AKKADIAN LANGUAGE

AKKADIAN LANGUAGE

Akkadian is the language of the Assyrians and Babylonians of ancient Mesopotamia, that is, the region ‘between the rivers’, the Euphrates and the Tigris (roughly the area of modern Iraq). The name ‘Akkadian’ is a translation of the ancient speakers’ term tor their language, Akkadum, which derives from Akkad(e), the name of the still-undiscovered town built about 2300 BCE by king Sargon as his capital. In both ancient and modern times Akkadian has also been called ‘Assyrian’ and ‘Babylonian’, terms that are now generally restricted to the main geographical dialects.)

Akkadian is the earliest-attested member of the Semitic family of languages. Other Semitic languages include Arabic, Aramaic, Ethiopic, and Hebrew. Akkadian and Eblaite, the recently-discovered language of the ancient Syrian city of Ebla, comprise East Semitic, while all other members of the family comprise West Semitic.

It is not certain when speakers of Akkadian or its linguistic predecessor(s) first arrived in Mesopotamia. The first written evidence of the language is found in names in texts from the 26th century BCE, while connected texts begin to appear in the 24th century. It is not known when Akkadian ceased to be a spoken language – probably during the mid-first  millennium BCE, having been replaced over a number of centuries by Aramaic – but it continued to be used as a written medium of literature and scholarship until the first century CE.

After the demise of Akkadian both the language and its complated writing system were forgotten for over a millennium and a half. In the 17th century European travelers to the Middle East began to bring home a few clay artifacts with unusual wedge-shaped writing. Attempts at decipherment were aided in the 19th century by the publication of a long trilingual incription, Akkadian-Old Persian-Elamite. After the simpler Old Persian script was decoded it became possible to tackle the Akkadian version successfully: the Akkadian script was deciphered and the basic elements of the grammar were established by the 1850’s. In the past 150 years much scholarship has been devoted to the publication of texts, to the further elucidation of the grammar, and to the preparation of dictionaries. Today the Akkadian language may be said to be well – but no means completely – understood.

Because Mesopotamian scribes were exceedingly prolific and because they usually wrote on the virtually indestructible medium of clay, vast numbers of  the ancient documents have been preserved to posterity. The number of Akkadian texts extant has not been counted, but it is certainly in the hundreds of thousands, and many new texts are discovered in archaeological excavations every year. While many texts have received scholarly publication over the last century and a half, many other texts remain unpublished, awaiting interested scholars in museums araound the world.

As was just noted, Akkadian texts were usually written on clay, a material found in great abundance in Mesopotamia, Moist clay was molded into a rectangular tablet and the writing was impressed into the clay with a stylus made of reed. The side of tablets varied from about an inch square to some 18 inches along a side; the most common shape was a rectangle that was longer than it was wide. The reed stylus made wedge-shaped, i.e., cuneiform, impressions in the clay. Because the writing system is very cumbersome, modern publications present elements of Akkadian grammar in transcription.

Akkadian and Sumerian

 Akkadian was not the first language to be given form in Mesopotamia. History’s earliest writing appeared in south Mesopotamia, near the end of the fourth millennium: the language for which this first writing was invented was Sumerian, which was not genetically related  to the Semitic languages, or indeed to any other known language. Speakers of Sumerian and speakers of Akkadian coexisted in southern Babylonia four centuries, and the two languages naturally had a singificant impact on each other. Thus, many features of Akkadian grammar, from its phonology to its syntax, reflect Sumerian influence, and many Akkadian words are loans from Sumerian. (Conversely many original Akkadian words were borrowed into Sumerian). And the writing system originally devised for Sumerian was taken over to write the very different Akkadian as well.

Sumerian died out as a spoken language long before Akkadian; the date of its demise is much debated, however, placed variously between the mid-third and the early second millennium. Even after it ceased to be spoken, Sumerian remained a language of learning and scholarship, like Latin in medieval Europe.

Akkadian (lišānum akkadītum, 𒀝𒂵𒌈 ak.ka.dû) (also Accadian, Assyro-Babylonian) is an extinct Semitic language (part of the greater Afroasiatic language family) that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. The earliest attested Semitic language, it used the cuneiform writing system derived ultimately from ancient Sumerian, an unrelated language isolate. The name of the language is derived from the city of Akkad, a major center of Mesopotamian civilization.

Akkadian was first attested in Sumerian texts in proper names from around 2800 BCE. And from the second half of the third millennium BCE, texts fully written in Akkadian begin to appear. Hundreds of thousands of texts and text fragments have been excavated up to date; covering a vast textual tradition of mythological narrative, legal texts, scientific works, correspondences and many other aspects. By the second millennium BCE, two variant forms of the language were in use in Assyria and Babylonia (known as Assyrian and Babylonian respectively).

Akkadian had been for centuries the lingua franca in the Ancient Near East. However, it began to decline around the 8th century BCE being marginalized by Aramaic. By the Hellenistic period, the language was largely confined to scholars and priests working in temples. The last Akkadian cuneiform document dates to the first century CE.

Classification

Akkadian belongs with the other Semitic languages in the Afro-Asiatic family of languages, a family native to Western Asia and Northern Africa.

