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Saturday, May 06, 2017

Linguist John S. Robertson Reviews Brian Stubbs' Work on Uto-Aztecan Languages and the Evidence for Old World Influence

"Exploring Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan Languages" by Dr. John S. Robertson was just published in the Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture. This is a review of Stubbs' recent highly technical work, Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan (Provo, UT: Grover Publications, 2015), a tome with 436 large pages packed with details. You may recall that I've discussed this book and Stubbs' less technical book for LDS audiences on ancient languages in the Book of Mormon (my comments began with an overview called "Bigger Than Nahom?" and then details of the evidence were discussed in Part 1Part 2, and Part 3), and was quite impressed with the rigor and abundance of links found through use of the comparative method in linguistics. I dare say that Robertson seems to hold a similar view. After reviewing many aspects of Stubbs' work, he offers this simple conclusion:
As a practitioner of the comparative historical method for 40+ years, I believe I can say what Stubbs’s scholarship does and does not deserve: It does not deserve aprioristic dismissal given the extensive data he presents. It does deserve authoritative consideration because, from my point of view, I cannot find an easy way to challenge the breadth and depth of the data.
I would welcome thoughts from those who actually take a look at Robertson's article.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would welcome thoughts from those who actually take a look at Robertson's article.

With all due respect, I'll pass on Robertson's review of Exploring Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan Languages, though of course I would be happy to read what a non-LDS linguist has to say about the book in a secular scholarly journal.

-- OK

mormonchess said...

"With all due respect, I'll pass on Robertson's review of Exploring Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan Languages, though of course I would be happy to read what a non-LDS linguist has to say about the book in a secular scholarly journal. "

Yeah. Same old dismissive attitude.

Zera BP said...

"With all due respect"

Why is it this phrase is almost always followed by something completely disrespectful?

Benjamin said...

Agreed. The fact that the person is so dismissive says that they don't actually care about the scholarly content at all. While I can see some degree of skepticism based on an assumed bias, that hold little water if it goes completely unread.

Anonymous said...

Zera BP, I like to think I'm using the phrase With all due respect quite precisely. By declining to read the review, I'm according it precisely the amount of respect it is due.

Mormonchess, feel free to read the review and report back if you wish. But please note that if you don't read it, you're effectively dismissing it just as much as I am.

-- OK

Zera BP said...

@Orbiting
So scholars who are LDS despite often being top experts in their field like Stubbs and Robertson should be afforded less respect than lesser scholars simply because they are LDS? That is most certainly far less respect than they are due and have earned.

So no you are not giving them the respect they are due, considering their mastery of their fields. They most certainly should be afforded far more respect than you, who has done nothing but haunt Jeff's blog for years with the most disrespectful and intellectually dishonest arguments and snide asides on here, are due.

Everything Before Us said...

Zera

What Orbiting is saying is that LDS scholars need to have their work peer-reviewed by competent authorities in their respective disciplines in order to have their work taken seriously. He is not saying he respects LDS scholars less simply because they are LDS. He respects them less when they do not submit their work before peer-review, as is the practice in academia for any scholars that wish to be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

Exactly, ETBU.

Zera BP --- I would add that I expressed no opinion whatsoever, respectful or otherwise, about John S. Robinson as a man and scholar. I quite explicitly said I was according his review the respect it was due.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

OK, Part of the reason people are upset with you is that you explicitly said you would be happy to look at a non-lds scholar's commentary. If your only beef is a lack of peer review, then it shouldn't matter whether the article is written by an lds scholar or not. So the question is, would you be happy to read Robinson's article if it were in a peer reviewed journal? Because that's not what you said

Everything Before Us said...

Anon 10:08.

Nope. Orbiting said he'd be happy to look at a non-lds scholar's commentary IN A SECULAR SCHOLARLY JOURNAL. It's about the peer review process. It is about taking this LDS research out into the field where objective minds can look at it and see if it passes muster.

LDS scholars generally do not do this. They keep their light hidden under a bushel, because they know their light can't hold up to scrutiny.

Darren said...

"Anonymous said...
I would welcome thoughts from those who actually take a look at Robertson's article.

With all due respect, I'll pass on Robertson's review of Exploring Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan Languages, though of course I would be happy to read what a non-LDS linguist has to say about the book in a secular scholarly journal. "

LAME! Dismissing an article because of a man's religion? Good grief.

Darren said...

What I liked about the article is that Roberston detailed much of Stubb's qualifications as a linguist to do the work he's done. This is important because Stubbs is pioneering new ground in the linguistic community.

