Sunday, March 9, 2014

Arabic Word Construction Validates Authenticity Of The Word "Mormon"

     A retired linguist/translator, who also happens to be a friend of mine, made an interesting discovery. I'd like to put his analysis out here for review.

     My friend notes that the word "Mormon" is first introduced in The Book of Mormon in a parenthesis (an explanation inserted by an author into his text). The parenthesis gives a meaning for the word "Mormon," so the Book of Mormon in other words is claiming that the word "Mormon" has a relevant meaning to the text and is not just a random name. Here's where it gets interesting. Only a fraction of the original Hebrew vocabulary survives (in the Old Testament) but Arabic has 1,300-year-old dictionaries with hundreds of thousands of terms and a meticulously documented grammar system. It is probably the most reliable language to be able to gloss out any supposed words of ancient H ebrew. Here's the explanation my friend gave me:

     The word mormon would break down into the root rmn and the pattern mo_ _o_. the root means the word "pomegranate." In Hebrew the word is rimmon and in Arabic it is rumman. There is no pattern mo__o_. We say the word rounding our lips for the first vowel but leaving the second o unrounded and unstressed. Arabic has only one rounded vowel and it also has a weakly stressed neutral vowel; the pattern would be mu_ _ i_. 
     There are 5,000 Arabic roots and about 1,300 frequently used patterns. With all the possible combinations, that would be 6,500,000 words. The fact is, most Arabic words are completely predictable to a speaker by knowing the root and the pattern. 
     Mu_ _ i _ is the verbal noun for the causative form of a simple verb (form IV masdar). That would combine with drs to create a words "causing to learn" or to "teach." With ktb it would mean "making someone write" or "dictate." But there is no word for "pomegraniting", the word with our three letters rmn. Sometimes the pattern mu_ _ i _ is used for a different purpose. A similar pattern is ma_ _ a _, which is the noun of the time and place. Combining drs with this pattern gives us madras a "study r oom." With ktb we get maktab an "office." This pattern has a feminine form ma_ _ a _at that is the noun of abundance. This pattern works on nouns formed from the root daaris "student" and kitaab "book." Just take the root letters out of these nouns and stick them into this pattern and you have the place where there are many of whatever the noun was. Thus madrasat is "a school, a place of many students" and maktabat is "a library, a place of many books." On occasion, our pattern mu _ _ i _ doubles as the noun of abundance. 
     Let's say you want a word for a pomegranate orchard. Just pull out the three consonants from the word rumman and stick them in the right pattern. The word marmanat does the trick. But, if you had two nouns with the same three letters, then the pattern mu_ _ i _ would be the backup. The root rmn forms no other simple nouns. 
     We need to look for more roots. There is one other possibility. Sometimes the n on the end of a word is a grammatical marker. That leaves us with a root rm. That is not an Arabic root. But there are weak roots that end in y and the weak letter drops off in some patterns. The threesome rmy is a legitimate root. It means "to throw a spear." IT has a noun ramiyyat which means "something you throw your spear a t, a hunted animal." 
     What if we wanted to form a noun of abundance for this noun. It is too close to the root rmn to use the same pattern. We would use the backup pattern mu_ _ i _ and the y would be replaced by a grammatical n ending. We would have murmin. 
     In Semitic languages, if you don't find a word in a dictionary, you compose your own word. You follow a system of roots and patterns. The word mormon, as we pronounce it, is the form of an Arabic word. That word has four distinct demands of meaning: 
1. It is a noun denoting a place
2. It refers to hunted animals
3. It denotes an abundance of those animals
4. It denotes a temporary condition or seasonality 
     This last requirement is because it is a form of the noun of time and place. For example, the root mTr "rain" combined with mu_ _i_ gives us mumTir a "rainy place" during "the rainy season." Both time factors and place factors apply together. 
     Arabic predicts four specific and distinct demands for the meaning of mormon. Lets see now what the parenthesis in the Book of Mormon itself says. It is in Mosiah 18:4: "…as many as did believe him did go forth to a place which was called Mormon, having received its name from the king, being in the borders of the land having been infested, by times or at seasons, by wild beasts." Joseph Smith uses the same term wild beasts for what Nephi slew with his bow. 