Within the Semitic languages, Akkadian forms an East Semitic subgroup (with Eblaite). This group distinguishes itself from the Northwest and South Semitic languages by its SOV word order, while the other Semitic languages usually have either a VSO or SVO order. This novel word order is due to the influence of the Sumerian substratum, which has an SOV order.

Additionally Akkadian is the only Semitic language to use the prepositions ina and ana (locative, English in/on/with, and dativelocative, for/to, respectively). Several related, Northwest Semitic languages like Arabic and Aramaic have the prepositions bi/bə and li/lə (locative and dative, respectively). The origin of the Akkadian spatial prepositions is unknown.

In contrast with most other Semitic languages, Akkadian has only one fricative: ḫ [x]. Akkadian lost both the glottal and pharyngeal fricatives, which are characteristic of the other Semitic languages. Up until the Old Babylonian period, the Akkadian sibilants were exclusively affricate.

History and writing

Writing

Cuneiform writing (Neoassyrian script)
(1 = Logogram (LG) “mix”/syllabogram (SG) ḫi,
2 = LG “moat”,
3 = SG ,
4 = SG aḫ, eḫ, iḫ, uḫ,
5 = SG kam,
6 = SG im,
7 = SG bir)

Old Akkadian is preserved on clay tablets dating back to 2600BCE. It was written using cuneiform, a script adopted from the Sumerians using wedge-shaped signs pressed in wet clay. As employed by Akkadian scribes the adapted cuneiform script could represent either (a) Sumerian logograms (i.e. picture-based characters representing entire words), (b) Sumerian syllables, (c) Akkadian syllables, or (d) phonetic complements. However, in Akkadian the script practically became a fully fledged syllabic script and cuneiform’s original logographic nature became secondary. However logograms for frequent words such as god, temple, and so on, were still used. For this reason the sign AN can on the one hand be a logogram for the word ilum (god), and on the other signify the god Anu, or even the syllable -an-. Additionally the sign was used as a determinative for divine names.

Example 4 in the image on the right shows another peculiarity of Akkadian cuneiform. Many signs do not have a well-defined phonetic value. Certain signs, like A do not distinguish between the different vowel qualities. Nor is there any coordination in the other direction, the syllable – ša- for example is rendered by the sign ŠA, but also by the sign NĪĜ. Both of these are often used for the same syllable in the same text.

Cuneiform was in many ways unsuited to Akkadian: among its flaws was its inability to represent important phonemes in Semitic, including a glottal stop, pharyngeals, and emphatic consonants. In addition, cuneiform was a syllabary writing system — i.e. a consonant plus vowel comprised one writing unit — frequently inappropriate for a Semitic language made up of triconsonantal roots (i.e. three consonants plus any vowels).

Development

Akkadian is divided into several varieties based on geography and historical period:[4]

  • Old Akkadian, 2500–1950 BCE
  • Old Babylonian/Old Assyrian, 1950–1530 BCE
  • Middle Babylonian/Middle Assyrian, 1530–1000 BCE
  • Neo-Babylonian/Neo-Assyrian, 1000–600 BCE
  • Late Babylonian, 600 BCE–100 CE

The Akkadian Empire, established by Sargon I, introduced the Akkadian language (the “language of Akkad“) as a written language, adapting Sumerian cuneiform orthography for the purpose. During the Middle Bronze Age (Old Assyrian and Old Babylonian period), the language virtually displaced Sumerian, which is assumed to have been extinct as a living language by the 18th century BCE.

Old Akkadian, which was used until the end of the third century BCE, differs from both Babylonian and Assyrian; and was displaced by these dialects. The two dialects, which were to become the primary dialects, were easily distinguishable by the 21st century BCE. Old Babylonian, along with the closely related dialect Mariotic, is clearly more innovative than the Old Assyrian dialect and the more distantly related Eblaite language. For this reason, forms like lu-prus (I will decide) are first encountered in Old Babylonian instead of the older la-prus(even though it was archaic compared to Akkadian). On the other hand, Assyrian developed certain innovations as well, such as the “Assyrian vowel harmony” (which is not comparable to that found in Turkish or Finnish). Eblaite is even more archaic, retaining a productive dual and a relative pronoun declined in case, number and gender. Both of which had already disappeared in Old Akkadian.

Old Babylonian was the language of king Hammurabi and his code, which was one of the oldest collections of laws in the world.

The Middle Babylonian (or Assyrian) period started in the 1500s BCE. The division comes from the Kassite invasion of Babylonia around 1550 BCE, and their reign for 300 years. The Kassites gave up their own language in favor of Akkadian, but they had little influence on the language. At its apogee, Middle Babylonian was the written language of diplomacy of the entire ancient Orient, including Egypt. During this period, a large number of loan words were included in the language from North West Semitic languages and Hurrian; however, the use of these words was confined to the fringes of the Akkadian speaking territory.

Middle Assyrian served as a lingua franca in much of the Ancient Near East of the Late Bronze Age (Amarna Period). During the Neo-Assyrian Empire, Neo-Assyrian began to turn into a chancellery language, being marginalized by Old Aramaic. Under the Achaemenids, Aramaic continued to prosper, but Assyrian continued its decline. The language’s final demise came about during the Hellenistic period when it was further marginalized by Koine Greek, even though Neo-Assyrian cuneiform remained in use in literary tradition well into Parthian times. The latest known text in cuneiform Babylonian is an astronomical text dated to 75 CE.[5]

An Akkadian inscription

Old Assyrian evolved as well during the second millennium BCE, but because it was a purely popular language — kings wrote in Babylonian — few large texts are preserved. From 1500 BCE onwards, the language is termed Middle Assyrian.

