopi kookyaŋw ‘spider’; Cp kúka-t ‘blackwidow spider’
    (note 9 of the 10 nouns above show Aramaic suffix: -aa ‘the’)
  • (559) Hebrew bky/ baakaay ‘cry, weep’ (perf stem); Aramaic bakaa / baka’ > Hopi pak- ‘cry’;
    Tb pahaa’at / ’apahaa’ 'cry, bawl, howl' (Tb h < *k); Ktn paka’ ‘ceremonial yeller, clown who shouts all day to announce a fiesta’.
    (Northern UA (Tb, Ktn, Sr, Hp) sometimes shows the glottal stop of written Aramaic -aa’, which suffix Hebrew does not have. The Aramaic article suffix -aa(’) ‘the’ has a written glottal stop, but debates continue whether it was pronounced or simply signifies the long vowel of the suffix. Northern UA languages often show that glottal stop, whereas Southern UA languages do not.)
So because the UA forms usually aligned so well with the Northwest Semitic form or Egyptian form, there seldom seemed a need for an identical or near identical reconstruction.

The number of matches with specific Aramaic forms means that the UA infusion was after Aramaic and Hebrew were clearly defined as separate Northwest Semitic languages. And Hebrew did not exist as a language until after Jacob’s reentrance or Moses’ entrance into Canaan to begin adopting the Canaanite language, for Hebrew is the Israelites’ dialect of Canaanite after their adoption of Canaanite. And several UA terms specific to Israeli culture (ephod, Yahwe, etc.) suggest that the infusion included Israelite Hebrew. As for Aramaic, note that Abraham, Jacob, and Laban the Aramean (Genesis 25:20) and his daughters Leah and Rachel and maids (the mothers of future Israel) came from Aramaic-speaking areas. In addition, the Manasseh land grant in the Northeast corner of Northern Israel borders Aramaic regions, and Lehi, being of Manasseh, was likely descended from Josephite refugees to Jerusalem fleeing the destruction of Northern Israel a century earlier (Stubbs 2016, 75). Furthermore, Semitists like Young (1993, 54-62, 85-86) and Rendsburg (1997, 2003, 2006) believe that many northern Israelites may have been bilingual, never losing their Aramaic, if they even added Hebrew / Canaanite to their repertoire. Or even if they lost Aramaic at some point, reacquiring the international lingua franca in their proximity to neighboring Arameans is probable for a percentage of the population. For all those reasons, we should not be surprised if Lehi’s and Ishmael’s language(s) included a substantial amount of Aramaic, as the UA data suggest it did. Yet UA’s preservation of some archaic phonology and old Hebrew and Aramaic forms points to at least pre-exilic. So all factors taken together suggest an infusion of language forms like the Hebrew or Aramaic of 1300-600 BC, which also approximates the Late Egyptian period. Thus, nothing as far back as Proto-Afro-Asiatic is suggested or possible, which should be apparent from reading either book (2015b, 11-12, 34-35, 66, 320-322, 343-4, 357-9; or 2016, 64, 71-73, 125-27).

Fifteenth, Rogers says, “One of the main methodological issues of Stubbs’ proposal is the omission of an explanation for why the UA and Afro-Asiatic languages are being compared in the first place” (pp. 261-2). Again, I am not lumping UA and Afro-Asiatic as related language families, but am dealing with an infusion or substantial borrowing from Northwest Semitic (Hebrew/Aramaic) and Late Egyptian into UA. In the next paragraph, he repeats his concern, “Stubbs’ proposal sidesteps this issue and suggests that the putative similarities are the evidence that these are related languages, but without explanation for why specific languages are named and used in the comparison.” Is he expecting me to depend on archaeology or other extra-linguistic evidence to point to the language selections? The languages themselves are the best source for finding whether languages are related or not! Sir William Jones noticed the similarities among key Indo-European languages (Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Germanic, Celtic) simply because he was familiar with the languages (Campbell and Poser 2008, 5-6), not because something else told him: those are the languages you need to look at.

Sixteenth, Rogers (p. 262) also says, “this [Semitic speakers coming to the Americas] does not limit their contact to the UA languages, perhaps they intermingled with speakers of the Chibchan languages in South America (among other possibilities).” I never suggested that the UA case means that Lehite posterity did not also intermingle with other language families. In fact, in Stubbs 2016, I say the opposite several times, that they probably did mix with many language families, and the appendices (of varying usefulness) D, E, and F are included for the very purpose of showing how easily and widely an ethnic infusion can mix far and wide. Rogers has me saying things that I never said nor suggested.

Seventeenth, a lot of double-speak may sound academic, but “unravels with scrutiny.” For example, he claims, “each similarity must be rigorously proven to be both valid and reliable. Many, if not most, similarities in this proposal are not accompanied by the necessary explanations to make them either valid or reliable” (p. 263). Valid AND reliable? Can it be valid but unreliable, or reliable and not valid? If it’s one, it’s both. But doubling up and then saying it is neither helps make it sound very bad. Furthermore, this criticism is somewhere between hyper and unfounded. When needed, explanations are provided. Though a few spots might benefit by more, it was my explanations that have pleased the UA specialists: as Hill (2012) said, “Each set is discussed in some detail and the serious comparativist will delight in the discussions.” After explaining that Semitic b > UA *p, how much explanation is needed to show that:
  • Hebrew boo’ ‘way to’ parallels UA *pooC ‘road’ (C means unknown consonant)
  • Semitic baraq ‘lightning’ parallels UA pïrok ‘lightning’ (and the vowel changes are explained)
  • Semitic baka’ ‘cry, he cried’ parallels UA *paka’ ‘cry’
  • Hebrew batt ‘daughter’ parallels UA *pattï ‘daughter’
  • Aramaic bǝquuraa ‘livestock’ parallels UA *pukuC ‘domestic animal’ (and vowel changes are explained); etcetera for more than 1,000 parallels.
Eighteenth, he arranges my data to suggest things I never said. In addition to set 13 addressed above, he also presents at table 3, set 1, the plural suffix as Semitic *-iima > Hebrew -iim > UA *-ima, and then says that an explanation is needed for why the final -a disappeared in Hebrew but then was reinserted in UA (p. 264). The book explains that the Hebrew Bible was voweled by the Masoretes AD 700 or so, nearly a millennium and a half after Lehi. UA did not reinsert -a, but Northwest Semitic *-iima > UA *-ima, and Semitic *-iima > Hebrew -iim. So both derive from the older Northwest Semitic form, not one from the other. In fact, items like this point only to Northwest Semitic *-iima, because Arabic -uuna, Akkadian -uu, etc, exclude other Semitic languages, removing it far from Proto-Afro-Asiatic (see Stubbs 2015b, 66). The great UAnist, Wick Miller, my professor, agreed with my reconstruction of PUA *-ima. Most before me had reconstructed UA *-mï, but they all neglected to consider that five UA languages have a high-front vowel (i or e) before -m and other matters. Though Wick Miller did not like and refused to consider my proposed Near-East tie, he could not refute it, and he agreed with various points that I brought to his attention, as long as I did not mention the Semitic source of my insights.   Miller was kind to me, valued my abilities, and was pleased with and encouraged my comparative work in UA.

