Friday, January 15, 2010

A Simple, Modern Example of Reformed Egyptian

The idea of "Reformed Egyptian" in the Book of Mormon is something that critics have lampooned and rejected out of hand from the earliest years of the Church. However, the evolution of Japanese as a written language is a fascinating example of something similar. It easily can be classified as "Reformed Chinese".

Without going into long and academic details, what is most interesting to me is that spoken Chinese and spoken Japanese are as different from each other as they are from English. They literally did not originate from the same root language. Also, while many of the modern Japanese characters that originated from the Chinese are still identical to the original, many of them have been simplified so much over the centuries that many Chinese wouldn't recognize them anymore in isolation, out of written context. When you add the two alphabetic systems in Japanese that do not exist in Chinese (one of which designates conjugation forms, articles, punctuation, etc. and the other of which spells foreign words), you end up with something very similar to what I envision with Reformed Egyptian.

To me, Reformed Egyptian simply isn't a legitimate reason to dismiss the Book of Mormon. If anything, the example of Japanese (of which details Joseph Smith was unaware) actually makes references to "Reformed Egyptian" a strength of the book.


Anonymous said...

You make a good point. I guess the only real difference is that Japanese continues to exist while reformed Egyptian has disappeared as far as we know.

Steve said...

This is a great example of how something can be a "reformed" language. I served in Japan and can attest to how the Japanese language integrates things from a whole bunch of other languages (not just Chinese). For example, the Japanese word for "bread" is "pan" which is the same as the Spanish word for bread. And yet, the Japanese language is distinct and unique.

Many of the foreign words integrated into the Japanese language have also been reformed. They are pronounced differently. These pronunciation changes are to make saying the words easier for the native Japanese speakers. It is a cliche, but the Japanese people have a very hard time pronouncing the letter "L." This is because there is no letter L in their language. Therefore their mouths are not trained from childhood to make the sound of the letter L. Sometimes the pronunciation is so different that it is hard to recognize the word that was taken from your own language. For example, there is quite an extensive chain of McDonald's in Japan. In Japanese, they pronounce it "makudonarudo". Native speakers know what you are talking about, but it has been so reformed that English speakers don't understand it at first.

Sorry for the long, boring comment.

Papa D said...

Steve, I have used that exact example (McDonalds) when talking of how foreign words are adapted into Japanese. Two other examples:

"Konne" = interpersonal/political connections (The entire word from English simply was too hard to say for most Japanese, so the abbreviated form became the norm.)

"Terebi" = television (same reason as "konne")

I still remember the first time a native speaker used each of those words in a sentence - and I understood every word EXCEPT the "English" one. It blew their minds.