During the first millennium BCE, Akkadian progressively lost its status as a lingua franca. In the beginning, from around 1000 BCE, Akkadian and Aramaic were of equal status; which can be seen in the number of copied texts, where clay tablets were written in Akkadian, and papyrus and leather scribes used Aramaic. From this period on, one speaks of Neo-Babylonian and Neo-Assyrian. Neo Assyrian received an upswing in popularity in the 700s BCE when the Assyrian kingdom became a major power, but texts written exclusively in Neo-Assyrian disappear within 10 years of Nineveh’s destruction in 612 BCE.

After the end of the Mesopotamian kingdoms, which fell due to the Persian conquest of the area, Akkadian (which existed solely in the form of Late Babylonian) disappeared as a popular language. However, the language was still used in its written form; and even after the Greek invasion under Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE, Akkadian was still a contender as a written language, but spoken Akkadian was likely extinct by this time, or at least rarely used. The youngest texts written in Akkadian date from the 3rd century CE.

Decipherment

The Akkadian language was rediscovered when the Dane Carsten Niebuhr in 1767 was able to make extensive copies of cuneiform texts and published them in Denmark. The deciphering of the texts started immediately, and bilinguals, in particular Old Persian-Akkadian bilinguals, were of great help. Since the texts contained several royal names isolated signs could be identified, and were presented in 1802 by Georg Friedrich Grotefend. By this time it was already evident that Akkadian was a Semitic language, and the final breakthrough in deciphering the language came from Henry Rawlinson in the middle of the 19th century.

The Deluge tablet of the Gilgamesh epic in Akkadian.

Dialects

The following table summarises the dialects of Akkadian certainly identified so far.

Known Akkadian dialects
Dialect Location
Assyrian Northern Mesopotamia
Babylonian Central and Southern Mesopotamia
Mariotic Central Eufrates (in and around the city of Mari)
Tell Beydar Northern Syria (in and Tell Beydar)

Some researchers (such as B. Sommerfeld 2003) believe that the Old Akkadian variant used in the older texts isn’t an ancestor of the later Assyrian and Babylonian dialects, but rather a separate dialect that was replaced by these two dialects and which died out early.

Phonetics and phonology

Because Akkadian as a spoken language is extinct and no contemporary descriptions of the pronunciation are known, little can be said about the phonetics and phonology of Akkadian. Some conclusions can be made however due to the relationship to the other Semitic languages and variant spellings of Akkadian words.

Consonants

As far as can be told from the cuneiform orthography of Akkadian, several Proto-Semitic phonemes are lost in Akkadian. The Proto-Semitic glottal stop , as well as the fricatives , *h, *ḥ, are lost as consonants, either by sound change or orthographically, but they gave rise to the vowel quality e not exhibited in Proto-Semitic. The interdental and the voiceless lateral fricatives (, *ṣ́) merged with the sibilants as in Canaanite, leaving 19 consonantal phonemes.

The following table gives the consonant sounds distinguised in the Akkadian use of cuneiform, and the IPA signs give the presumed pronunciation according to Streck 2005. The parenthesised sign following is the transcription used in the literature, in the cases where that sign is different from the phonetic sign. This transcription has been suggested for all Semitic languages by the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft (DMG), and is therefore known as DMG-umschrift.

Akkadian consonantal phonemes
Labial Interdental Dental/Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
plain emphatic
Nasal m n
Plosive voiceless p t tʼ (ṭ)1 k q ʔ (ʼ)
voiced b d ɡ
Fricative voiceless s sʼ (ṣ)1 ʃ (š) x (ḫ)
voiced z
Trill r
Approximant l j (y) w
  1. Akkadian emphatic consonants are reconstructed as ejectives.[6]

The status of *š as postalveolar and of *z *s *ṣ as fricatives is contested,[who?] due to attested assimilations of voiceless coronal affricates to *s. For example, when the possessive suffix -šu is added to the root awat (‘word’), it is written awassu (‘his word’) even though šš would be expected. What triggered the change from tš to ss is unclear, especially since a shift of š to s does not occur in other contexts.

According to Patrick R. Bennett’s “Comparative Semitic Linguistics: a manual”, the *š was a voiceless alveolo-palatal. In the pronunciation of a alveo-palatal, the tongue approximates the teeth more closely.

An alternative approach to the phonology of these consonants is to treat *s *ṣ as voiceless coronal affricates [t͡s t͡sˁ], *š as a voiceless coronal fricative [s] and *z as a voiced coronal affricate or fricative [d͡z~z]. In this vein, an alternative transcription of *š is *s̠, with the macron below indicating a soft (lenis) articulation in Semitic transcription. The assimilation is then awat-su to [awat͡su], which is quite common across languages.

