Sumerian language

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eme-ĝir, eme-gi

Spoken in: Formerly spoken in Sumer 
Region: Southern Mesopotamia
Language extinction: Effectively extinct from around the turn of the 3rd and the 2nd millennium BC, but continued to be used as a classical language for two more millennia
Language family: Language isolate
Language codes
ISO 639-1: None
ISO 639-2: sux
ISO 639-3: sux 
26th century BC Sumerian document

Sumerian (𒅴𒂠 EME.GIR15 "native tongue") was the language of ancient Sumer, spoken in Southern Mesopotamia since at least the 4th millennium BC. It was gradually replaced by Akkadian as a spoken language somewhere around the turn of the 3rd and the 2nd millennium BC (the exact dating being a matter of debate)[1], but continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary and scientific language in Mesopotamia until the first century AD. Then, it was forgotten until the 19th century, when Assyriologists began deciphering the cuneiform inscriptions and excavated tablets left by these speakers. Sumerian is a language isolate.


[edit] Varieties

[edit] Stages

The history of written Sumerian can be divided into several periods.

  • Archaic Sumerian — 3400 – 2700 BC
  • Old or Classical Sumerian – 2700 - 2300 BC
  • Neo-Sumerian — 2300 – 2000 BC
  • Late Sumerian — 2000 – 1800/1700 BC
  • Post-Sumerian — 1800/1700 – 100 BC

Some versions of the chronology may omit the Late Sumerian phase and regard all texts written after 2000 BC as Post-Sumerian.[2] The term "Post-Sumerian" is meant to refer to the time when the language was already extinct and only preserved by Babylonians and Assyrians as a liturgical and classical language (for religious, artistic and scholarly purposes). The extinction has been traditionally and roughly dated to the fall of the Third Dynasty of Ur, the last predominantly Sumerian state in Mesopotamia, about 2000 BC. However, this date is very rough, as many scholars have contended that Sumerian was already dead or dying as early as around 2100, by the beginning of the Ur III period,[1] [3] while others believe that Sumerian persisted as a spoken language in a small part of Southern Mesopotamia (Nippur and its surroundings) until as late as 1700 BC.[1] Whatever the status of spoken Sumerian between 2000 and 1700, it is from this period that a particularly large amount of literary texts and bilingual Sumerian-Akkadian lexical lists survive, especially from the scribal school of Nippur. This, along with the particularly intensive official and literary use of the language in Akkadian-speaking states during the same time, is the basis for the distinction between a Late Sumerian period and all subsequent time.

[edit] Dialects

Two varieties (lects, dialects, sociolects) of Sumerian are recorded. The standard variety is called eme-ĝir (ĝ pronounced [ŋ]). The other recorded variety is called eme-sal (𒅴𒊩 EME.SAL "fine tongue") . The name is usually translated as "women's language". Eme-sal is used exclusively by female characters in some literary texts (this may be compared to the female languages or language varieties that exist or have existed in some cultures, e.g. among the Chukchis and the Caribs, and to women's use of Prakrit as opposed to men's use of Sanskrit in the Indian classics); in addition, it is dominant in certain genres of cult songs etc.. The special features of eme-sal are mostly phonological (e.g. m is often used instead of ĝ as in me vs standard ĝe26, "I"), but words different from the standard language are also used (e.g. ga-ša-an vs standard nin, "lady"). Sumerian words adapted into Akkadian were sometimes of the eme-sal variety, so that it may have been the more colloquial variety.

[edit] Classification

Sumerian is an agglutinative language, meaning that words could consist of a chain of more or less clearly distinguishable and separable affixes and/or morphemes.