In Table 4, set 3, Rogers calls for explanations why š > s (p. 264). I explain elsewhere that all three kinds of Semitic s (š, ś, s) merged to PUA *s. If I explain it in every case that occurs, the book would have been even larger and too repetitive. The merger of those three is also apparent in the appendix of “varying usefulness” that lists the sound correspondences. This set also points specifically to Hebrew yšb, and not to Aramaic ytb nor Arabic/Proto-Semitic wθb, again far from Afro-Asiatic. The most interesting aspect of this set is that Masoretic Hebrew yaašab has been determined to be from an earlier pre-Masoretic Hebrew *yašiba, another older voweling found in UA. In addition, yašiba ‘he sat, dwelt’ is 3rd person singular perfect, while yašibuu ‘they sat, dwelt’ is plural; and in the Piman branch of UA we see the plural voweling and the plural meaning *yasipu ‘they sit/dwell’. Rogers also says that changes in vowel length need explanation. That would be nice, but vowel length has not yet been figured out for PUA, as various layers of changes in stress patterns in the various branches and languages caused the lengthening of stressed vowels and the shortening or loss of unstressed vowels, but the sorting through those multiple and changing layers has not been accomplished yet. So only vowel quality is reconstructed for UA, not vowel quantity, explained twice (in Stubbs 2015b, 12, 37).

Nineteenth, Rogers asserts, “while the UA language family is one of the most studied language families in the Americas, as is the Mesoamerican cultural area, the fact that very little is done to connect the proposal back to this previous scholarship is thus odd” (p. 266). That ranks among the most rank of his misstatements. I wrote the book on comparative UA. It includes and builds on the viable previous linguistic scholarship. If he has in mind cultural, archaeological factors, etc, the other major linguistic works on UA have not included that either. Miller (1967) wrote Uto-Aztecan Cognate Sets with 514 sets. Miller later collected others, and Kenneth Hill added another 400 sets to total some 1200 sets on a UA computer file. The next publication was my 2011 Uto-Aztecan Comparative Vocabulary with 2700 cognate sets. Kenneth Hill, another great Uto-Aztecanist, wrote a positive review in the International Journal of American Linguistics (Hill 2012); and UAnists have spoken highly of that work ever since its first preliminary edition in 2006. Besides cognate sets, it has sizable sections treating UA phonology, from PUA phonology to the branches and some individual languages, discussing the previous research, verifying or adjusting what the past UA scholars have proposed. I cite the literature or the “previous scholarship” with a new look at a lot more data, thus enabling me to further verify some previous views and improve others. True, the 2015b work does not include a lot of the comparative detail / findings of the 2011 work, except when helpful or applicable.

Twentieth, his math and statistics on page 265 are creative (wrong). If a set’s match is a coincidence, it does not matter whether the UA cognates in that set number 30, 15, or 2, the one set might be subtracted from 1528 (i.e., 1528-1 = 1527), but not 30 or 90 subtracted for each set. Even if the whole book were wrong, the total of valid sets would be 0, not negative / — 2,598. Furthermore, when the vocabulary are consistent with an established system of sound correspondences, those within that framework are not counted as accidental matches.

Twenty-first, moving ever further from probabilities of coincidence are lengthy matches: the longer a match, the less likely it could be by chance, and this tie exhibits many lengthy matches. An eight-segment match is:
(567) Hebrew ya’amiin-o ‘he believes him/it’ > UA *yawamin-(o) ‘believe (him/it)’

(the sound change ’ > w is established; given 13 consonants and 5 vowels in UA, probabilities of such a match by chance are less than one in 17 million: 1/13 x 1/5 x 1/13 x 1/5 x 1/13 x 1/5 x 1/13 x 1/5.)
A few among other lengthy matches which are 6- and 7-segments long include:
  • (853) Aramaic ђippušit ‘beetle’ > UA *wippusi ‘stink beetle’ (both have geminated -pp-; and both pharyngeals (ђ and ʕ below) result in UA rounding (w), as also Greek o < ʕ of Phoenician)
  • (87) Arabic ʕgz / ʕagaza ‘to age, grow old (of women)’ > Tr wegaca- 'grow old (of women)’
  • (57) Semitic singaab ‘squirrel’ = Hebrew *siggoob ‘squirrel’ > UA *sikkuC ‘squirrel
    (vowel changes are explained in the book and devoicing of g > k)
  • (88) ʕalaqat ‘leech’ > UA *walaka ‘snail’
  • (892) ṣanawbar ‘stone pine’ (type of pine) > UA *sanawap ‘pine tree’
  • (832) *sarṭoon ‘scratcher, crab’ > *saCtun > siCtun / *suCtun ‘claw, nail, crab’
  • (1274) kookb-aa(’) ‘star-the’ > UA *kuppaa’ ‘to shine (as of the stars)’ (-kb- > -pp-)
  • (614) makteš ‘mortar’ > UA *maCta ‘mortar’; Ca *mattaš ‘crush, squash, vt’ (with *-tt- and -š)
Twenty-second, he thinks onomatopoeia (sound imitation) explains items like:
Arabic ṣurṣur / ṣurṣuur ‘cricket’; Aramaic ṣarṣuur ‘cricket’; Akkadian ṣarṣaar ‘cricket’;

Syriac ṣiṣr-aa / ṣiiṣr-aa ‘cricket’ and UA *corcor (or tsortsor) ‘cricket’ (pp. 264-5).
Possibly, but it is an impressive parallel with Arabic or Aramaic (after vowel-leveling) or an unattested ancient Hebrew form (cannot always specify a single language): it is six segments long, and I explain the change of ṣ > ts. It seems to me that sound imitation of a cricket would sound more like English ‘cricket’ or chichi with high-front vowels. While ṣ or ts fits cricket sounds, neither round vowels (o/u) nor r sound very cricket-like to me. Does he think the Semitic forms are also due to onomatopoeia? He might even disqualify the Semitic terms as a Semitic cognate set: the vowels do not match; there is no standard correspondence of u:a:i for these Semitic languages, but with the consonants corresponding, no Semitist doubts their relatedness.