"There is backstory to all this, however. Stubbs’s earliest interests and training became a lifelong passion. His undergraduate BA from Brigham Young University emphasized Semitic languages, where he took courses in Hebrew, Arabic, and Egyptian. Then, at the University of Utah, he began graduate school, working toward a PhD (ABD), taking courses in Semitic (Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic). However, his Semitic coursework brought him to courses in linguistics, which captivated him. He changed majors and went on to earn an MA in Linguistics, specializing in Uto-Aztecan (UA) at the feet of Wick Miller and others whose program was at the time the principal center for UA studies. It was the fortuitous connection of his expertise in UA with Semitic, both firmly ensconced in his head, which led him to see ever more correlations between the two.

As he began his scholastic career, his presentations and publications emphasized UA, with little mention of the New-Old World connections. More recently, however, he began to include his Near Eastern insights, but in 2015 he published his crowning work, Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan.5"

Indeed, Brian Stubbs has been at the forefront in the reconstruction of the uto Aztecan language.

I also like Richardson's initial apprehension regarding Stubb's proposals 30 years ago in which Stubbs claimed to have identified pattered cognates between the Uto Aztecan language and ancient Semitic languages. And, as a conclusion, Richardson puts his how PhD credentials on the line by saying, "I cannot find an easy way to challenge the breadth and depth of the data." All it takes from here is to "easily dismiss" Stubb's arguments and Richardson's credentials would take a hit. But, like Richardson, I find Stubbs as having created a very strong argument in favor of the existence of ancient semitic languages in the Uto Aztecan language family.

Anonymous said...

EBU, you're right that he asked for a secular scholarly journal, but the fact remains that he specified non-lds. I have no problem with him asking for peer review- I agree that peer review should happen. All I'm asking is that he concede if it were an lds scholar in a secular journal, he would take it just as seriously as a non-lds scholar. Because right now his statement says he would only look at non-lds scholars in a secular journal, implying that he would dismiss lds scholars no matter where they were published.

Darren said...

"What Orbiting is saying is that LDS scholars need to have their work peer-reviewed by competent authorities in their respective disciplines in order to have their work taken seriously. He is not saying he respects LDS scholars less simply because they are LDS. He respects them less when they do not submit their work before peer-review, as is the practice in academia for any scholars that wish to be taken seriously."

It's difficult to find the source but I do believe Stubbs has submitted his work for peer review. It think it was to about 12 linguistic PhDs and none have written a negative comment.

Jason Robertson said...

John Robertson is a highly regarded Harvard educated linguist. The purpose of his review was to encourage others in the field to look more closely and to take seriously Stubb's proposal. It is an interesting theory and it does deserve critical attention. Stubbs has submitted his work for peer review a few years ago and is waiting for other scholars to give it serious attention. It sounds like Robertson wrote this review to help lend his credentials and influence to help push that process along. Robertson isn't saying his theory is correct or not only that it is compelling and should be given serious critical study by other scholars. He gives a few compelling examples of Stubbs work that solves some decades long linguistic problems UA scholars have been struggling with as to why some of the UA languages evolved differently than others and how a Semitic infusion into the language at some point in history answers these lingering mysteries.

Anonymous said...

Hi all --- there still seems to be some confusion about my initial comment.

I said I'd be "happy to read what a non-LDS linguist has to say about the book in a secular scholarly journal." Notice I said nothing about peer review, for the simple reason that book reviews in academic journals are generally not peer-reviewed. Peer-review is for articles and books describing original research, not for book reviews.

To repeat: what I'd like to read is a review, written by a non-LDS linguist, in a secular scholarly journal. And this is perfectly reasonable, even the "non-LDS" part.

Darren, I will not "concede [that] if it were an lds scholar in a secular journal, [I] would take it just as seriously as a non-lds scholar."

No, I would not take the LDS scholar as seriously as a non-LDS scholar.

To see why not, let's switch from Mormonism to Scientology.

Imagine a book that supported one of the core "truths" of Scientology---let's say, about radioactivity in some volcano somewhere that supposedly bore out the historicity of the great god Xenu. Imagine that this book was written by a Scientologist who was also a competent volcanologist with a Ph.D. in that field. Suppose further that, for some reason, the book was not peer-reviewed. Instead of being published by a secular scholarly press, it was released by a very obscure publisher whom no one else in the field had ever heard of but who also happened to be a Scientologist.

