Reformed Egyptian

1:2 “the language of the Egyptians”

I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.

That sounds to me like Lehi wrote in Hebrew style, but in the Egyptian language – well, some kind of Egyptian language. Obviously Lehi would be fluent in Hebrew, but why would he speak or at least know how to write in Egyptian?

“We don’t know what Lehi’s occupation was, but since he was conversant in the Egyptian language and he seemed some-what familiar with the ways of the desert, it is logical to assume that he had some occupation or some previous experiences that utilized both skills.”

H. Donl Peterson, “Father Lehi,” in First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1988), 55–66.

Okay, so I guess Lehi probably did work that was facilitated by a knowledge of the Egyptian language. I looked up in some commentaries to see what Judah’s relationship to Egypt was like at the time, and here’s what I found. I would summarize, but it would take me more words to say what they did:

1Nephi 1:1–3 . The Book of Mormon Language

In Mormon 9:32–33 , Moroni indicates that the plates were written in reformed Egyptian that had been altered by the Nephites according to their manner of speech. Some scholars believe that reformed Egyptian was a type of shorthand. Moroni explains that if the plates had been larger they would have been written in Hebrew, and then the record would have been without imperfections (see v.33 ). This suggests that reformed Egyptian must not have been as precise and accurate as Hebrew, and it must have required less space to write reformed Egyptian than to write Hebrew. Knowing this gives us a greater appreciation of how efficient the reformed Egyptian language must have been.

The Hebrew language is very compact when compared to English and many other western languages. A typical English sentence of fifteen words will often translate into seven to ten Hebrew words. We have no indication of the size of the characters Mormon and Moroni used, but if they rejected Hebrew because the plates were not “sufficiently large” ( v.33 ), then reformed Egyptian must have been a language remarkable for its ability to convey a lot of information with few words.

Book of Mormon Student Manual Chapter 2 – 1 Nephi 1 – 5

The language seems to have had some changes over the course of the thousand years that the Book of Mormon covers. The native Nephite language was Hebrew, which was also altered over time by the Nephites. The Book of Mormon was written in reformed Egyptian because the Hebrew characters are too large. See verse 33.

Also, See footnotes to the Title page for possible reasons for the record to be engraved on gold (rather than some other substance), though it is not certain whether the plates were made of gold, or just a gold-colored metal. Here are the verses mentioned in the last quote:

Mormon 9:32-34

32 And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.

33 And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record.

34 But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof.

Don’t ask me why this is so interesting, but I think it is. Not only did they write in an obscure language, but they wrote in a language that no one understands by now. Wouldn’t that be cool to write in a language NO ONE can read without God’s help?

Maybe I’ll start keeping my journal in a language no one can read…

Wait, with my handwriting I guess it kind of already is.

Just kidding. I went digital a few years ago and I’ll never go back! But I could print it in Wingdings.

Nah…

A Musical Language: Speaking through Music

Here’s a crazy idea – though it’s not exactly a whim, since I’ve had the idea floating around in my head for about eight years now. I’ve always been fascinated with the capacity music has to communicate feelings and convey messages in a way that is often more powerful and effective than written or verbal communication. What if we were to come up with a language that was spoken through music? A system that actually uses notes to communicate detailed information. It would have to be detailed enough that someone could translate the Bible into the language, and yet simple enough that it wouldn’t take years of training to get it. Not a code, exactly, but something between a code and a language.

In a sense, what I’d like to see is someone pipe a tune, and someone else understand the detailed message.

Some ideas have been explored along these lines. Probably the biggest is Solresol, invented by François Sudre in the 1800s, which is simply a language that uses words spelled with different combinations of notes in the basic piano scale. It has its own dictionary and grammar, too.

But I would like to see a language that is more than a code that uses notes for letters. Ultimately, the ending product has to be both beautiful music and a clear message. It has to be as artistic and aesthetically pleasing as it it literary.