Mr. Rogers once came close to saying well when he said, “Stubbs purports to provide some insight into the unknowns of Uto-Aztecan grammar” (p. 260)—if he had only left out ‘purports’. For this language tie does some provide profound insights into UA; in fact, perhaps the most impressive contribution of this tie to comparative UA linguistics is its being able to explain 7 of 9 puzzles that UAnists have not been able to solve over the last 100 years. For example, UAnists suppose that PUA initial *t- remained t- in all UA languages, except in Tarahumara (Tr), in which Tr *r- corresponds to UA *t- of the other languages. However, there are as many instances of initial Tr t- also corresponding to PUA *t- of the other languages. No one could explain the split or discrepancy through four generations of linguists. Yet the underlying Semitic and Egyptian provide the solution. Initial r- in Semitic or Egyptian became PUA *t-, probably because of contact / mixture with a people who did not have initial r- in their language’s phonological repertoire, only initial t-.   However, Tr did keep the r-. So Tr’s showing both r-/t- corresponding to PUA *t is explained by the fact that Semitic and Egyptian t, t, d > Tr t-, while Semitic r- and Egyptian r- > Tr r-. So simple! Some 40 Tr terms agree with and explain that distinction. Another matter is that PUA *w > Hopi l before low vowels a, e, ö much of the time, but not all the time. In many instances PUA *w remains Hopi w. Again, no one has been able to explain the dichotomy the last 100 years. Yet again, Semitic and Egyptian provide the solution. Many PUA *w are from Semitic / Egyptian pharyngeals / laryngeals ʕ, ђ, ’.   Those PUA *w from the Semitic / Egyptian pharyngeals / laryngeals became l before low vowels, while PUA *w from Semitic / Egyptian w, remain w in Hopi before those same vowels, as in Hopi soniwa < Semitic snw, mentioned previously. Pharyngeals’ becoming liquids (r, l) happens in some Arabic dialects also, as I’ve heard a native Syrian Arabic speaker say sabriina < sabʕiina ‘seventy’. The underlying Semitic and Egyptian clarify not only those two issues, but five other previously unresolved matters as well.   That is huge—that Semitic and Egyptian explain seven of the nine, possibly eight of the nine, previously unresolved phonological puzzles of UA! How could that be, if the tie were not valid?

Twenty-third, speaking of mischaracterizations, Rogers claims that “any connections between Mesoamerican languages and South American languages have been definitively disproved” (p. 266), and footnote 21 “For an overview, see Campbell 1997.” We will overlook the fact, as Rogers seems to have done, that both the Chibchan and the Arawakan language families are spread into both Central America and South America, though not all definitions of Mesoamerica include all of Central America. Nevertheless, disregarding those two language families, one can say that no such connections have yet been demonstrated to the satisfaction of a majority of linguists, but one cannot say that a viable proposal will never emerge from such a huge arena of far-from-fully-explored potential (190 language families), or that all pertaining to futurity must be automatically rejected, in all future proposals’ being hereby / previously disproved. Rogers refers us to Campbell (1997), but Campbell says no such thing. I have read twice Campbell’s (1997) American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America, and Campbell leaves open a few possibilities. First of all, most controversial proposals are on a spectrum, opinions ranging from—demonstrated, probable, maybe but not fully demonstrated, not likely, not close. Campbell provides his own assessments of several such proposals, giving a number within a 200-point range from +100 (definitely proven) to -100 (definitely not). Campbell (1997, 326) gives Misumalpan (in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador) with Chibchan (South and Central America) a +20 (120/200 = 60% chance). He gives much lesser probabilities to Tarascan-Quechua (5%, p. 325) and Maya-Chipaya (10%, p. 324), the latter of which Campbell (1973) was the main critic after others had viewed the proposal favorably. I do not support any of the above, yet to none of the above does Campbell give a 0% chance, as he does to some other proposals; and thus his assessments, though not supportive, are far from saying that all such possibilities are “definitively disproved”; i.e., none is at 0%; nor does he say that all future proposals are “definitively disproved.” In fact, in ways I am a stricter judge than Campbell (1997, 269-273), who gives the UA-Tanoan tie a 50% possibility. In addition to my 40 years in UA, I spent some years investigating the Kiowa-Tanoan (KT) language family, and had compiled the largest Tewa dictionary in existence. The tribe asked that I not publish it, so I dropped working on it; twenty years later another larger work appeared, whether with permission or not, I don’t know; nevertheless, I am quite familiar with UA and KT, and with the UA-KT debate. Their grammars are very different, and the limited lexical similarities look much more like areal loans (among the Ancient Puebloans) than genetic affinity. In fact, in Stubbs (2011, no. 613) I track one such areal UA loan into Keresan: UA *posi ‘bear’ > Piman *wohi (*p > w, *s > h), which is borrowed into Tr/Wr wohi/gohi/ohi, which is a loan consideration for Keres guhaya ‘bear’ (< *gohi). I would give a possible UA-KT genetic tie 10- 20%, much less than Campbell’s 50% possibility of a genetic tie. I respect Campbell as a foremost authority in Native American historical linguistics, as his publications demonstrate, and I agree with him most of the time, so this slight difference of opinion in areas in which I may be the more familiar, is hardly a criticism of him, but I simply give a possible UA-KT genetic tie less promise than he does.

What did surprise me was Rogers’ use of Edward Sapir’s (1925) “Hokan Affinity of Subtiaba in Nicaragua” to exemplify that “long-distance relationships are convincingly determined through submerged features” (p. 263), when Campbell (1997, 208 and 324-5) cites Rensch, Suarez, and Kaufman as superseding Sapir and says that “it is now clear that Tlapanec-Subtiaba is just one more branch of Otomanguean” and gives that tie a 95% probability. So not only is the Hokan-Subtiaba tie discounted by Campbell, but Hokan itself is a hypothesis “still undemonstrated and controversial” (Campbell 1997, 68).