You'd probably have your doubts about this book, no? My guess is you'd probably not consider it even worth reading. Imagine further that the book was then reviewed, by another Scientologist, in a journal owned and edited by Scientologists. Even if the reviewer had a Ph.D. in geology, you'd probably still be unimpressed.

You'd probably be wondering, Why is it that every single person involved with the writing, vetting, and publishing of this book is a Scientologist?

My guess is that, if the religion involved were Scientology instead of Mormonism, you would find the religion of the reviewer just as big an issue as I would. And not because there's necessarily anything wrong with being a Scientologist, merely because you'd be more impressed by a reviewer without such an obvious vested interest. That's not "anti-Scientologism," it's just common sense.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

Not common sense... It's a fallacy

Ad hominem (Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"[1]), short for argumentum ad hominem, is now usually understood as a logical fallacy in which an argument is rebutted by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, or persons associated with the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.[2]

Everything Before Us said...

Apparently Anon 7:18 would be very persuaded by a review of a Scientologist's book that appears in a Scientologist's journal written by a Scientologist.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:18, ad hominem only occurs when the personal attribute is not plausibly related to the matter at issue.

If I counter someone's argument about chaos theory by pointing out that the person is gay, that's ad hominem. If someone demands that a judge recuse herself from a case involving her husband, it's not ad hominem, just common sense.

Sure, it's possible that a wife could fairly judge her own husband's case, but history teaches us the odds are not good because people find it hard to be objective about close relatives. And even if the judgment were fair, it would be less credible with the public than a judgment by a non-relative. It's actually better for all concerned if the judgment is made by someone without any conflicting interest.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

It's true that someone with an agenda is not the most objective, but he still can publish true facts. You are so objective...and I don't see any comments about the truthfulness of the paper.

Quoting the same source:

"However, in some cases, ad hominem attacks can be non-fallacious; i.e., if the attack on the character of the person is directly tackling the argument itself. For example, if the truth of the argument relies on the truthfulness of the person making the argument—rather than known facts—then pointing out that the person has previously lied is not a fallacious argument."

Anonymous said...

Those of us who are not professional linguists must rely on others who are academically trained to review and analyze the information presented. I am no more qualified to analyze a serious linguistic academic paper than I am to analyze the clinical findings of the influence of specific DNA nucleotides in disease resistance in bonobos. I can rely on the opinions and interpretations of others, but if the conclusions are drawn by someone with a vested interest in the outcome, those conclusions are immediately suspect. If I'm trying to prove cold fusion is possible, I may want my findings reviewed by someone outside of the University of Utah physics department.

Darren said...

"Imagine a book that supported one of the core "truths" of Scientology---let's say, about radioactivity in some volcano somewhere that supposedly bore out the historicity of the great god Xenu. Imagine that this book was written by a Scientologist who was also a competent volcanologist with a Ph.D. in that field. Suppose further that, for some reason, the book was not peer-reviewed. Instead of being published by a secular scholarly press, it was released by a very obscure publisher whom no one else in the field had ever heard of but who also happened to be a Scientologist.

You'd probably have your doubts about this book, no? My guess is you'd probably not consider it even worth reading. Imagine further that the book was then reviewed, by another Scientologist, in a journal owned and edited by Scientologists. Even if the reviewer had a Ph.D. in geology, you'd probably still be unimpressed."

If I wanted to find out what the original work purported then I'd read the original work. And, yes, I'd be interested if its a topic of interest for me, which linguistics is, as well as theology so purporting evidence of Xenu would interest me as well, and then whatever critique offered by reviewers. I do not think I'd disregard the work due to anyone's religion.

Jonathan A. Cavender said...

Cut OK some slack. He is a zealous disciple of the Church led by those wearing "the black robes of the false Priesthood" (to steal from Nibley). He worships this religion so completely that, like a fish unaware of water, he doesn't even acknowledge it as his religion.

Instead of condemning him, we should aspire to follow our true Priesthood leaders with as much exactness as he follows his false ones. Of course, OK would condemn us for that ('Sheeple, unwilling to take a position until you hear what the Prophet says on the subject and then the thinking is done!' - not recognizing the irony that he is unwilling to take a position until his black-robed prophets have spoken from their tower of academia, and then for him the thinking has been done), but let's take from him his example of religious zeal and direct it towards better ends.

Jason Robertson said...

I also tend to not give much weight to the opinions of any anonymous individual on the internet who only goes by their initials.

Everything Before Us said...