Sumerian is a split ergative language. It behaves as a nominative-accusative language in the 1st and 2nd person of present-future tense/incompletive aspect (a.k.a. marû-conjugation), but as ergative-absolutive in most other forms of the indicative mood. Similar patterns are found in a large number of unrelated split ergative languages (see more examples at split ergativity). In Sumerian the ergative case is marked by the suffix -e and the absolutive case (as in most ergative languages) by no suffix at all (the so-called "zero suffix"). Example of the ergative pattern: lugal-e e2 mu-un-du3 "the king built the house"; lugal ba-gen "the king went" (the transitive subject is expressed differently from the intransitive subject, as it takes the suffix -e). Example of the nominative-accusative pattern: i3-du-un (< *i3-du-en) = I shall go; e2 ib2-du3-un (< *ib2-du3-en) = I shall build the house (the transitive subject is expressed in the same way as the intransitive subject, as both verbs takes the same 1st person singular suffix -en).

Sumerian distinguishes the grammatical genders animate/inanimate (personal/impersonal), but it does not have separate male/female gender pronouns. Sumerian has also been claimed to have two tenses (past and present-future), but these are currently described as completive and incompletive aspects instead. There are a large number of cases - nominative, ergative, genitive, dative, locative, comitative, equative ("as, like"), terminative ("to"), ablative ("from"), etc (the exact list varies somewhat in different grammars).

Another characteristic feature of Sumerian is the large number of homophones (words with the same sound structure but different meanings), which are perhaps pseudo-homophones, as there might have been differences in pronunciation (such as tone) that are unknown. The different homophones (or, more precisely, the different cuneiform signs that denote them) are marked with different numbers by convention, "2" and "3" being replaced by acute accent and grave accent diacritics respectively. For example: du = "go", du3 = = "build".

Sumerian has been the subject of controversial proposals purportedly identifying it as genetically related with almost every known agglutinative language. As the most ancient written language, it has a peculiar prestige, and such proposals sometimes have a nationalistic background and generally enjoy little popularity in the linguistic community because of their inverifiability. Many of the proposed connections belong to the realm of pseudoscientific language comparison rather than scientific comparative linguistics. Examples of suggested related languages include:

[edit] Writing system

[edit] Development

Letter sent by the high-priest Lu'enna to the king of Lagash (maybe Urukagina), informing him of his son's death in combat, c. 2400 BC, found in Telloh (ancient Ngirsu).

The Sumerian language is the earliest known written language. The "proto-literate" period of Sumerian writing spans ca. 3500 to 3000 BC. In this period, records are purely logographic, with no linguistic or phonological content. The oldest document of the proto-literate period is the Kish tablet. Falkenstein (1936) lists 939 signs used in the proto-literate period (late Uruk, 34th to 31st centuries)

Records with unambiguously linguistic content, indentifiably Sumerian, are those found at Jemdet Nasr, dating to the 31st or 30th century BC. From about 2600 BC, the logographic symbols were generalized using a wedge-shaped stylus to impress the shapes into wet clay. This archaic cuneiform ("wedge-shaped") mode of writing co-existed with the pre-cuneiform archaic mode. Deimel (1922) lists 870 signs used in the Early Dynastic IIIa period (26th century). In the same period the large set of logographic signs had been simplified into a logosyllabic script comprising several hundred signs. Rosengarten (1967) lists 468 signs used in Sumerian (pre-Sargonian) Lagash. The pre-Sargonian period of the 26th to 24 centuries BC is the "Classical Sumerian" stage of the language.

The cuneiform script is adapted to Akkadian writing from the mid 3rd millennium. Our knowledge of Sumerian is based on Akkadian glossaries. During the "Sumerian Renaissance" (Ur III) of the 21st century BC, Sumerian is written in already highly abstract cuneiform glyphs directly succeeded by Old Assyrian cuneiform.

[edit] Transcription

Transcription, in the context of cuneiform, is the process in which an epigraphist makes a line art drawing to show the signs on a clay tablet or stone inscription in a graphic form suitable for modern publication. Not all epigraphists are equally reliable, and before a scholar publishes an important treatment of a text, the scholar will often arrange to collate the published transcription against the actual tablet, to see if any signs, especially broken or damaged signs, should be represented differently.