The following table shows Proto-Semitic phonemes and their correspondences among Akkadian, Arabic and Tiberian Hebrew

Proto-Semitic Akkadian Arabic Hebrew
*b b ب b ב b
*d d د d ד d
*g g ج ǧ ג g
*p p ف f פ p
*t t ت t ת t
*k k ك k כ k
*ʼ [ʔ] (Ø)/ ʼ ء ʼ א ʼ
* ط ט
* q ق q ק q
* z ذ ז z
*z ز z
* š ث שׁ š
[ʃ] س s
ش š שׂ ś
*s s س s ס s
* ظ צ
* ص
*́ ض
(Ø) غ ġ ע ʻ [ʕ]
*ʻ [ʕ] (e) 1 ع ʻ [ʕ]
* خ ḫ [x] ח
* (e) 1 ح ḥ [ħ]
*h (Ø) ه h ה h
*m m م m מ m
*n n ن n נ n
*r r ر r ר r
*l l ل l ל l
*w w و w ו
י
w
y
*y y ي y [j] י y
Proto-Semitic Akkadian Arabic Hebrew
  1. These are only distinguished from the Ø (zero) reflexes of /ḥ/ and /ʻ/ by /e/-coloring the adjacent vowel *a, e.g. PS *ˈbaʻ(a)l-um (‘owner, lord’) → Akk. bēlu(m)[7].

Vowels

Akkadian vowels
Front Central Rear
Open i u
Mid e
Closed a

Additionally, most researchers presume the existence of rear mid vowel /o/, but the cuneiform writings give no good proof for this.[8]

All consonants and vowels appear in long and short forms. Long consonants are represented in writing as double consonants, and long vowels are written with a macron (ā, ē, ī, ū). This distinction is phonemic, and is used in the grammar, for example iprusu (‘that he decided’) versus iprusū (‘they decided’).

Stress

Nothing is known of Akkadian stress. There are however certain points of reference, such as the rule of vowel syncope (see the next paragraph), and some forms in the cuneiform that might represent the stressing of certain vowels; however, attempts at identifying a rule for stress have so far been unsuccessful.

A rule of Akkadian phonology is that certain short (and probably unstressed) vowels are dropped. The rule is that the last vowel of a succession of syllables that end in a short vowel is dropped, for example the declinational root of the verbal adjective of a root PRS is PaRiS-. Thus the masculine singular nominative is PaRS-um (< *PaRiS-um) but the feminine singular nominative is PaRiStum (< *PaRiS-at-um). Additionally there is a general tendency of syncope of short vowels in the later stages of Akkadian.

Grammar

Morphology

Overview

Akkadian is an inflected language; and as a Semitic language, its grammatical features are highly similar to those found in Classical Arabic. And like all Semitic languages, Akkadian uses the system of consonantal roots. Most roots consist of three consonants (called the radicals), but some roots are composed of four roots (so-called quadriradicals). The radicals are occasionally represented in transcription in upper-case letters, for example PRS (to decide). Between and around these radicals various infixes, suffixes and prefixes, having word generating or grammatical functions, are inserted. The resulting consonant-vowel pattern differentiates the original meaning of the root. Also, the middle radical can be geminated, which represented by a doubled consonant in transcription (and sometimes in the cuneiform writing itself).

The consonants ʔ, w, j and n are termed “weak radicals” and roots containing these radicals give rise to irregular forms.

Case, number and gender

Akkadian has two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine, with many feminine forms generated from masculine words by adding an -at suffix.

Formally, Akkadian has three numbers (singular, dual and plural) and three cases (nominative, accusative and genitive). However, the dual declension has disappeared from all but the noun paradigm; and even then, it is only used for things that naturally occur in pairs (most commonly body parts like eyes and ears). And in the plural numbers (including the dual), the accusative and genitive exhibit a single oblique case declension. Adjectives are declined exactly like nouns.

Akkadian, unlike Arabic, has mainly regular plurals (i.e. no broken plurals), although some masculine words take feminine plurals. In that respect, it is similar to Hebrew.

The nouns šarrum (king), šarratum (queen) and the adjective dannum (strong) will serve to illustrate the case system of Akkadian.

Noun and adjective paradigms
Noun (masc.) Noun (fem.) Adjective (masc.) Adjective (fem.)
Nominative singular šarr-um šarr-at-um dann-um dann-at-um
Genitive singular šarr-im šarr-at-im dann-im dann-at-im
Accusative singular šarr-am šarr-at-am dann-am dann-at-am
Nominative dual šarr-ān šarr-at-ān
Oblique* dual šarr-īn šarr-at-īn
Nominative plural šarr-ū šarr-āt-um dann-ūt-um dann-āt-um
Oblique plural šarr-ī šarr-āt-im dann-ūt-im dann-āt-im

* The oblique case includes the accusative and genitive.

As is clear from the above table, the adjective and noun endings differ only in the masculine plural. Certain nouns, primarily those referring to geography, can also form a locative ending in -um in the singular and the resulting forms serve as adverbials. These forms are generally not productive, but in the Neo-Babylonian the um-locative replaces several constructions with the preposition ina.

In the later stages of Akkadian the mimation (word-final -m) – along with nunation (dual final “-n”) – that occurs at the end of most case endings has disappeared, except in the locative. Later, the nominative and accusative singular of masculine nouns collapse to -u and in Neo-Babylonian most word-final short vowels are dropped. As a result case differentiation disappeared from all forms except masculine plural nouns. However many texts continued the practice of writing the case endings, but not consequently and often incorrectly. Also, the most important contact language was Aramaic which also lacked case differentiation, so it’s possible that the loss of cases differentiation in Akkadian was not only due to phonological phenomena.