     If any Arabic scholars agree or disagree with this analysis, please explain.

     To help readers understand what was just said, here's a little Q&A I wrote up, based on my own understanding of the argument. 

How do you construct the word “murmin?”

     The pattern is mu_ _ i _, which is the verbal noun for the causative form of a simple verb (form IV masdar). There is a root, rmn, meaning “pomegranate,” however, that root does not make sense with our pattern. So the word “murmin” would instead be derived by combining our pattern mu_ _ i _ with the root rmy (meaning “to throw a spear”), since the y is a weak letter which drops off when combined with our pattern, and is replaced by a grammatical n (nunation).

Why is this significant?

     It is significant because the words "Mormon" and "murmin" each have very specific meanings, and those meanings match each other on every point. They are exact synonyms. Joseph Smith would have had no personal means available by which to identify that meaning.
Why Arabic?     

     The reason Arabic is significant here is that only a fraction of the Ancient Hebrew language has survived, which is the portion that was preserved in the Old Testament. As opposed to Ancient Hebrew, the closely related Arabic language has maintained a meticulously documented grammar system. 
     The Book of Mormon people who came across the ocean with Lehi spoke Ancient Hebrew. The word “Mormon,” then, would be an Ancient Hebrew word, and Arabic is the most reliable language to gloss out any supposed words of Ancient Hebrew.
What about the differences in spelling between “Mormon” and “murmin?”

     The differences in spelling are insignificant. The “u” and “o” are phonetic variants of each other in Semitic languages. We say “Mormon” rounding our lips for the first o but leaving the second o unrounded and unstressed, exactly how we round our lips for “murmin.” We don't necessarily pronounce the “mon” part of “Mormon” as “mahn,” but just as easily as “mihn,” thereby matching “murmin.”

Why wouldn't the word be in an Arabic dictionary?

     Over 6,000,000 words are possible in Arabic. The system of roots and patterns allows people to construct their own words, and that is exactly what the Book of Mormon claims happened with the word “Mormon.” The word was constructed by a king, which we will discuss momentarily.

How do the meanings of the words match?

     The word we have constructed, murmin, has four distinct demands of meaning in Arabic grammar: it is a noun denoting a place, it refers to hunted animals, it denotes an abundance of those animals, and it denotes a temporary condition or seasonality. The last requirement is because it is a form of the noun of time and place. For instance, the root mTr “rain” combined with mu_ _ i _  gives us mumTir – a “rainy place” during the “rainy season.” Both time factors and place factors apply together.
     The word “Mormon” is assigned this exact same meaning in the Book of Mormon:

…as many as did believe him did go forth to a place which was called Mormon, having received its name from the king, being in the borders of the land having been infested, by times or at seasons, by wild beasts (Mosiah 18:4).

     The definition of “Mormon” meets all the distinct demands of meaning for the word “murmin” in Arabic. This is not a common word that Joseph Smith would have found even if he had access to an Arabic dictionary, but a word which needs to be constructed by someone who is very familiar with Arabic grammar.
     Joseph Smith seemed unaware of the fact that the word “Mormon” is more than just a name but actually contains a meaning constructed to describe the place which bore its name. I say this because when given a chance to explain what Mormon means in the newspaper Times and Seasons (May 15, 1843), Joseph gave a delightful explanation for how the word means “more good.” At the time, he was making a larger point about how the Church was good, but that incident highlights the fact that the authenticity of the word was hidden by a wall of 6,500,000 possible Arabic words and a spelling in English which covered up the Arabic pattern.
     This is an example of hidden evidence which has now come to light.
     If one believes Joseph Smith did not translate the Gold Plates, their challenge would be to explain this word and how it got into the Book of Mormon accompanied by a description of its exact meaning.
     If my friend is mistaken in his analysis, I’d be interested in hearing alternative explanations for what the pattern mu_ _ i _ means, what the root rmy means, and what word we end up with when the root and pattern are combined.
     Alternatively, if my friend is correct, then how can this be explained by anyone as anything other than evidence of authenticity?


