A just released study from a group of researchers at BYU illustrates how authors have a ‘soundprint’ in the names they create, even when they are trying to avoid this. Tolkien, a linguistic scholar and master of languages, purposely set forth in his works to create unique names and languages for his distinct groups of creatures. His efforts seemed to have failed in comparison to the distinct names for the 4 major cultural groups in the Book of Mormon – an evidence this book wasn’t written by a singular author (Joseph Smith)
Okay, so in this Evidences video, I’m excited to share some brand new research, just came out, from a group down at BYU of researchers that put together a paper.
They just issued it in the Interpreter Foundation on the website, called Comparing Book of Mormon Names with Those Found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Works: An Exploratory Study.
This has to do with names, and it has to do with sounds. Sounds that the names make, as getting a sound print, in a sense. And in this, it’s fascinating as they compare the names that Joseph Smith had in the Book of Mormon from different cultures, that you would have said if Joseph made the Book of Mormon up, then there would be a sound print, and you could see Joseph’s fingerprints all over those sounds.
With Tolkien, with how much knowledge he had, it would just be the opposite. He should be able to not have a sound print. And so it’s fascinating to see he did, all throughout his work. So that’s what this paper’s about. Now, let me share the abstract at the beginning.
“The works of Tolkien and the Book of Mormon have been compared in a variety of ways, by multiple authors and researchers, but none have looked specifically at the unusual names found within both. Word print studies are one tool used in author attribution research …,” which, by the way, I’ll do a separate video on that at some point.
But it says, “… but do authors use specific sounds more than others, consciously or subconsciously, when selecting or inventing names? Some research suggests they may, and that their patterns can create a sound print or phonoprint. This constitutes a fresh and unusual path of research that deserves more attention.”
So this is in its infancy really, but I thought it would be fun to just visit a little bit, give you some thoughts from the paper, show you some of the research, and add a few things at the end.
So first of all, if you compare J.R.R Tolkien to Joseph Smith, Tolkien had mastered 13 languages, both ancient and modern, had a working knowledge of 9 others. He liked to create languages that had the basis in ancient languages. He created worlds, cultures, characters, and he knew how to create linguistic systems. He was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, and, “created languages based on some characteristics of natural languages. He deliberately used different sound systems for each of them, and he particularly enjoyed the names that evolved from these systems.”
So, with all that, he should not have, if he was trying to do this, he would not have a sound print in a sense. Whereas Joseph Smith would, definitely. If he was creating a fictional work as would be claimed by critics, then you would be able to see his fingerprints all over it, as the author.
It’s interesting if you note that, just a sidebar, when Joseph was translating in the Book of Ether, the name, Coriantumr, from the Jaredites. When, in the original text, it’s crossed out and he has Oliver respell that, and the spelling, it was spelled the way it would sound. At the end, it said M-M-E-R, Coriantummer, but he had it changed to M-R at the end, which is not the way anything would be done in English, but if fit perfectly in the old world there.
But it’s interesting to, again, compare these two, remember Joseph was a third grade education, bad speller, not educated. Now, in the study, they broke it out, with Tolkien in to the five different areas of languages that he had created, that had the most names associated with. So 183 names. If you look at the screen here: dwarf, 23 names; elf, 47 names; hobbit, 18 names; man, 74 names; and other, 21 names.
For Joseph, we had, they excluded names that showed up in the Bible, and they excluded names that were places, they excluded names that were not clear which culture they fit in, and came up with 130 names that would work for the analysis. So, Jaredites, there were 34; Nephites, there were 82; Mulekites, there were 6; and Lamanites, there were 8, and that these should have different sound prints if they were from different times and cultures.
And so should Tolkien’s, here, with what he was trying to accomplish.
So the first analysis they did, they, “examined all these 313 names, 183 from Tolkien, 130 from the Book of Mormon, to determine how much the five groups of Tolkien’s names differed from one another in their phonotactic probabilities …,” and that’s the sounds that letters make within a word, “… in comparison with the four groups of Book of Mormon names.