Status

The Akkadian noun can appear in three different statuses, which express the noun’s relation to other parts of the sentence. Status rectus (governed state) is the unmarked form. Nouns that are the predicative of a nominal sentence appear in status absolutus (absolute state), which is formed by dropping the case ending.

(1) Awīl-um šū šarrāq

Awīl-um šū šarrāq.
Man (Masculine, nominative) he (3rd masc. personal pronoun) thief (status absolutus)

Translation: This man is a thief

If a noun is followed by a possessive suffix or a noun in the genitive, it appears in status constructus (construct state), which is often formed in the same way as the absolute state by dropping the case ending.

(2) mār-šu

mār-šu
Son (status constructus) + his (3rd person singular possessive pronoun

Translation: His son, its (masculine) son

A genitive relation can also be expressed with the preposition ša, and the noun that the genitive phrase depends on appears in status rectus. The same preposition is also used to introduce relative sentences.

(3) mār šarr-im

mār šarr-im
Son (Status constructus) king (genitive singular)

Translation: The king’s son

(4) awīl-um ša māt-am i-kšud-Ø-u

Awīl-um ša māt-am i-kšud-Ø-u
Man (Masculine, nominative) that (relative pronoun) land (singular, accusative) 3rd person – conquer (preterite) – singular, masculine – Indicative

Translation: The man who conquered the land

] Verbal morphology

Verb aspects

The Akkadian verb has six finite verb aspects (preterite, perfect, present, imperative, precative and vetitive) and three infinite forms (infinitive, participle and verbal adjective). The preterite is used for actions that are seen by the speaker as having occurred at a single point in time. The present is primarily imperfective in meaning and is used for concurrent and future actions as well as past actions with a temporal dimension. The final three finite forms are injunctive where the imperative and the precative together form a paradigm for positive commands and wishes, and the vetitive is used for negative wishes. Additionally the periphrastic prohibitive, formed by the present form of the verb and the negative adverb lā, is used to express negative commands. The infinitive of the Akkadian verb is a verbal noun, and in contrast to some other languages the Akkadian infinitive can be declined in case. The verbal adjective is an adjectival form and designates the state or the result of the action of the verb, and consequently the exact meaning of the verbal adjective is determined by the semantics of the verb itself. The participle, which can be active or passive, is another verbal adjective and its meaning is similar to the English gerund.

The following table shows the conjugation of the G-stem verbs derived from the root PRS (“to decide”) in the various verb aspects of Akkadian:

Preterite Perfect Present Imperative stative Infinitive Participle (active) Verbal adjective
1st Person singular aprus aptaras aparras parsāku parāsum pārisum (masc.)
pāristum (fem.)
parsum (masc.)
parsatum (fem.)
1st Person plural niprus niptaras niparras parsānu
2nd Person singular masc. taprus taptaras taparras purus parsāta
2nd Person singular fem. taprusī taptarsī (< *taptarasī) taparrasī pursi parsāti
2nd Person plural taprusā taptarsā taparrasā pursa parsātunu (masc.) / parsātina(fem.)
3rd Person singular iprus iptaras iparras paris
3rd Person plural masc. iprusū iptarsū (< *iptarasū) iparrasū parsat
3rd Person plural fem. iprusā iptarsā(< *iptarasā) iparrasā parsū (masc.) /parsā (fem.)

The table below shows the different affixes attached to the preterite aspect of the verb root PRS “to decide”; and as can be seen, the grammatical genders differ only in the second person singular and third person plural.

G-Stem D-Stem Š-Stem N-Stem
1st Person singular a-prus-Ø u-parris-Ø u-šapris-Ø a-pparis-Ø
1st Person plural ni-prus-Ø nu-parris-Ø nu-šapris-Ø ni-pparis-Ø
2nd Person singular masc. ta-prus-Ø tu-parris-Ø tu-šapris-Ø ta-pparis-Ø
2nd Person singular fem. ta-prus-ī tu-parris-ī tu-šapris-ī ta-ppars-ī
2nd Person plural ta-prus-ā tu-parris-ā tu-šapris-ā ta-ppars-ā
3rd Person singular i-prus-Ø u-parris-Ø u-šapris-Ø i-pparis-Ø
3rd Person plural masc. i-prus-ū u-parris-ū u-šapris-ū i-ppars-ū
3rd Person plural fem. i-prus-ā u-parris-ā u-šapris-ā i-ppars-ā

Verb moods

Akkadian verbs have 3 moods:

  1. Indicative, used in independent clauses.
  2. Subjunctive, used in dependent clauses. The suffix /-a/ is attached to the ending of the subjunctive in Akkadian, which is identical to the Arabic and Ugaritic subjunctive ending. This represents an older stage of the language.
  3. Ventive or allative.

The following table demonstrates the verb moods of verbs dervied from the root PRS (“to decide”,”to separate”):

Preterite 1 Stative 1
Indicative iprus paris
Subjunctive iprusu parsu
Ventive iprusam parsam

1 Both verbs are for the 3rd person masculine singular.

Verb patterns

Akkadian verbs have thirteen separate root stems. The basic, underived, stem is the G-stem (from the German Grundstamm, meaning “basic stem”). Causative or intensive forms are formed with the doubled D-stem, and it gets its name from the doubled middle radical that is characteristic of this form. The doubled middle radical is also characteristi of the present, but the forms of the D-stem use the secondary conjugational affixes, so a D-form will never be identical to a form in a different stem. The Š-stem is formed by adding a prefix š-, and these forms are mostly causatives. Finally, the passive forms of the verb are in the N-stem, formed by adding a n- prefix. However the n- element is assimilated to a following consonant, so the original /n/ is only visible in a few forms.