Twenty-fourth, I disagree with most of Rogers’ last two paragraphs, but let’s address only his closing sentences: “We simply do not have any recorded information about the language(s) being used by the people in the Book of Mormon (other than a small amount of information about the class of priest-scribes). Without that information, any suggestions of linguistic affinities are wildly speculative and should be dismissed” (p. 267). While I agree that all branches of Lehite posterity were thrust into multilingual environments, which tend toward language change or loss, that does not mean that no trace could be left anywhere, or that actually finding a sizable body of similarities must be labeled as “wildly speculative” and should be automatically dismissed. It is better to consider the evidence before going with the assumption that it would be “wildly speculative and should be dismissed.” Furthermore, we do have limited information about the languages of the people. At the beginning are mentioned Egyptian and the learning of the Jews (1 Nephi 1:2) and at the end of their history a millennium later, both writing systems—Hebrew and Egyptian—had been altered according to their manner of speech (Mormon 9:32-34). Only dead languages (if written) do not change (vs. all living / spoken languages which do change): the dead language Latin vs. spoken Italian, French, Spanish, etc; the liturgical Hebrew studied and read by Jews the world over, though recently revived in Israel in quite a different form; the Classical Middle Egyptian was often written in the fossilized former form with little change, while the people’s later spoken forms of Egyptian changed according to their manner of speech. So in light of Moroni 9:32-34, we must leave open the possibility, if not probability, that elements of those ancient languages had continued into whatever language mixture(s) had developed by then, even if in ever-decreasing amounts. Whether only the educated priest-class or also the commoners could read, some kind of continuation from those languages seems to have been recognized among them. And surely they were a scripture-reading people during those centuries of peace and righteousness, for Christ told them to search the prophets (3 Nephi 23:5) and to search the words of Isaiah (3 Nephi 23:1); and only a century earlier, the rulers of Ammonihah burned both the righteous and their scriptures (Alma 14:8). So it seems that a number of common people were also able to read their scriptures and search the prophets (Isaiah in Hebrew) besides the so-called “class of priest-scribes.” There I go again, in “apologetic rhetoric”—as if there is anything wrong with reason defending faith.

I searched Rogers’ article for a valid criticism or helpful suggestion, not entirely in vain, for I did come away with the realization that his reference to “disorganization” may have been partly due to a general sense of 2015b seeming ‘unfinished’; that’s because it IS unfinished. As I say in (2016, 188), “Only when I die do all drafts become final drafts.” Such massive reference works as 2011 and 2015b can hardly be finished in one lifetime. Though working on both for 30 years, I can look at any page of either, and see improvable wordings, a typo, or matters inviting further investigation. The UAnists at each annual conference from 2000 to 2011 heard me say that I hoped to finish the comparative vocabulary by next year. After three preliminary editions in 2006, 2007, 2008, finally in 2011 the hardbound published edition appeared. Likewise, many wondered for decades when I would have the full measure of the Semitic and Egyptian in UA out and available. Massive reference works always take years longer than expected, and I finally realized that it may take more years to complete than I have left—there is no end to unfinished trails and questions that many data lead to—but after 30 years of assembling, I decided I had to simply impose an arbitrary breaking point and call it a decent plateau. Yet even rounding out or finishing / presenting the content of that arbitrary cut-off took five years. If I were to attempt finishing the book to perfection, I’d expire first, and then nothing would be available. So what’s better—an unfinished plateau with lots of data to fill decades of others figuring out other things, or having nothing? That’s what I decided too. The published copies of 2011, 2015b, and 2016 are all but sold out and await 2nd editions. I shudder at the thought; and realizing that “only when I die do all drafts become final drafts” offers little hope for conclusion and rest.

More could be said of Rogers’ review, but let that suffice for the moment, as I now feel for him. Whether or not he eventually realizes the value of what is actually quite sound and will stand the test of time, most others will … with time. No one knows everything, or gets everything right all the time; so those who associate with him, be nice to him. 


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Campbell, Lyle. 1997. American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Campbell, Lyle. 2011. “Review of the Dene-Yeniseian Connection, ed. James Kari and Ben A. Potter.” International Journal of American Linguistics 77(3), 445-451.

Campbell, Lyle, and William John Poser. 2008. Language Classification: History and Method. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Elzinga, Dirk. 2016. Review of Brian D. Stubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan. Provo: Jerry D Grover Publications, 2015. BYU Studies Quarterly 55:4, 172-176.

Hill, Kenneth C. 2012. Review of Uto-Aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary, by Brian Stubbs.
International Journal of American Linguistics 78/4 (2012), 591-3.

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Rendsburg, Gary A. 2003. “A Comprehensive Guide to Israelian Hebrew: Grammar and Lexicon.” Orient 38, pp. 5-35.

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Rogers, Chris. 2019. “A Review of the Afro-Asiatic: Uto-Aztecan Proposal.” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 2019.

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Vajda, Edward J. 2010. “A Siberian Link with Na-Dene Languages.” In Kari, J.; Potter, B. (eds.) The Dene-Yeniseian Connection. Anthropological Papers of the University of Alaska, new series 5. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Fairbanks, Dept of Anthropology, pp. 33-99.

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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Is There Direct Evidence that the Early Saints Had Heard of Champollion?

In previous posts (here and here) on the Book of Abraham and in my article for The Interpreter, I have noted that newspapers and other sources in the United States make it fairly clear that the story of Champollion seems to have been widely known by 1835, contrary to assertions in two volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. But one reader argued that relying on possible "common knowledge" of the day still doesn't provide a direct link showing that the early Saints actually know of or spoke of Champollion. Could it be that they really hadn't heard of the Rosetta Stone and Champollion's work, the cause of so much interest in all things Egypt? Perhaps! Maybe they were gripped in Egyptomania without hearing the most basic news tied to that fad.

With that fair objection in mind, I did another search this morning and found something that I hope will help clarify the issue. It involves the account of Martin Harris going to the East with a copy of Book of Mormon characters in hand, seeking academic validation for Joseph's translation work. (See the related information in the "Scholar Gives New Insights on Martin Harris’s 1828 Visit to Charles Anthon," based on Richard E. Bennett's 2015 Sperry Symposium presentation.) 