Transliteration is the process in which a Sumerologist decides how to represent the cuneiform signs in Roman script. Depending on the context, a cuneiform sign can be read either as one of several possible logograms, each of which corresponds to a word in the Sumerian spoken language, as a phonetic syllable (V, VC, CV, or CVC), or as a determinative (a marker of semantic category, such as occupation or place). (See the article Transliterating cuneiform languages). Some Sumerian logograms were written with multiple cuneiform signs. These logograms are called diri-spellings, after the logogram 'diri' which is written with the signs SI and A. The text transliteration of a tablet will show just the logogram, such as the word 'diri', not the separate component signs.

[edit] History of decipherment

[edit] Cuneiform

The key to reading logosyllabic cuneiform came from the Behistun inscription, a trilingual cuneiform inscription written in Old Persian, Elamite and Akkadian.

In 1838, building on the 1802 work of Georg Friedrich Grotefend, Henry Rawlinson (1810–1895) was able to decipher the Old Persian section of the Behistun inscriptions, using his knowledge of modern Persian. When he recovered the rest of the text in 1843, he and others were gradually able to translate the Elamite and Akkadian sections of it, starting with the 37 signs he had deciphered for the Old Persian. Meanwhile, many more cuneiform texts were coming to light from archaeological excavations, mostly in the Semitic Akkadian language, which were duly deciphered.

By 1850, however, Edward Hincks (1792–1866) came to suspect a non-Semitic origin for cuneiform. Semitic languages are structured according to consonantal forms, whereas cuneiform, when functioning phonetically, was a syllabary, binding consonants to particular vowels. Furthermore, no Semitic words could be found to explain the syllabic values given to particular signs.

[edit] Sumerian

In 1855 Rawlinson announced the discovery of non-Semitic inscriptions at the southern Babylonian sites of Nippur, Larsa, and Uruk. Julius Oppert suggested that a non-Semitic, "Turanian" language had preceded Akkadian in Mesopotamia, and that this language had evolved the cuneiform script.

In 1856, Hincks argued that the untranslated language was agglutinative in character. The language was called "Scythic" by some, and, confusingly, "Akkadian" by others. In 1869, Oppert proposed the name "Sumerian," based on the known title "King of Sumer and Akkad," reasoning that if Akkad signified the Semitic portion of the kingdom, Sumer might describe the non-Semitic annex.

Credit for being first to scientifically treat a bilingual Sumerian-Akkadian text belongs to Paul Haupt (1858-1926), who published Die sumerischen Familiengesetze (The Sumerian family laws) in 1879.[4]

Ernest de Sarzec (1832-1901) began excavating the Sumerian site of Tello (ancient Ngirsu, capital of the state of Lagash) in 1877, and published the first part of Découvertes en Chaldée with transcriptions of Sumerian tablets in 1884. The University of Pennsylvania began excavating Sumerian Nippur in 1888.

A Classified List of Sumerian Ideographs by R. Brünnow appeared in 1889.

The bewildering number and variety of phonetic values that signs could have in Sumerian led to an unfortunate detour in understanding the language — a Paris-based orientalist, Joseph Halévy, argued from 1874 onward that Sumerian was not a natural language, but rather a secret code (a cryptolect), and for over a decade the leading Assyriologists battled over this issue. For a dozen years, starting in 1885, even the great Friedrich Delitzsch accepted Halévy's arguments, not renouncing Halévy until 1897.

It should be mentioned that François Thureau-Dangin working at the Louvre in Paris was a reliable scholar who made significant contributions to deciphering Sumerian with publications from 1898 to 1938, such as his 1905 publication of Les inscriptions de Sumer et d’Akkad.

In 1908, Stephen Langdon summarized the rapid expansion in knowledge of Sumerian and Akkadian vocabulary in the pages of Babyloniaca, a journal edited by Charles Virolleaud, in an article 'Sumerian-Assyrian Vocabularies', which reviewed a valuable new book on rare logograms by Bruno Meissner. Subsequent scholars have found Langdon's work, including his tablet transcriptions, to be not entirely reliable. In 1944, a more careful Sumerologist, Samuel Noah Kramer, provided a detailed and readable summary of the decipherment of Sumerian in his Sumerian Mythology, accessible on the Internet.