Furthermore, reflexive and iterative verbal stems can be derived from each of the basic stems. The reflexive stem is formed with an infix -ta, and the derived stems are therefore called Gt, Dt, Št and Nt, and the preterite forms of the Xt-stem are identical to the perfects of the X-stem. Iteratives are formed with the infix -tan-, giving the Gtn, Dtn, Štn and Ntn. Because of the assimilation of n, the /n/ is only seen in the present forms, and the Xtn preterite is identical to the Xt durative.

An alternative to this naming system is a numerical system. The basic stems are numbered using Roman numerals so thet G, D, Š and N become I, II, III and IV, respectively, and the infixes are numbered using Arabic numerals; 1 for the forms without an infix, 2 for the Xt, and 3 for the Xtn. The two numbers are separated using a solidus. As an example, the Štn-stem is called III/3. The most important user of this system is the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary.

There is mandatory congruence between the subject of the sentence and the verb, and this is expressed by prefixes and suffixes. There are two different sets of affixes, a primary set used for the forms of the G and N-stems, and a secondary set for the D and Š-stems.

The stems, their nomenclature and examples of the third-person masculine singular stative of the verb parāsum (root PRS: ‘to decide, distinguish, separate’) is shown below:

# Stem Verb Description Correspondence
I.1 G PaRiS the simple stem, used for transitive and intransitive verbs Arabic stem I (fa‘ala) and Hebrew qal
II.1 D PuRRuS gemination of the second radical, indicating the intensive Arabic stem II (fa‘‘ala) and Hebrew pi‘el
III.1 Š šuPRuS š-preformative, indicating the causative Arabic stem IV (’af‘ala) and Hebrew hiph‘il
IV.1 N naPRuS n-preformative, indicating the reflexive/passive Arabic stem VII (infa‘ala) and Hebrew niph‘al
I.2 Gt PitRuS simple stem with t-infix after first radical, indicating reciprocal or reflexive Arabic stem VIII (ifta‘ala) and Aramaic ’ithpe‘al (tG)
II.2 Dt PutaRRuS doubled second radical preceded by infixed t, indicating intensive reflexive Arabic stem V (tafa‘‘ala) and Hebrew hithpa‘el (tD)
III.2 Št šutaPRuS š-preformative with t-infix, indicating reflexive causative Arabic stem X (istaf‘ala) and Aramaic ’ittaph‘al (tC)
IV.2 Nt itaPRuS n-performative with a t-infix preceding the first radical, indicating reflexive passive
I.3 Gtn PitaRRuS simple stem with tan-infix after first radical
II.3 Dtn PutaRRuS doubled second radical preceded by tan-infix
III.3 Štn šutaPRuS š-preformative with tan-infix
IV.3 Ntn itaPRuS n-preformative with tan-infix

Stative

A very often appearing form which can be formed by nouns, adjectives as well as by verbal adjectives is the stative. Nominal predicatives occur in the status absolutus and correspond to the verb “to be” in English. The stative in Akkadian corresponds to the Egyptian pseudo-participle. The following table contains an example of using the noun šarrum (king), the adjective rapšum (wide) and the verbal adjective parsum (decided).

šarrum rapšum parsum
1st Person singular šarr-āku rapš-āku pars-āku
1st Person plural šarr-ānu rapš-ānu pars-ānu
2nd Person singular masc. šarr-āta rapš-āta pars-āta
2nd Person singular fem. šarr-āti rapš-āti pars-āti
2nd Person plural masc. šarr-ātunu rapš-ātunu pars-ātunu
2nd Person plural fem. šarr-ātina rapš-ātina pars-ātina
3rd Person singular masc. šar-Ø rapaš-Ø paris-Ø
3rd Person singular fem. šarr-at rapš-at pars-at
3rd Person plural masc. šarr-ū rapš-ū pars-ū
3rd Person plural fem. šarr-ā rapš-ā pars-ā

Thus, the stative in Akkadian is used to convert simple stems into effective sentences, so that the form šarr-āta is equivalent to: “you were king”, “you are king” and “you will be king”. Hence, the stative is independent of time forms.

Derivation

Beside the already explained possibility of derivation of different verb stems, Akkadian has numerous nominal formations derived from verb roots. A very frequently encountered form is the maPRaS form. It can express the location of an event, the person performing the act and many other meanings. If one of the root consonants is labial (p, b, m), the prefix becomes na- (maPRaS >> naPRAS). Examples for this are: maškanum (place, location) from ŠKN (set, place, put), mašraum (splendour) from ŠRḪ (be splendid), maṣṣarum (guards) from NṢR (guard), naparum (sum) from PḪR (summarize).

A very similar formation is the maPRaSt form. The noun derived from this nominal formation is grammatically feminine. The same rules as for the maPRaS form apply, for example maškattum (deposit) from ŠKN (set, place, put), narkabtum (carriage) from RKB (ride, drive, mount).