In 1831, James Gordon Bennett, a man who would become one of America's leading journalists, gave a boost to his journalistic career with a sensational two-part article on the "Mormonites." He interviewed a couple of people, apparently E.B. Grandin, printer of the Book of Mormon, and Charles Butler, a lawyer and friend of Martin Harris, and then prepared a two-part article sharing what he had learned and his views on the Book of Mormon story. Part 2 of this article was published in New York City in the Morning Courier and Enquirer, Sept. 1, 1831. The article was soon reprinted in several other newspapers. Since it mentioned Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, it was surely brought to Joseph's attention. The story behind the article and the complete text of the two-part story are found in Leonard J. Arrington article, "James Gordon Bennett's 1831 Report on 'The Mormonites,'" BYU Studies, 10/3 (1970): 353-364. On p. 362, we see that Bennett claims that Dr. Samuel Mitchill mentioned Egyptian hieroglyphics and Champollion's decipherment to Harris:

Larry E. Morris in his excellent Documentary History of the Book of Mormon (relevant portion viewable on Google Books) is not sure that the mention of Champollion in Bennett's newspaper account came from the interviews or from Bennett's embellishment of the story (he suggests embellishment is more likely), for the notes from the interviews in Bennett's journal only mention Mitchill comparing the characters to hieroglyphics without mentioning Champollion. (The original newspaper story is document 1.13 in Morris, appearing on pp. 90-95, and is considered again on pp. 298-299, where Morris's comment on Champollion occurs.) So it may be that Mitchill had mentioned Champollion, or perhaps he merely mentioned hieroglyphics and then Bennett extrapolated with the addition of Champollion to the story. In either case, though, the Saints of 1831 cannot be viewed as ignorant of Champollion. Whether Martin had been told about Champollion by Harris, or the Saints first learned the name from this article, it seems there's little room to believe that they could have remained ignorant of the news after 1831, even if the only newspaper stories they ever looked at were the ones from their area talking about them.

The article, of course, treats knowledge of Champollion as old news that should be familiar to most people. If Joseph and his peers had not yet heard of him, surely they would start inquiring after this announcement, being relevant to the precious Book of Mormon.

Reprints of this story can be found in the Essex Gazette of Haverhill, Mass., Vol. V, No. 47, Nov. 19, 1831, under the title "History of Mormonism," available at Uncle Dale's Readings, and elsewhere (apparently including Ohio's Hillsborough Gazette, Oct. 29. 1831, shown at GospelLink.com).

[Update, Dec. 10, 2019: Also see the Vermont Gazette of Bennington, Vermont, Vol. II, No. 37, Sept. 13, 1831, also provided at Uncle Dale's Readings. That gives us newspaper coverage in at least New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Ohio.]

By the way, while my past posts and my article for The Interpreter provide a wide variety of sources from American soil in the early part of the nineteenth century dealing with Champollion and the Rosetta Stone, here are a couple others just as a reminder of the state of common knowledge in the States. First, Uncle Dale's Readings in Early Mormon History offers this excerpt from the Ohio-based Presbyterian newspapers, The Observer and Telegraph, Oct. 21, 1830:


It is well known that the Champolions have by wonderful perserverance and extensive research, unlocked the mysteries of the pyramids of Egypt, and disclosed the arcana of their interior, by decyphering the hieroglyphics which have perplexed the investigation of the learned for centuries, and thereby furnishing additional testimony to the truth of sacred history, and of the oppression of the ancient Israelites. The account of the investigations which led to the discovery of these hieroglyphics, has been lately translated from the French, by Professor Stewarts son, of Andover, and is illustrated by notes of the Professor. The work no doubt will much interest the curious, and particularly the biblical scholar. [emphasis added]
Of course, since Joseph and other early Saints spent some time in Pennsylvania, we may also with to inquire there. The Pittsburgh Recorder on April 26, 1825 published this note, also courtesy of Uncle Dales' Readings:


Discovery of very ancient Egyptian Archives, written several
ages before the Trojan war.

The learned are well acquainted with the important discoveries made by Young and Champollion in the art of decyphering the sacred writing of the Egyptians. The latter is still engaged in pursuing this most interesting object, as will appear from the following detail.... [emphasis added]

Or consider the open letter to Champollion published in Philadelphia's Atlantic Journal in 1832:

First Letter to Mr. Champollion, on the Graphic systems of America, and the
Glyphs of Otolum or Palenque, in Central America.
You have become celebrated by decyphering, at last, the glyphs and characters of the ancient Egyptians, which all your learned predecessors had deemed a riddle, and pronounced impossible to read. You first announced your discovery in a letter. I am going to follow your footsteps on another continent, and a theme equally obscure....
Here is another from New York, from Palmyra, Wayne County, a place with obvious connections to the early members of the Church, published simply as "Items," Nov. 4, 1829 in The Reflector, courtesy of Uncle Dales' Readings:
M. CHAMPOLLION -- in company with other learned Frenchmen, is now in Egypt investigating the various subjects of antiquity. It is reported that this gentleman reads hierogylphics with as much readiness as his native language. Much light will be thrown upon a dark period of ancient history.

What was well known in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York in the early 1830s was probably known also to the Latter-day Saints, and almost certainly would become known once the 1831 news story in New York linked the Book of Mormon characters to Champollion's discovery with hieroglyphics from Egypt.

Understanding that Champollion's story -- the headlines, not the technical details -- surely was known by key members of the Church by 1835 helps us better question the arguments that are repeatedly made about Joseph Smith thinking that Egyptian was a bizarre language where one character could contain vast treasures of information, enabling one character to become 200 words of text with names and other details all mysteriously embedded therein. It's time to recognize that the Saints, like their follow Americans,  did not experience Egyptomania without knowledge of the news that helped Egyptomania reach a fever pitch: Champollion was translating Egyptian, and those mysterious characters were often simply phonetic, making Egyptian a language just like the "reformed Egyptian" as described by Joseph and implied in the Book of Mormon itself -- a running language.

Friday, August 23, 2019

John Gee's Troubling Review of the Joseph Smith Papers Volume on the Book of Abraham

Update, Aug. 29, 2019: There has been an important and welcome update to John Gee's recent article, "The Joseph Smith Papers Project Stumbles," at The Interpreter that clarifies and to some degree softens some of the concerns he raised. This is a welcome sign of dialog occurring with the Joseph Smith Papers Project, as we learn in the editor's note announcing the revision:

 [Editor’s note: This review was edited by the author, after initial publication, to address multiple requests for clarification. In part, these clarifications came after a substantive conversation between the author and principal figures in the Joseph Smith Papers Project.]