Friedrich Delitzsch published a learned Sumerian dictionary and grammar in the form of his Sumerisches Glossar and Grundzüge der sumerischen Grammatik, both appearing in 1914. Delitzsch's student, Arno Poebel, published a grammar with the same title, Grundzüge der sumerischen Grammatik, in 1923, and for 50 years it would be the standard for students studying Sumerian. Poebel's grammar was finally superseded in 1984 on the publication of The Sumerian Language, An Introduction to its History and Grammatical Structure, by Marie-Louise Thomsen.

The difficulty in translating Sumerian can be illustrated by a quote from Miguel Civil of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, regarding a tablet for making beer[5]:

"Two previous attempts, by J.D. Prince in 1919 and M. Witzel in 1938, had produced less than satisfactory results. A line that now even a first year Sumerian student will translate "you are the one who spreads the roasted malt on a large mat (to cool)," was translated "thou real producer of the lightning, exalted functionary, mighty one!" by the first author, and "stärkest du mit dem Gugbulug(-Tranke) den Gross-Sukkal" ["strengthen thou with the Gugbulug (drink) the large Sukkal"] by the second."

"Two developments during the fifties made possible a better understanding of Sumerian literature. In Chicago, Benno Landsberger was editing the Materials for the Sumerian Lexicon. In Philadelphia, where I had been working before 1963, Samuel Noah Kramer was busy making available to scholars as many literary tablets as possible from the collections in Philadelphia, Istanbul, and Jena."

Landsberger worked to publish important bilingual Sumerian-Akkadian lexical tablets from the Old Babylonian period, which have greatly helped our knowledge of Sumerian vocabulary. Kramer and Thorkild Jacobsen both increased our understanding of Sumerian by publishing and translating Sumerian literary texts.

[edit] Phonology and grammar

Typologically, as mentioned above, Sumerian is classified as an agglutinative split ergative language. Ever since its decipherment, the research of Sumerian has been made difficult not only by the lack of any native speakers, but also by the relative sparseness of linguistic data, the apparent lack of a closely related language, and the features of the writing system.

Note: in the following, assumed phonological or morphological forms are presented between slashes //, while plain text is used for the standard Assyriological transcription of Sumerian. Most of the examples are unattested.

[edit] Phonemic inventory

Modern knowledge of Sumerian phonology is inevitably extremely flawed and incomplete because of the lack of native speakers, the transmission through the filter of Akkadian phonology and the difficulties posed by the cuneiform script. As I.M. Diakonoff observes, "when we try to find out the morphophonological structure of the Sumerian language, we must constantly bear in mind that we are not dealing with a language directly but are reconstructing it from a very imperfect mnemonic writing system which had not been basically aimed at the rendering of morphophonemics."

[edit] Consonants

Sumerian is conjectured to have at least the following consonants:

As a rule, /p/, /t/ and /k/ did not occur word-finally[6].

The exact sound of these sibilants has been debated in recent works about Sumerian.[citation needed]

Very often, a word-final consonant was not expressed in writing - and probably in pronunciation - so it surfaced only when followed by a vowel: for example the /k/ of the genitive case ending -ak does not appear in e2 lugal-la "the king's house", but becomes obvious in e2 lugal-la-kam "(it) is the king's house" (compare liaison in French). The existence of various other consonants has been hypothesized based on graphic alternations and loans. For example, Diakonoff lists evidence for two l-sounds, two r-sounds, two h-sounds, and two g-sounds (excluding the velar nasal), and assumes a phonemic difference between consonants that are dropped word-finally (such as the g in zag > za3) and consonants that aren't (such as the g in lag). Other "hidden" consonant phonemes that have been suggested include semivowels such as /j/ and /w/,[9] and a glottal fricative /h/ or a glottal stop that could explain the absence of vowel contraction in some words[10] - though objections have been raised against that as well.[11]

[edit] Vowels

The vowels that are clearly distinguished by the cuneiform script are /a/, /e/, /i/, and /u/. It has also been argued that an /o/ phoneme might have existed, a fact that would have been concealed by the Akkadian transliteration which does not distinguish it from /u/. However, this hypothesis has not found wide support.[12]