The suffix – ūt is used to derive abstract nouns. The nouns which are formed with this suffix are grammatically feminine. The suffix can be attached to nouns, adjectives and verbs, e.g. abūtum (paternity) from abum (father), rabutum (size) from rabum (large), waūtum (leaving) from WṢY (leave).

Also derivatives of verbs from nouns, adjectives and numerals are numerous. For the most part, a D-stem is derived from the root of the noun or adjective. The derived verb then has the meaning of “make X do something” or “becoming X”, for example: duššûm (let sprout) from dišu (grass), šullušum (to do something for the third time ) from šalāš (three).

Pronouns

Personal pronouns

Independent personal pronouns

Independent personal pronouns in Akkadian are as follows:

Nominative Oblique Dative
Person singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
1st anāku “I” nīnu “we” yāti niāti yāšim niāšim
2nd masculine atta “you” attunu “you” kāti (kāta) kunūti kāšim kunūšim
feminine atti “you” attina “you” kāti kināti kāšim kināšim
3rd masculine šū “he” šunu “they” šātilu (šātilu) šunūti šuāšim (šāšim) šunūšim
feminine šī “she” šina “they” šiāti (šuāti;šāti) šināti šiāšim (šāšim, šāšim) šināšim

[edit] Suffixed (or enclitic) pronouns

Suffixed (or enclitic) pronouns (mainly denoting the genitive, accusative and dative) are as follows:

Genitive Accusative Dative
Person singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
1st -i, -ya * -ni -ni -niāti -am/-nim -niāšim
2nd masculine -ka -kunu -ka -kunūti -kum -kunūšim
feminine -ki -kina -ki -kināti -kim -kināšim
3rd masculine -šū -šunu -šū -šunūti -šum -šunūšim
feminine -ša -šina -ši -šināti -šim -šināšim

* -ni is used for the nominative, i.e. following a verb denoting the subject.

Demonstrative pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns in Akkadian differ from the Western Semitic variety. The following table shows the Akkadian demonstrative pronouns according to near and far deixis:

Deixis
Near Far
Masc. singular annū “this” ullū “that”
Fem. Singular annītu “this” ullītu “that”
Masc. plural annūtu “these” ullūtu “those”
Fem. plural annātu “these” ullātu “those”

Relative pronouns

Relative pronouns in Akkadian are shown in the following table:

Nominative Accusative Genitive
Masc. singular šu ša ši
Fem. Singular šāt šāti
Dual šā
Masc. plural šūt
Fem. plural šāt

Unlike plural relative pronouns, singular relative pronouns in Akkadian exhibit full declension to case. However, only the form ša (for the accusative masculine singular) survived while the other forms disappeared in time.

Interrogative pronouns

The following table shows the Interrogative pronouns used in Akkadian:

Akkadian English
mannu who?
mīnū what?
ayyu which?

Prepositions

Akkadian has prepositions which consist mainly of only one word. For example: ina (in, on, out, through, under), ana (too, for, after, approximately), adi (to), aššu (because of), eli (up, over), ištu/ultu (of, since), mala (in accordance with), itti (also, with)). There are, however, some compound prepositions which are combined with ina and ana (e.g. ina maar (forwards), ina balu (without), ana ēr (up to), ana maar (forwards). Regardless of the complexity of the preposition, the following noun is always in the genitive case.

Examples: ina bītim (in the house, from the house), ana dummuqim (to do good), itti šarrim (with the king), ana ēr mārīšu (up to his son).

Numerals

Since numerals are written mostly as a number sign in the cuneiform script, the transliteration of many numerals is not well ascertained yet. Along with the counted noun, the cardinal numeral are in the status absolutus. Because other cases are very rare, the forms of the status rectus are known only by isolated numerals. The numerals 1 and 2 as well as 21-29, 31-39, 41-49, correspond with the counted in the grammatical gender. Whlie the numerals 3-20, 30, 40 and 50 show gender polarity. i.e. if the counted noun is masculine, the numeral would be feminine and vice versa. This polarity is typical of the Semitic languages and appears also in classical Arabic for example. The numerals 60, 100 and 1000 don’t change according to the gender of the counted noun. Counted nouns more than two appear in the plural form. However, body parts which occur in pairs appear in the dual form in Akkadian. e.g. šepum (foot) becomes šepān (two feet).

The ordinals are formed (with a few exceptions) by adding a case ending to the nominal form PaRuS (the P, R and S. must be substituted with the suitable consonants of the numeral). It is noted, however, that in the case of the numeral “one”, the ordinal (masculine) and the cardinal number are the same. A metathesis occurs in the numeral “four”. The following table contains the masculine and feminine forms of the status absolutus of some of the Akkadian cardinal numbers, as well as the corresponding ordinals.

# Cardinal numeral (masc.) Cardinal numeral (fem.) Congruence (Gender agreement of the cardinal numeral) Ordinal (masc.) Ordinal (fem.)
1 ištēn išteʾat,
ištāt
Congruent (no gender polarity) ištēn išteʾat
2 šinā šittā Congruent šanûm šanītum
3 šalāš šalāšat Gender polarity šalšum šaluštum
4 erbē erbēt Gender polarity rebûm rebūtum
5 amiš amšat Gender polarity amšum amuštum
6 šediš šiššet Gender polarity šeššum šeduštum
7 sebē šebēt Gender polarity sebûm sebūtum
8 samānē samānat Gender polarity samnum,
samnûm
samuntum
9 tešē tišīt Gender polarity tišûm,
tešûm
tišūtum,
tešūtum
10 ešer ešeret Gender polarity ešrum ešurtum
60 šūš No gender distinction
100 meʾat, māt No gender distinction
1000 līm No gender distinction

Examples: erbē aššātum (four wives) (male numeral), meʾat ālānū (100 towns).