While we’re at it, let’s go ahead and make its written form as beautiful artistically as its sound is musically. So in other words, Continue reading

A Musical Language: Speaking through Music

Here’s a crazy idea – though it’s not exactly a whim, since I’ve had the idea floating around in my head for about eight years now. I’ve always been fascinated with the capacity music has to communicate feelings and convey messages in a way that is often more powerful and effective than written or verbal communication. What if we were to come up with a language that was spoken through music? A system that actually uses notes to communicate detailed information. It would have to be detailed enough that someone could translate the Bible into the language, and yet simple enough that it wouldn’t take years of training to get it. Not a code, exactly, but something between a code and a language.

In a sense, what I’d like to see is someone pipe a tune, and someone else understand the detailed message.

Some ideas have been explored along these lines. Probably the biggest is Solresol, invented by François Sudre in the 1800s, which is simply a language that uses words spelled with different combinations of notes in the basic piano scale. It has its own dictionary and grammar, too.

But I would like to see a language that is more than a code that uses notes for letters. Ultimately, the ending product has to be both beautiful music and a clear message. It has to be as artistic and aesthetically pleasing as it it literary.

While we’re at it, let’s go ahead and make its written form as beautiful artistically as its sound is musically. So in other words, it would be a language that looks like art when it is written, and sounds like music when it is spoken. There would be little or no need for tongue and mouth articulation, as is present in every language I know except Sign.

Mind you, this would be a MAJOR undertaking. If it leaned more toward the side of code, then it would take very careful rules that would maintain beauty and simplicity while allowing a detailed message without taking too much time to convey it. If, on the other hand, it leaned toward the side of language, then it would need its own dictionary and grammar rules.

Just think how fun it would be to write a detailed message, and then put it to music by simply translating it into this musical language. If it was really well made and well planned, such a language could shape the future of composition in the future for thousands of people. It would completely obliterate the question of whether or not it is possible to convey a message using music alone. It would not only supply the usual feelings and subconscious patterns, but it would speak words with as much clarity and accuracy as this blog entry. And if a picture paints a thousand words, this would paint a hundred thousand words.

I have toyed with (as well as started on and off) to create this language/code, but time has limited me from really diving into it. But here are a few rules that I think would have to be kept constantly in mind for it to have any chance of being what I envision it:

  1. It has to sound beautiful – or at least any message spoken would have the potential for sounding like decent music, and in written form, looking like decent art.

  2. It would have to be fairly simple to learn. How many people do you know that can speak Klingon? Sorry, but complex language systems intimidate people, so this has to be fairly simple.

  3. It has to be able to carry as detailed a message as the composer (or speaker) needs to speak.

  4. It has to be able to convey the message in a time-frame comparable to living languages today. (IE it can’t take 5 minutes to say, “I went to the store and bought a burrito.)

  5. It has to be able to be spoken by a single individual without the aid of others. Harmony and chord structures may be used to emphasize, expand, or provide multiple levels to the message, but a basic communication has to be able to be spoken by one person by either voice or instrument.

  6. Just remember the most important things are that it’s spoken and written form is beautiful, and its message can be detailed.

  7. Other elements, such as rhythm or note-length can assist in speaking the language, but they probably ought to be used more in grammar rather than individual words in order to allow the composer or speaker as much creative liberty as possible to compose a piece of music using the language.

So there you have it. Any thoughts? Ideas? Criticisms? It’s a kind of wild idea, but we’re living in an age of wild ideas, and if we pull together, we can make some wild ideas awesome ones.

Ria’s Podcast: Meaning in Art

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Meaning in Art

My sister, Maria Hathaway, is an AMAZING artist. She has sold many paintings, won 1st place and best of show in the state fair, and has had her art in galleries throughout Utah.

We started a podcast for her, and I decided to post the first entry here as well, since the subject was creating meaning in art. Since we are discussing art in general, music was a major topic as well. Be sure to check out her art, too.  Especially The Soldier’s Father picture we discuss in the show.  We would love to hear your feelings, either here or on her site.