I am elated that there was a substantial conversation between leaders of the JSPP and John Gee. I will note an important addition to Gee's comment that is cited below. Likewise, if my comments here, at The Interpreter, or in the two-part series just published at Meridian Magazine (Part One, "Friendly Fire," and Part Two, "The Twin Manuscripts") offer anything that they feel is unfair, unjustified, unkind, or utterly unfounded,  I would also welcome dialog and input so that I can make suitable corrections or statements to rectify the problem, an effort I undertook already prior to publication at The Interpreter. I do appreciate Robin Jensen informing me in comments on this blog of the errata page for this volume (which now notes that an upside-down document mentioned by Gee was printed upside down, but does not yet address any of the issues I have raised), and would welcome any further dialog to address their concerns regarding my reviews, as well as issues regarding possible ways to deal with apparent serious errors in the Book of Abraham volume. For the record, I welcome dialog.
"The Joseph Smith Papers Project Stumbles" is the title of a troubling new review at The Interpreter by John Gee on The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, eds. Robin Scott Jensen and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2018). A few weeks ago my review of the same work, "A Precious Resource with Some Gaps," was also published at The Interpreter.

One could summarize my review as, "Technically strong, very valuable, but rife with bias and errant assumptions in the commentary, footnotes, and dating." But now, in light of Gee's review, I have to admit to being wrong in my assessment, for even the basic technical aspects of JSPRT4 have some painful flaws as well, such as more errors in transcription than I found, a fundamental flaw in the order of documents presented that reflects bias rather than data, printing two a documents of Egyptian characters upside down, and many unfortunate errors involving Egyptian characters.

Today was the first time I saw Gee's response, and I was taken aback, especially by a statement made in the penultimate paragraph:
It is regretful that although The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints counts several faithful Egyptologists among its membership, the editors deliberately chose not to involve them in any serious way. [emphasis added]
Update, Aug. 29, 2019: A few important sentences have been added to John's statement that softens the original. The sentence quoted above is till there, but the addition that follows clarifies the matter significantly:

Anything the editors say about Egyptian language, papyri, or characters is beyond their skill and training. It is regrettable that although The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints counts several faithful Egyptologists among its membership, the editors deliberately chose not to involve them in any serious way. It is true that two of that number were given a month to peer review the volume and some of their suggestions were accepted, but no photographs were included in what was reviewed, nor did the Egyptologists see the appendix on the Egyptian characters. One might argue that this series is about nineteenth-century religious history, but this volume, in particular, is about early Latter-day Saint leaders’ involvement with Egyptian characters. The volume editors cannot adequately deal with early Latter-day Saints’ interaction with those characters without some understanding of those characters of their own.

In sum, this volume does not display the care one has come to expect from the Joseph Smith Papers Project. The editors may have followed the general guidelines of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, but the material in this volume is not like the other material in the series and would have benefited by adapting the guidelines to the nature of the material. While it is great to have good-quality images of the documents finally available to the public, the transcriptions and notes are often inadequate to the needs of the ongoing debates about the documents. One still needs to be extremely careful using the material. This means that other than legal access to the photographs, neither the serious researcher nor the lay person is in a better position than they were before the volume was published. As the online version will be updated to reflect new information, it may become, over time, the preferred version to use.

That's painful but may help explain some of the puzzling and unfortunate problems in JSPRT4. This may be a huge misunderstanding of some kind, but it seems more serious than just a glitch in communication.

There seems to be a serious problem here. Not just one of clashing personalities and disputes between academic peers, but of flaws in scholarship that may need correction. It was bad enough when I found that Hugh Nibley was completely excised, and that Dr. John Gee and Dr. Kerry Muhlenstein of BYU were barely recognized in the 1000+ footnotes and extensive commentary, when they have published much original, vital scholarship directly related to many core issues addressed in JSPRT4. But it is even more upsetting to now learn that some basic technical issues have serious flaws which could have been avoided if our BYU Egyptologists had been included from the beginning, when it seems that they were not. How can you deal with the Kirtland Egyptian Papers without tapping the knowledge of Egyptologists intimately familiar with the documents and the issues? Some of the gaps go beyond the minor embarrassment of getting a document or two upside down. Rather, the more serious problem, though an understandable one, is getting some documents "backwards" in terms of their relationship to the Book of Abraham, in addition to many other errors noted by Gee. An upside down photo is a minor annoyance that won't affect anyone's testimony or understanding, but getting the story of the documents backwards is a risk to be avoided. The bias in this volume is totally unacceptable, however it came about.

The photos are fabulous and the transcriptions for the most part seem carefully done to me, in spite of some understandable glitches, but the sequencing, the assigned dates, and the extensive commentary enforcing a particular framework for interpreting them, often show serious flaws that cry out for a  correction or at least an acknowledgement that there are other perspectives that other scholars have provided.

I don't think the many good people over the esteemed Joseph Smith Papers Project should just sit this one out and ignore Gee's complaint. There's a mess on our hands [here I refer to all of us who care about the Book of Abraham] that needs to be addressed. This is not about casting blame or faulting the editors for whatever perspectives they may have shared with many others that may have led to the oversights in this volume, though there is no pain-free way to deal with this. I'm comfortable assuming the flaws occurred in good faith, guided perhaps by personal confusion and perhaps by too much closeness to hostile critics of the Book of Abraham, resulting in an unjustified but socially acceptable bias against Nibley et al. and leading to an unfounded sense of confidence in the perspectives the editors developed over time. Assume good faith and normal human flaws, but recognize that we still have a genuine problem in need of correction. 

Correction? If the JSP Project is to maintain a high standard of academic trustworthiness, when serious academic missteps occur, what is needed is a careful correction of some kind. One step to be considered might be a revised commentary or a list of corrections provided on the JSP website.

I have seen no indication of any public response from the editors or from the Joseph Smith Papers group to the publication of my related paper a few weeks ago, and that's fine, but to have one of the most qualified experts on the JS Papyri and the Book of Abraham write such a review and state that he and other capable Egyptologists were left out of the process indicates that something very serious went wrong.  Some kind of response would be helpful as part of the quality control for the publication, in the interest of ensuring that what is published is accurate and fair. At the moment, it may not be.