Instead of condemning him, we should aspire to follow our true Priesthood leaders with as much exactness as he follows his false ones.

Yes...follow those Priesthood leaders. Like when they say that Adam is God the Father...follow them. When they come to you to ask for your 17-year old daughter, follow them. When they say that a black man and a white women who intermix should be put to death on the spot...follow them.

Follow those true Priesthood leaders to where ever they will lead you. It's so easy to follow the Brethren now that they are so lawyered up they wouldn't dare to show you what your religion really was from its inception.

C T said...

I read it. It's a helpful review, summarizing the shifts that Stubbs thinks happened during the transformation of words from Semitic languages into Uto-Aztecan. The shifts Robertson mentions are not odd ones, as anyone who has taken a linguistics class would probably recognize.
For instance, this shift--Semitic b, d, g > UA p, t, k;12 also Semitic q > k (Read: Semitic b, d, g go to UA p, t, k)--happens all the time in modern languages (Polish is a good example). Touch your throat and say "b," then say "p." The same thing is happening in the mouth for both sounds, but the "b" involves vibration of the voice box. We call that a "voiced" consonant. The "p" is its devoiced twin. Same for d-t and g-k.
I think the number of correspondences Stubbs found is impressive. I would like to next see how many non-correspondences there are and have him assign a ratio of how many correspondences he found to how many non-correspondences there are. Next I would like him to compare the ratio to that of other languages together with known, non-controversial precursor languages (Latin to French, etc.) and influential languages (French to English, etc.). It might then be possible with standard statistical methods to establish whether the ratio of Semitic/UA correspondences is 1) coincidental, 2) a likely result of influence, or 3) a likely result of origin.

Anonymous said...

And 26 comments in, we finally get something constructive. Thanks, CT! That is a good idea! I'd like to see something like that too.

Anonymous said...

CT writes that the number of correspondences Stubbs found is impressive. I would like to next see how many non-correspondences there are and have him assign a ratio of how many correspondences he found to how many non-correspondences there are. Next I would like him to compare the ratio to that of other languages together with known, non-controversial precursor languages (Latin to French, etc.) and influential languages (French to English, etc.)....

Given the tremendous differences in the histories of the languages involved, such comparisons would probably be meaningless. At least it seems so to me. In any event, what really needs to happen is that the people who really understand this stuff need to be reviewing and evaluating Stubbs's data and methodology. Which means Stubbs needs to get his work out there in front of the larger linguistics community by way of legitimate scholarly publication and peer review.

So many commenters here treat me as if I'm demanding something unreasonable when in fact what I'm asking for is not only reasonable but absolutely necessary if we are to get to the truth. Plenty of other Mormons agree with me on the need for peer review, scrupulous attention to methodology, and the dangers of pushing falsehoods in the interest of promoting the Church. Among those "other Mormons" would be the folks at BYU and the Maxwell Institute who decided to distance themselves from the embarrassments of FAIR and The Interpreter.

Now if everyone will excuse me, I've got to finish ironing my black robes of the false priesthood. Big night ahead! It's been a long time since I've drunk the blood of a fresh-killed infant, and, evil being that I am, I'm really looking forward to it.

-- OK

C T said...

For those wanting to learn more about what I mentioned above, wikipedia has some decent summaries on comparative linguistics to get you started. One of the things that linguists do is work to determine which languages appear to be related and how. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative_linguistics, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_linguistics) More powerful computers have facilitated newer methods of comparison of languages in the past few decades. It's easier now to determine the level of similarity between the vocabularies of different languages (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lexical_similarity) and to use those similarities to ferret out relations between languages (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_comparison). Methods of determining relatedness are still being debated by academics, for it's a very important part of the field of linguistics. Here are a couple of helpful little videos on vocabulary similarities: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiWtvCBF6H8, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hgt0yLkHGxU And here's a video that's interesting (Aztec, Maya, Uto-Aztec, etc.): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oXwlvjld_o (Even more interesting after watching the end of this last video is finding out that Semitic languages historically had a VSO structure: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semitic_languages#Word_order)
Have fun going down the linguistics rabbit hole! (It really is fun, but you'll feel like a nerd.)

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know more about Stubbs' work with Algonquin languages, but he hasn't published it yet. Why the emphasis on Uto-Aztecan but not Algonquin?

Darren said...

CT;

The Uto Aztecan, Aztecan, .mayan language video was really cool.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oXwlvjld_o

Jason Robertson said...

Stubbs is a UA scholar not an Algonquin scholar. They are different language families.