Syntax

Nominal phrases

Adjectives, relative clauses and appositions follow the noun. While numerals precede the counted noun. The nominal phrase: erbēt šarrū dannūtum ša ālam īpušū abūya (The four strong kings that built the city are my fathers) is analyzed in the following table:

Word Meaning Analysis Part of the nominal phrase
erbēt four feminine (gender polarity) Numeral
šarr-ū king nominative plural Noun (Subject)
dann-ūtum strong nominative masculine plural Adjective
ša which relative pronoun Relative clause
āl-am city accusative singular
īpuš-ū built 3rd person masculine plural
ab-ū-ya my fathers masculine plural + possessive pronoun Apposition

Sentence syntax

Akkadian sentence order was Subject+Object+Verb (SOV), which sets it apart from most other ancient Semitic languages such as Arabic and Biblical Hebrew, which typically have a Verb-subject-object (VSO) word order. (Modern South Semitic languages in Ethiopia also have SOV order, but these developed within historical times from the classical Verb-subject-object (VSO) language Ge’ez.) It has been hypothesized that this word order was a result of influence from the Sumerian language, which was also SOV. There is evidence that native speakers of both languages were in intimate language contact, forming a single society for at least 500 years, so it is entirely likely that a sprachbund could have formed. Further evidence of an original VSO or SVO ordering can be found in the fact that direct and indirect object pronouns are suffixed to the verb. Word order seems to have shifted to SVO/VSO late in the 1st millennium BCE to the 1st millennium CE, possibly under the influence of Aramaic.

Vocabulary

The Akkadian vocabulary is mostly of Semitic origin. Although classified as ‘East Semitic‘, many elements of its basic vocabulary find no evident parallels in related Semitic languages. For example: māru ‘son’ (Semitic *bn), qātu ‘hand’ (Semitic *yd), šēpu ‘foot’ (Semitic *rgl), qabû ‘say’ (Semitic *qwl), izuzzu “stand” (Semitic *qwm), ana ” to, for ” (Semitic *li)…etc.

Due to extensive contact with Sumerian and Aramaic, the Akkadian vocabulary contains many loan words from these languages. Aramaic loan words, however, were limited to the first centuries of the 1st millennium BC and primarily in the north and middle parts of Mesopotamia, whereas Sumerian loan words were spread in the whole linguistic area. Beside the previous languages, some nouns were borrowed from Hurrian, Cassite, Ugaritic and other ancient languages. Since Sumerian and Hurrian, two non-Semitic languages, differ from Akkadian in word structure, only nouns and some adjectives (not many verbs) were borrowed from these languages. However, some verbs were borrowed (along with many nouns) from Aramaic and Ugaritic, both of which are Semitic languages.

The following table contains examples of loan words in Akkadian:

Akkadian Meaning Source Word in the language of origin
hill Sumerian du
erēqu flee Aramaic ʿRQ (root)
gadalû dressed in Linen Sumerian gada lá
isinnu firmly Sumerian ezen
kasulatu a device of copper Hurrian kasulat
kisallu court Sumerian kisal
laqāu take Ugaritic LQH( root)
paraššannu part of horse riding gear Hurrian paraššann-
purkullu stone cutter Sumerian bur-gul
qaālu kill Aramaic QL (root)
uriullu conventional penalty Hurrian uriull-

Akkadian was also a source of borrowing to other languages, above all Sumerian. Some examples are: Sumerian da-ri (lastingly, from Akakdian dāru), Sumerian Ra gaba (riders, messenger; from Akkadian rākibu).

Example text

The following text is the 7th section of the Hammurabi code , possibly written in the 18th century BC.

Akkadian šumma awīl-um kasp-am urā-am ward-am amt-am
English if Man (nominative) or silver (accusative) or gold (accusative) or slave (masculine, accusative) or Slave (feminine, accusative)
Akkadian alp-am immer-am imēr-am ū lū mimma šumšu ina
English or Cattle,oxen (accusative) or sheep (accusative) or donkey (accusative) and or something from
Akkadian qāt mār awīl-im ū lū warad awīl-im balum šīb-ī u
English hand (status constructus) son (status constructus) man (genitive) and or slave (status constructus) man (genitive) without witnesses (genitive) and
Akkadian riks-ātim i-štām-Ø ū lū ana maṣṣārūt-im i-mur-Ø
English contracts (genitive) bought (3rd person singular, perfect tense) and or from pledge (genitive) received (3rd person singular, preterite tense)
Akkadian awīl-um šū šarrāq i-ddāk
English man (nominative) (3rd person masculine singular independent pronoun) stealer (status absolutus) is killed (3rd person singular in passive present tense)

Translation: If a man takes silver, gold, a slave (masculine), a slave (feminine), an ox, a sheep, a donkey or something other from the hand of another man or a slave of a man without witnesses or contract or received pledge, then this man is a thief and is killed.

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