“The phonotactic probability calculator developed by Vitevitch and Luce, which is available online, provides probabilities by comparing the phonemes in each ordinal position of a given word to the standard American English frequencies.” Now this gets a little technical and complicated. The research piece, I’ll link in the resources and you can look through it, but I did like … it is interesting, the analysis.
The first one here, the outcome, it said, “There were notable differences among the groups in their variety of name links, phoneme probabilities, and bifone probabilities. The Book of Mormon name groups have much greater in-group divergence than Tolkien names, which are more homogeneous.
“The within-source comparisons, the language groups within each book, reveal additional differences between the texts. Although Tolkien created his character names, or claimed his character names were primarily based on different languages, real or invented, the phonotactic probabilities did not differ significantly. In the within-source comparisons, among the five Tolkien languages, only one of the 10 language group comparisons, 10%, is statistically significant.” It was the man versus elf.
“Among the four Book of Mormon name groups, four of the six variance ratios, or 67%, were significant. Nephite versus Jaredite, Mulekite versus Jaredite, Lamanite versus Jaredite, and Lamanite versus Nephite.”
Now, the second analysis they did had to do with the names themselves, the whole word, not just a sound within the name, and they compared it to a database of language software that IBM has, of 800 million names, to try and get to the root of where the names originated from. It’s based on modern languages, so these, both Joseph and Tolkien were supposed to have been tied to ancient languages here, so the software does give a generic rating to the word if there is no modern-day comparison. And so it is another way you can do an analysis, here.
So if you look at the screen, picture’s worth a thousand words. Here’s the screen: bar graphs, showing the frequency of the generic names. If you look at Tolkien on the left, you can see very little variation, almost all the same. If you look on the right, the high variety amongst the four groups in the Book of Mormon, which would be expected if it was from different times and different cultures.
At the end they say here, look on the screen, “Results suggest that Tolkien was unable to entirely escape his phonoprint when selecting or creating character names, even though he claimed he based them on or found them within distinct languages. The two analyses showed little differentiation involving his five major naming groups.
A possible phonoprint, of sorts, seems to have surfaced in his names, regardless of the language groups in which he placed them. In contrast in Book of Mormon names, a single author’s phonoprint does not emerge. Lamanite, Nephite, Mulekite, and Jaredite names have varied by group in the way one would expect names from different cultures to vary, when looking at sounds within names, and names as whole units.”
And then one last thing I wanted to share just from these … a couple of these same researchers did an article, published in Religious Study Center at BYU a number of years ago. The title was 188 Unexplainable Names: Book of Mormon Names No Fiction Writer Would Choose. And they actually did a survey of of authors, on how they create and invent and put together names in their stories and their works, and there were five themes that they use. And then they kind of compared what Joseph did in these.
So, first of all, “Authors made conscious and deliberate choices for character names, some of which require a great deal of time and consideration.” So think of Joseph as he was translating, without even pausing when he introduced extremely complex names.
Number two, “They chose names that are easily accessible so that readers can clearly distinguish between characters and keep them straight.” Think of Joseph’s. The names were often quite long and complex.
Three, “They are careful that names fit the characters’ personalities, backgrounds and cultures.” In fact with Joseph, some of the names are given to both heroes and villains.
Number four, “They go to many different sources to find names that are accurate and interesting.” Joseph did not use different resources. He did not have access to ancient foreign name lists. They were not available.
And last, “They often choose names that have personal significance for them,” which, the only two names you could tie that to, with Joseph, was Joseph and Samuel.
So in conclusion to share a last thought from that paper that they shared, was, “Does Joseph Smith’s disregard for naming conventions indicate he was a careless craftsmen, or does it indicate he was a careful translator of a record full of authentic names, which were not his inventions?
For Joseph Smith to have invented the 188 unique names found in the Book of Mormon seems highly unlikely. Coming up with that many names would have been overwhelming, especially considering Joseph Smith’s limited formal education. Even if someone were to suggest that inventing that number of names in a severely limited timeframe might have been possible, their consistency with language patterns yet to be discovered removes it far from the realm of probability.”
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The main study published on the Interpreter Foundation website: https://www.mormoninterpreter.com/com…
Additional study by some of the same researchers published in the BYU Religious Studies Center https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/volume-1…
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