Some people have had a crisis of faith over the issues created with this volume and the summaries made by the editors. Such crises can be addressed by pointing out the flaws and bias in the perspectives provided in this volume and providing the abundant "first aid" regarding those issues, including discussion of the many positives in the Book of Abraham story that are invisible in JSPRT4. But the basic flaws in this volume itself, no matter how sincerely they were made, should be viewed as something of a problem for the JSP Project, one that should be treated the way smart organizations handle major flaws that occur in their systems, services, or products: rather than silence and business as usual, admit the problem and address it with openness. Get John Gee and other scholars more fully involved to find ways to strengthen what is being offered to the world and the Church with this publication on a critical topic. Or we can ignore the issues Gee has raised and just hope nobody will notice. Maybe nobody will, but I don't think that's best for the Joseph Smith Papers Project. Is an online addendum a bad idea? Your thoughts?

There May Be Far More Earthlike Planets Than We Imagined

A Hubble photo of interacting galaxies from NASA.gov.
As one looks at the endless fog of stars dotting our galaxy and countless other galaxies, it's easy to believe that there must be other planets like ours out there. But is a planet like ours astonishingly rare, one that is similar in size and in a reasonable location relative to the star it orbits (not too far or too close), or are there just a handful of lucky candidates out there where we might have hope of finding life some day?

I was excited to see this headline at the BYU news section of BYU's website this week: "How many Earth-like planets exist in the universe?" Wonderfully, based on a new highly technical study just published by a team of scientists from Penn State with BYU's own Keir Ashby (Dept. of Physics and Astronomy), the answer has gone from "maybe a handful" to roughly 2.48 zillion. OK, that's my estimate, based on the actual finding that as many as 10% of stars roughly similar to our sun may have planets roughly similar to ours in terms of having a suitable size for life and suitable distance from their sun. See "Occurrence Rates of Planets orbiting FGK Stars: Combining Kepler DR25, Gaia DR2 and Bayesian Inference" by Danley C. Hsu et al., published July 9, 2019 at https://arxiv.org/pdf/1902.01417.pdf:
For planets with sizes 0.75−1.5 R⊕and orbital periods of 237-500 days, we find a rate of planets per FGK star of <0.27 (84.13th percentile). While the true rate of such planets could be lower by a factor of ∼2 (primarily due to potential contamination of planet candidates by false alarms), the upper limits on the occurrence rate of such planets are robust to ∼10%.
An FGK star, by the way, refers to stars of type F, G, or K, which I think are the classes believed to be suitable for sustaining a planet with life like ours (see "Stellar Classification" at Wikipedia).

In other words, the galaxy and presumably the universe may be teaming with planets where life could exist. Surely we are not alone. But wait, what about the Fermi Paradox? If there are so many opportunities for life to exist all over the galaxy, why haven't we heard a single peep from any other intelligent civilization from elsewhere in space? Surely there has been time for advanced civilizations to rise and spread throughout the galaxy -- how can there be such silence? A good discussion of this problem is offered by Seth Shostak for NBC News in "If space aliens are out there, why haven't we found them?" Some attempts at resolving the conundrum are found in the optimistic article, "Why Haven’t We Heard From All The Aliens? Because They’re All Dead!" at UniverseToday.com, which gently tries to remind us what an improbable miracle, or rather, coincidence, our planet is (cautiously avoiding, of course, any hint of intelligence in its remarkably ideal design). The suggestion is made that life might have evolved elsewhere, but rather than "life happened," it was soon "death happened" due to all the radical changes that can happen in climate, radiation, orbit, etc. Life is fragile, incredibly fragile, and it's one really awesome, gargantuan coincidence that all the right conditions just kept on happening one after another to keep this planet so ideal for life. So why haven't we heard from others in the galaxy?
The only possible explanations for this are that either life is far more rare than we think, or that we aren’t looking in the right places
But there's another possible explanation, while you're addressing all possible explanations. I think the perspective that our religion provides, coupled with cosmological speculation, may offer an interesting hypothesis. The unmentionable possibility here is that there is an intelligent species that pervades the cosmos, but chooses to let us live and be tested here on our own. If God is in charge and has many planets of His sons and daughters elsewhere, He may arrange for these planets of mortals to be in relative isolation from each other, and may ask that those who have moved past mortality (e.g., as resurrected beings) leave the mortals alone (with a few angelic exceptions) to protect our agency and keep conditions favorable for His purposes. The cosmos may be teaming with beings like us who are either in their mortal phase or have graduated (resurrected) into their eternal phases, and in both cases, alien contact with the primitives may be prevented.

Now that we can see a mind-boggling large number of planets may have conditions that could support life, I hope that all those opportunities aren't going to waste, and like the thought that there may be innumerable sites across the heavens where God's work and glory involving intelligent beings is taking place. I'm willing to bet that cosmos is rich with life with incredible, endless communities of knowledge, love, and wisdom waiting for us to join in their joy and excitement in the eternities ahead, all organized and subservient to the God of Gods and Lord of Lords, our Father and Creator.

In the Book of Moses, chapter 1, Moses saw that there are numerous planets with sons and daughters of God, but was told he would only be given information about our home here. God chooses to keep them veiled from us for now and perhaps visa versa. But how wonderful it will be when the restrictions are lifted one day and we can connect and learn from others who have been through related mortal journeys. The scriptures give us such wonderful things to look forward to, especially when combined with our minuscule but growing knowledge of just what a fabulous cosmos we are part of.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Making of a Myth: A Possible Explanation for the Mysterious Ignorance of Champollion (Among Scholars)

I've been puzzled several times by the mysterious ignorance of Champollion in the early nineteenth century -- not among ordinary Americans of that day, but among modern scholars writing about the Book of Abraham. While a review of newspapers and books in the 1830s to 1840s (and before) shows many references to the breakthroughs associated with the Rosetta Stone and Champollion's work to decipher it, and while the rise of Egyptomania in the 19th century was intimately associated with the fascination with Egyptian stimulated by news on the progress in deciphering Egyptian, some modern scholars discussing the Book of Abraham seem to feel that news about Champollion was only available to elite scholars, not ordinary people like, say settlers in Ohio in 1835. Their theories on the origin of the Book of Abraham as a product of Joseph's environment rely on Egyptomania without knowledge a key factor behind Egyptomania, the phonetic nature of Egyptian and the potential for its decipherment.

The theory that Joseph was translating as many as 200 words from a single simple character of mystic Egyptian is essential for typical critical narratives about the origins of the Book of Abraham, while some of us argue that Joseph's prior comments regarding the gold plates and the Book of Mormon's information on the nature of its written language systems (called reformed Egyptian by the time Mormon was writing) already would seem to rule our the ignorant belief that one character could give vast mountains of text when unlocked with priestly oracular gifts.

