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Why does the Book of Mormon contain so many cognates that wouldn’t be expected in English?

In many ways the Book of Mormon sounds like a Hebrew text. John A. Tvedtnes explains one example:

Cognates are related words that come from the same root. For example, the English noun student is cognate to the verb study and the adjective studious. In Hebrew, a verb is sometimes followed by a noun that is a cognate, such as “wrote upon it a writing” (Exodus 39:30) and “she vowed a vow” (1 Samuel 1:11). In English, cognates are used much less often. Using such cognates is often considered an awkward or inelegant style in English. Someone writing in English would be more likely to use “she vowed” or “she made a vow.” Even in translation from the Hebrew, the King James Bible sometimes avoids using cognates. In Genesis 1:11, a literal translation of the Hebrew would be “Let the earth grass grass,” but the English translation reads “Let the earth bring forth grass.”

The Book of Mormon uses cognates much more often than we would expect if the book had originally been written in English. These cognates show the Hebrew influence of the original. One of the best-known examples is “I have dreamed a dream” (1 Nephi 8:2). That is exactly the way that the same idea is expressed in literal translation of the Old Testament Hebrew (see Genesis 37:5; 41:11).

Here are some other examples of the use of cognates in the Book of Mormon, each followed by the more normal expression for English:

“work all manner of fine work” (Mosiah 11:10) instead of work well

“and he did judge righteous judgments” (Mosiah 29:43) instead of judge righteously or make righteous judgments

“build buildings” (2 Nephi 5:15; Mosiah 23:5) instead of erect buildings or simply build

“this was the desire which I desired of him” (Enos 1:13) instead of what I desired

“I will work a great and a marvelous work” (1 Nephi 14:7) instead of perform a great and marvelous work

“taxed with a tax” (Mosiah 7:15) instead of taxed

“cursed with a sore cursing ” (2 Nephi 1:22; Jacob 3:3) instead of cursed sorely

– John A. Tvedtnes, “The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, edited by John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co.; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), Chapter 8. 

How would Joseph Smith have known about cognates and effortlessly use them while dictating the Book of Mormon? Wouldn’t it have been difficult enough to simply dictate a coherent storyline?


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