There is some evidence for vowel harmony according to vowel height or ATR in the prefix i3/e- in inscriptions from pre-Sargonic Lagash (the specifics of the pattern have led a handful of scholars to postulate not only an /o/ phoneme, but even an /ɛ/ and, most recently, an /ɔ/[13]) Many cases of partial or complete assimilation of the vowel of certain prefixes and suffixes to one in the adjacent syllable are reflected in writing in some of the later periods, and there is a noticeable though not absolute tendency for disyllabic stems to have the same vowel in both syllables.[14] What appears to be vowel contraction in hiatus (*/aa/, */ia/, */ua/ > a, */ae/ > a, */ue/ > u, etc.) is also very common.

Syllables could have any of the following structures: V, CV, VC, CVC. More complex syllable structures, if such have existed, are not expressed by the cuneiform script.

[edit] Grammar

[edit] Nominal morphology

The Sumerian noun is typically a one or two syllable root (igi, "eye", e2, "temple", nin, "lady"). There are two grammatical genders, usually called animate and inanimate (the latter includes animals and also expresses a collective plural), whose assignment is semantically predictable. The adjective and other modifiers follow the noun (lugal gal "great king"). The noun itself can hardly be said to inflect; rather, grammatical markers attach to the noun phrase as a whole, in a certain order. Typically, that would be noun - adjective - possessive pronoun - plural - case: /diĝir gal-gal-ĝu-ne-ra/ ("god-great (reduplicated)-my-plural-dative" = "for all my great gods").[15] The plural and case markers are traditionally referred to as "suffixes", but have recently been described as enclitics[16] or postpositions[17].

The plural markers are /-(e)ne/ (optional) for animates and -Ø for inanimates; plurality can also be marked with the adjective hi-a "various", with the plural of the copula /-meš/, by reduplication of the noun (kur-kur "foreign lands") or of the following adjective (a gal-gal "great waters") - the reduplication is believed to signify totality, thus "all the foreign lands" etc - or by the plurality of the verb form only. The case markers are /-Ø/ (absolutive), /-e/ (ergative), /-ak/ (genitive), /-gin/ (equative = "as, like"), /-(e)š(e)/ (terminative = "to"), /-da/ (comitative = "with"), /-a/ (locative = "in"), /-ta/ (ablative = "from"). Additional "prepositional" phrases can be formed by means of a noun with spatial or temporal meaning (the "preposition"), modified by a noun phrase (or a nominalized verb, see below) in the genitive, and an additional case marker applying to the whole structure: bar udu ḫad2-/a/-ka = "outer side - sheep - white - genitive - locative" = "in the outer side of a white sheep" = "because of a white sheep".

The attested independent personal pronouns are written ĝe26-e (1st p. sing.), za-e (2nd p. sing.), e-ne (3rd p. sing. animate), and a-ne-ne (3rd p. pl. animate). The possessive pronominal morphemes are written -ĝu10 (1st p. sing.), -zu (2nd p. sing.), -/a-/ni (3rd p. sing. animate), -bi (3rd p. sing. inanimate), -me (1st pers. pl.), -zu-ne-ne (2nd p. pl.), -a-ne-ne (3rd animate), and -bi (3rd pers. inanimate and collective).

The Chinese box structure of the noun phrase can be illustrated with the phrase /sipad udu siki-(a)k-ak-ene/ ("the shepherds of wool sheep"), where the first genitive morpheme subordinates siki "wool" to udu "sheep", and the second - "udu siki" (wool sheep) to "sipad" (shepherd).