Examples of the puzzling view of "American Egyptomania without Champollion" from scholars within the Church are found in two volumes of the Joseph Smith papers, which tell us that knowledge of Champollion was not widely available in the US in the 1830s and 1840s, and in a recent lecture from Terryl Givens that tells us Joseph subscribed to the outdated 17th-century views of Kircher, wherein one character could convey a great deal of information. I discuss these in my recent paper at The Interpreter on the Joseph Smith Papers' volume on the Book of Abraham, a book that I consider to be a wonderful resource with some serious flaws. One example from the opening pages of the reviewed volume follows:
Even after Champollion's groundbreaking discoveries, though, some continued to assert competing theories about Egyptian hieroglyphs, whether they rejected Champollion's findings or were ignorant of them. Indeed, in America in the 1830s and 1840s, Champollion's findings were available to only a small group of scholars who either read them in French or gleaned them from a limited number of English translations or summaries.  (The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, ed. Robin Scott Jensen and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City, UT: Church Historian’s Press, 2018), Volume 4, p. xviii.)
If one looks at publications from that era, it's easy to see that knowledge about the story of Champollion and the Rosetta Stone was common across the US, not just reserved for elite scholars. So where did the idea of Egyptomania without knowledge of Champollion come from?

The source may be the one professor quoted most frequently in the Joseph Smith Papers volume on the Book of Abraham. Not Hugh Nibley, the most prolific and influential scholar to have tackled the many issues related to the documents and information in the Book of Abraham volume if the Joseph Smith Papers -- he is cited a total of zero times as if he and his ideas did not exist. Rather, the most visible and influential scholar based on citations in the Joseph Smith Papers volume on the Book of Abraham would be Dr. Robert K. Ritner, the hostile critic of Joseph Smith. His book, cited over 50 times in the JSP volume, is The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition, P. JS 1–4 and the Hypocephalus of Sheshonq (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2013); Kindle edition.  (The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Vol. 4, cites the 2011 version printed by the Smith-Pettit Foundation in Salt Lake City.)

In his introduction, Ritner writes:
Copying the texts with the assistance of select “scribes,” Smith quickly recognized several biblically-themed compositions within the papyri, eventually including the Book of Abraham (P. Joseph Smith 1), the record of Joseph of Egypt (P. Joseph Smith 2 and 3) and a tale of an Egyptian princess Katumin or Kah tou mun (P. Joseph Smith 4). Only the first of these translations was ever published, beginning in serialized excerpts during 1842, well before Jean François Champollion’s correct decipherment of Egyptian was generally known in America.3
His footnote #3 gives the evidence he cites to support the proposition that in 1842, new of Champollion's decipherment of Egyptian was not generally known in America. Let's take a look:
3.... Champollion’s discovery was reported in the United States in the New York Herald, December 28, 1842. For its potential restraint on Smith’s future translations, see Brodie 1945, pp. 291–92 (regarding the falsified “Kinderhook plates” supposedly found in an Indian mound). Smith noted in his journal that he “translated a portion” of the plates, which he thought recounted the history of a person buried in the mound, “a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” The translations of this hoax were not published.
He doesn't exactly say that this was the actual first announcement to the general public, but obviously he is implying that this 1842 publication somehow shows that Champollion's breakthrough was not generally known at that time.

I was quite surprised to read Ritner's claim and his supporting footnote, for it took only a few minutes of searching at Newspaper.com to find many interesting stores from the 1830s or earlier treating the Champollion story as if that were already common knowledge (an issue I explore much more fully in my article at The Interpreter). Something is wrong here. So let's take a look at the reference cited by Ritner. It must say something that convinced the grand scholar that Champollion was unknown before that story came out. Perhaps it mistakenly claims to be the first publication of the news out of some kind of editorial slip.

Fortunately, readers can see the source Ritner cites at the Chronicling America website:

Here is the text:
EGYPTIAN ANTIQUITIES. --- Mr. Glidden has commenced his course of lectures at Boston on the Antiquities of Egypt, and his introductory has received a pretty severe castigation from the hands of Mr. Tasistro, as our readers will perceive from the annexed article which we cut from the pages of the Boston Notion, of which Mr. T. is editor. Mr. Tasistro, we may remark, has travelled over the same ground, which Mr. Glidden attempts to describe, and his criticisms are therefore properly entitle to respect attention:--
The rising importance of the investigation of the hieroglyphical literature and inscriptions of the ancient Egyptians has been rapidly extending the interest in this subject, from being confined to the learned and curious throughout every rank of intellectual society. It has spread all over the continent of Europe, and now not only occupies a marked share of the attention of the studious inquirer and antiquary, but engages the active enterprise of scientific explanations and of many intelligent individuals of different nations.

Having ourselves traversed a considerable portion....
Curious indeed! For an article that supposedly shows that Americans in late 1842 still hadn't heard of Champollion, note that Champollion is introduced only with his last name -- as if no introduction were needed. And no introduction is given. This is not an announcement of Champollion's accomplishment or story, but news about criticism on a lecture given by a third party on the antiquities of Egypt. The background story of the Rosetta Stone and Champollion are assumed to be well known to the readers.

In other words, Ritner has completely misread this reference. It undermines his assertion. Other scholars appear to have accepted his pronouncement and have built upon it, adding such touches as the assertion that only a few French-reading elites might have been aware of Champollion's story -- just as only a few elite Ph.D.s in astrophysics today are aware that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

In Ritner's defense, I can see how the emphasis on Europe in the article might lead a casual reader to conclude that the explosion of knowledge of and interest in Champollion's work was a European thing only. But that misreading is unjustified. The critic being cited, Mr. Tasistro, may have been Louis Fitzgeral Tasistro, an Irishman who came to the US four or five years before this article was written. His great familiarity with widespread European interest in Champollion must not be interpreted as evidence against such interest or awareness in the States. Americans may not have been as intensely interested or as well informed as Europeans in general, but flame of American Egyptomania surely was not burning bright without the fuel of Champollion. The reference cited by Ritner simply does not support his claim and implicitly contradicts it.

Many myths have similar pedigrees. One elite scholar makes an unsupported assertion, and others assume that the elite one must be right and accept the pronouncement or embellish it a bit, and off we go. It's nice today that we often have easy access to many sources so that we can check and see for ourselves.

Update, Aug. 25, 2019: For further evidence regarding knowledge of Champollion among the early members of the Church, see my latest post: "Is There Direct Evidence that the Early Saints Had Heard of Champollion?," Aug. 25, 2019.