  1. This is an interesting article, and a fun hypothesis. Here are my thoughts:

    1. The name Mormon (and how it is translated in the modern Arabic Book of Mormon) seems to be murmoun, not murmin or murmiin. These three are very different in Arabic or Hebrew and the English spelling would reflect this. (Marmoun—along the pattern of maKTouB or ma7BouB—would make more sense, actually, as a passive participle meaning "RMN'ed." RMN doesn't have anything to do with the proposed meaning of Mormon, but neither does RMY.)

    2. In modern Arabic, places are denoted by "ma__a_" (called "maF3aL" in Arabic grammar) while "muF3iL" (e.g. Muslim) is the active participle of the Form IV verb "'iF3aLa." So "Murmin" (not Murmiin or Murmun or Murmoun, it matters) would mean "iRMaN-er" or "iRMii-er" This isn't a standard pattern for Arabic personal names and certainly not for place names. (And the example given, mumtir, doesn't support any connection with places infested by hunted animals.)
    I don't know if classical Arabic used that pattern for places referring to hunted animals, but "mumtir" means "weeping" and not "rainy place;" "rainy" is "mamtour" or "mumattir." But in any case, when I say "classical Arabic" I do not mean "ancient." The Arabic language has had a meticulously documented grammar system since *the sixth century A.D.* There was no Arabic in Book of Mormon times and these precise grammatical patterns surely did not exist in the ancient Palestinian languages. Arabic is the closest living relative to Hebrew, but such fine grammatical nuances are quite unique to Arabic and would not be shared with Ancient Hebrew or especially a language four hundred years descended from it.

    This article challenges its perceived opponents "to explain this word and how it got into the Book of Mormon accompanied by a description of its exact meaning." By "this word" it is referring to "Murmin" and not "Mormon;" by "a description of its exact meaning" it means a Book of Mormon reference to wild beasts while the muF3iL pattern exists in Arabic as a form IV active participle. I'm not convinced. (Just because I don't like the proposed etymology does not mean I believe Joseph Smith did not translate the Gold Plates.)

    It is an interesting observation, and possibly a legitimate connection, that Arabic and (so I hear) Ancient Egyptian both have the prefix m- to denote places, without a specific connection to internal vowels or precise meanings. Sure, that makes sense.

    1. Thank you so much for taking time to reply. I hope you don't mind two follow-up questions.

      1- does "rmy" mean "to throw a spear" as my friend suggested?

      2- what is the meaning of the pattern "mu_ _ i _" and what word would we get when combining this pattern with the rmy root? What would that word mean?

      Again, thank you. I hope you have time to address these little follow-up questions (my friend is currently serving a mission with his wife, so I am unable to contact him for his input, however I believe he played a role in translating the Book of Mormon into Arabic).

  2. Through the medium of your paper I wish to correct an error among men that profess to be learned, liberal and wise; and I do it the more cheerfully because I hope sober‑thinking and sound‑reasoning people will sooner listen to the voice of truth than be led astray by the vain pretensions of the self‑wise. The error I speak of is the definition of the word 'Mormon.' It has been stated that this word was derived from the Greek word mormo. This is not the case. There was no Greek or Latin upon the plates from which I, through the grace of the Lord, translated the Book of Mormon. The word Mormon, means literally, more good.
    Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:399‑400

    1. Ed, here's an excerpt from wikipedia:

      Whether Smith was the actual author of this passage is uncertain. Official LDS Church historian B. H. Roberts removed the quote from his History of the Church compilation, saying he found evidence that W. W. Phelps wrote that paragraph and that it was "based on inaccurate premises and was offensively pedantic."

    2. Joseph Smith himself was incorrect in his assertion that there is no Greek on the plates. The book of mormon contains the phrase "Alpha and Omega" which are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, basically our A and Z in English. Oh, and there is the French word "adieu" as well.

    3. You will also have to note that the plates had no english but that the whole book was translated into English with the exception of the few words mentions (Alpha, Omega, Adeiu). Joseph Smith would have been familiar with all of these words and as he translated, would have chosen words familiar to himself and those around him to portray the message in the plates. Most possibly, the plates just contained a phase that for all intents and purposes meant the beginning and the end and because Joseph was familiar with the scriptures the phrase Alpha and Omega is understood by English people to mean the beginning and the end.

  3. Interesting article. There is a city called Moroni in Comoros. Located off of coast of Africa with Arabic roots.