Sunday, September 25, 2011

Water Fight on the River - Round Seven

7. Question. Did the Nephites and the Lamanites speak the same language? See the article "Asking the Right Questions" in this blog.

7. Answer. Yes. The Nephites and the Lamanites spoke a very similar language - similar enough that they had no difficulty understanding each other.
7. Exhibits. We will start with a brief synopsis of cultures and languages according to current Mesoamerican linguistic scholarship. Note that the language spoken at Teotihuacan is still indeterminate.
Mesoamerican culture, language relationships.
Language isolates (small pockets of Oto-Manguean speakers among the Mixe-Zoque) exist as do cultural isolates (The very Mayan Cacaxtla in Tlaxcala). In general, however, current scholarship believes the Olmec spoke Mixe-Zoquean and the regional variant Chiapa de Corzo spoke the closely related Zoque, ancestor tongue of the Zoque spoken today in certain barrios in Tuxtla Gutierrez. Early proto-Mayan may have branched from Mixe-Zoquean, it may be an independent language family, or they both may have roots in a very ancient language family called Macromayan. In any event, by Nephite times (Mesoamerican pre-classic) Mayan and Mixe-Zoquean were very different languages. The following language map shows the approximate distribution of native American languages in Mesoamerica at the time of European contact. The data comes from R. Longacre Handbook of Middle American Indians, Vol. 5 Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967, updated by Lyle Campbell (1988), Nicholas Hopkins & Kathryn Josserand (2005). Note  that the Mayan/Mixe-Zoquean boundary was roughly the Mezcalapa-Grijalva river, while the Usumacinta flowed through lands that spoke almost totally Mayan.
Mesoamerican language distribution at time of European contact.
Another view of the Mayan area, also from Hopkins and Josserand. Again, note that the Usumacinta basin is almost completely Mayan-speaking while the Mezcalapa-Grijalva basin is largely non-Mayan. There was a general westward expansion of the Mayan language in Book of Mormon (Mesoamerican pre-classic) and post-Book of Mormon (Mesoamerican classic) times.
Language map, Mayan area.
7. Conclusion. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva is generally recognized as a significant boundary between Mayan and non-Mayan (Mixe-Zoquean, Oto Manguean) language families. Certainly in early Book of Mormon times (prior to 400 BC), the area around Chiapa de Corzo (upper Mezcalapa-Grijalva) was Zoque both culturally and linguistically. See the article "Chiapa de Corzo: Rise of a Zoque Capital in the Heart of Mesoamerica" by BYU's Bruce Bachand in Popular Archaeology, Vol. 3, June 2011. See also the article entitled "Linguistic Littorals" in this blog. Highland Guatemala, in contrast, was very much in the Maya orbit during most of the Nephite era and certainly during the period of intense Nephite/Lamanite interaction following the reign of Mosiah II. Since the Usumacinta basin was predominantly Mayan-speaking while the Mezcalapa-Grijalva was at least on the border if not predominantly non-Mayan, the Usumacinta fits the scenario described in the Book of Mormon text better than the Mezcalapa-Grijalva. Advantage Usumacinta.
7. Running Score. Mezcalapa-Grijalva 0. Usumacinta 7.