[edit] Verbal morphology

[edit] General

The Sumerian finite verb distinguishes a number of moods and agrees (more or less consistently) with the subject and the object in person, number and gender. The verb chain may also incorporate pronominal references to the verb's other modifiers, which has also traditionally been described as "agreement", although, in fact, such a reference and the presence of an actual modifier in the clause need not co-occur: not only e2-še3 ib2-ši-du-un "I'm going to the house", but also e2-še3 i3-du-un "I'm going to the house" and simply ib2-ši-du-un "I'm going to it" are possible.[17] The Sumerian verb also makes a binary distinction according to a category that some regard as tense (past vs present-future), others as aspect (perfective vs imperfective), and that will be designated as TA (tense/aspect) in the following. The two members of the opposition entail different conjugation patterns and, at least for many verbs, different stems; they are theory-neutrally referred to with the Akkadian grammatical terms for the two respective forms - ḫamṭu (quick) and marû (slow, fat). Finally, opinions differ on whether the verb has a passive or a middle voice and how it is expressed.

The verbal root is almost always a monosyllable and, together with various affixes, forms a so-called verbal chain which is described as a sequence of about 15 slots, though the precise models differ[18]. The finite verb has both prefixes and suffixes, while the non-finite verb may only have suffixes. Broadly, the prefixes have been divided in three groups that occur in the following order: modal prefixes, "conjugation prefixes", and pronominal and dimensional prefixes[19]. The suffixes are a future or imperfective marker /-ed-/, pronominal suffixes, and an /-a/ ending that nominalizes the whole verb chain.

[edit] Modal prefixes

The modal prefixes are /Ø-/ (indicative), /nu-/ and /la-/, /li-/ (negative; /la/ and /li/ are used before the conjugation prefixes ba- and bi2-) /ga-/ (cohortative, "let me/us"), /ḫa-/ or /ḫe-/ with further assimilation of the vowel in later periods (precative or affirmative), /u-/ (prospective "after/when/if", also used as a mild imperative [7]), /na-/ (negative or affirmative), /bara-/ (negative or vetitive), /nuš-/ (unrealizable wish?) and /ša-/ with further assimilation of the vowel in later periods (affirmative?). Their meaning can depend on the TA.

[edit] "Conjugation prefixes"

The meaning, structure, identity and even the number of "conjugation prefixes" have always been a subject of disagreements. The term "conjugation prefix" simply alludes to the fact that a finite verb in the indicative mood must always contain one of them. Some of their most frequent expressions in writing are mu-, i3- (ED Lagash variant: e-), ba-, bi2- (ED Lagash: bi- or be2), im-, im-ma- (ED Lagash e-ma-), im-mi- (ED Lagash i3-mi or e-me-), mi-(always followed by pronominal-dimensional -ni-) and al-, and to a lesser extent a-, am3-, am3-ma-, and am3-mi-; virtually all analyses attempt to describe many of the above as combinations or allomorphs of each other. The starting point of most analyses are the obvious facts that the 1st person dative always requires mu-, and that the verb in a "passive" clause without an overt agent tends to have ba-. Proposed explanations usually revolve around the subtleties of spatial grammar, information structure (focus[20]), verb valency, and, most recently, voice[21]. Mu-, im- and am3- have been described as ventive morphemes, while ba- and bi2- are sometimes analyzed as actually belonging to the pronominal-dimensional group (inanimate pronominal /-b-/ + dative /-a-/ or directive /-i-/).[22]. Im-ma-, im-mi-, am3-ma- and am3-mi- are then considered by some as a combination of the ventive and /ba-/, /bi-/[22] or otherwise a variety of the ventive[23]. i3- has been argued to be a mere prothetic vowel, al- a stative prefix, ba- a middle voice prefix, etcaetera.

[edit] Pronominal and dimensional prefixes

The dimensional prefixes of the verb chain basically correspond to, and often repeat, the case markers of the noun phrase. Like the latter, they are attached to a "head" - a pronominal prefix. The other place where a pronominal prefix can be placed is immediately before the stem, where it can have a different allomorph and expresses the absolutive or the ergative participant (the transitive subject, the intransitive subject or the direct object), depending on the TA and other factors, as explained below. However, this neat system is obscured by the tendency to drop or merge many of the prefixes in writing and possibly in pronunciation as well. -da-, -ta-, -ši- (early -še3-), occurring in this order, are the comitative, ablative and terminative verbal prefixes; the dative (occurring before the others) is probably /-a-/, and a directive /-i-/ (occurring after the others) is widely recognized as well. The pronominal prefixes are /-n-/ and /-b-/ for the 3rd person singular animate and inanimate respectively; the 2nd person singular appears as -e- in most contexts, but as /-r-/ before the dative (-ra-), leading some[24] to assume a phonetic /-ir-/ or /-jr-/. The 1st person may appear as -e-, too, but is more commonly not expressed at all (the same may frequently apply to 3rd and 2nd persons); it is, however, cued by the choice of mu- as conjugation prefix[23] (/mu-/ + /-a-/ >> ma-). The 1st, 2nd and 3rd plural infixes are -me-,-re?- and -ne- in the dative[23] and perhaps in other contexts as well[24], though not in the pre-stem position (see below). An additional exception from the system is the prefix -ni- which corresponds to a noun phrase in the locative - in which case it doesn't seem to be preceded by a pronominal prefix - and, according to Gábor Zólyomi and others, to an animate one in the directive - in the latter case it is analyzed as pronominal /-n-/ + directive /-i-/. Zólyomi and others also believe that special meanings can be expressed by combinations of non-identical noun case and verb prefix.[25] Also according to some researchers[26] /-ni-/ and /bi-/ acquire the forms /-n-/ and /-b-/ (coinciding with the absolutive/ergative pronominal prefixes) before the stem if there isn't already an absolutive/ergative pronominal prefix in pre-stem position: mu-un-kur9 = /mu-ni-kur/ "he went in there" (as opposed to mu-ni-kur9 = mu-ni-in-kur9 = /mu-ni-n-kur/ "he brought in - caused [something or someone] to go in - there".

[edit] Pronominal suffixes and conjugation

The pronominal suffixes are /-en/ for the 1st and 2nd person singular, /-e/ for the 3rd singular in marû TA and /-Ø/ in ḫamṭu TA, /-enden/ for the 1st plural, /-enzen/ for the 2nd plural, /-ene/ for the third plural in marû and /-eš/ in ḫamṭu (the initial vowel in all of the above suffixes can be assimilated to the root). The general principle for pronominal agreement in conjugation is that in ḫamṭu TA, the transitive subject is expressed by the prefix, and the direct object by the suffix, and in the marû TA it's the other way round; as for the intransitive subject, it is expressed, in both TAs, by the suffixes and is thus treated like the object in ḫamṭu and like the subject in marû (except for the fact that its 3rd person is expressed, not only in ḫamṭu but also in marû, by the suffixes used for the object in the ḫamṭu TA). A major exception from this generalization are the plural forms - in them, not only the prefix (as in the singular), but also the suffix expresses the transitive subject. Additionally, the prefixes of the plural are identical to the ones of the singular - /-?-/ or /-e-/, /-e-/, /-n-/, /-b-/ - as opposed to the -me-, -re-?, -ne- that are presumed for non-pre-stem position - and some scholars believe that the prefixes of the 1st and 2nd person are /-en-/ rather than /-e-/ when they stand for the object[27]. Before the pronominal suffixes, a suffix /-e(d)-/ with a future or related modal meaning can be inserted, accounting for occurrences of -e in the third person singular marû of intransitive forms; because of its meaning, it can also be said to signal marû in these forms[24].

Examples for TA and pronominal agreement: (ḫamṭu is rendered with past tense, marû with present): /i-gub-en/ ("I stood" or "I stand"), /i-n-gub-en/ ("he placed me" or "I place him"); /i-sug-enden/ ("we stood/stand"); /i-n-dim-enden/ ("he created us" or "we create him"); /mu-e?-dim-enden/ ("we created [someone or something]"); i3-gub-be2 = /i-gub-ed/ ("he will/must stand"); ib2-gub-be2 = /i-b-gub-e/ ("he places it"); /i-b-dim-ene/ ("they create it"), /i-n-dim-eš/ ("they created [someone or something]" or "he created them"), /i-sug-eš/ ("they stood" or "they stand").

[edit] Stem

The verbal stem itself can also express grammatical distinctions. The plurality of the absolutive participant[23] can be expressed by complete reduplication of the stem or by a suppletive stem. Reduplication can also express "plurality of the action itself"[23], intensity or iterativity[28]. With respect to TA marking, verbs are divided in 4 types; ḫamṭu is always the unmarked TA. The stems of the 1st type, regular verbs, don't express TA at all according to most scholars, or, according to M. Yoshikawa and others, express marû TA by adding an (assimilating) /-e-/ as in gub-be2 or gub-bu vs gub (which is, however, nowhere distinguishable from the first vowel of the pronominal suffixes except for intransitive marû 3rd person singular). The 2nd type express marû by partial reduplication of the stem as kur9 vs ku4-ku4; the 3rd type express marû by adding a consonant (te vs teĝ3); and the 4th type use a suppletive stem (dug4 vs e). Thus, as many as four different suppletive stems can exist, as in the admittedly extreme case of the verb "to go": ĝen ("to go", ḫamṭu sing.), du (marû sing.), (e-)re7 (ḫamṭu plur.), sub2 (marû plur.)

[edit] Other issues

The nominalizing suffix /-a/ converts non-finite and finite verbs into participles and relative clauses: sum-ma "given", mu-na-an-sum-ma "which he gave to him", "who gave (something) to him", etc.. Adding /-a/ after the future/modal suffix /-ed/ produces a form with a meaning similar to the Latin gerundive: sum-mu-da = "which will/should be given". On the other hand, adding a (locative-terminative?) /-e/ after the /-ed/ yields a form with a meaning similar to the Latin ad + gerund (acc.) construction: sum-mu-de3 = "(in order) to give".

The copula verb /me/ "to be" is mostly used as an enclitic: -men, -men, -am, -menden, -menzen, -(a)meš.

The imperative mood construction is produced with a singular ḫamṭu stem, but using the marû agreement pattern, by turning all prefixes into suffixes: mu-na-an-sum "he gave (something) to him", mu-na-e-sum-mu-un-ze2-en "you (plur.) gave (something) to him" - sum-mu-na-ab "give it to him!", sum-mu-na-ab-ze2-en "give (plur.) it to him!" Compare the French tu lui le donnes, vous lui le donnez (present tense) - donne-le-lui!, "donnez-le-lui!"[23]

[edit] Syntax

The basic word order is Subject Object Verb; verb finality is only violated in rare instances, in poetry. The moving of constituent towards the beginning of the phrase may be a way to highlight it[29], as may the addition of the copula to it. The so-called anticipatory genitive (e2-a lugal-bi "the owner of the house/temple", lit. "of the house, its owner") is common and may signal the possessor's topicality.[29] There are various ways to express subordination, some of which have already been hinted at; they include the nominalization of a verb, which can then be followed by case morphemes and possessive pronouns (kur9-ra-ni "when he entered") and included in "prepositional" constructions (eĝer a-ma-ru ba-ur3-ra-ta "back - flood - conjugation prefix - sweep over - nominalizing suffix - [genitive suffix?] - ablative suffix" = "from the back of the Flood's sweeping-over" = "after the Flood had swept over"). Subordinating conjunctions such as ud-da "when, if", tukum-bi "if" are also used, though the coordinating conjunction u3 "and", a Semitic loan, is rarely used. A specific problem of Sumerian syntax is posed by the numerous so-called compound verbs, which usually involve a noun immediately before the verb, forming a lexical or idiomatic unit[30] (e.g. šu...ti, lit. "hand-approach" = "receive"; igi...du8, lit. "eye-open" = "see"). Some of them are claimed to have a special agreement pattern that they share with causative constructions: their logical object, like the causee, receives, in the verb, the directive infix, but in the noun, the dative suffix if animate and the directive if inanimate.[31]

[edit] Conclusion

There is clearly much work to be done in the research of the structure of the Sumerian language. There is strong motivation to do so, however, as Sumerian is uniquely positioned as one of the few languages for which a writing system was developed without foreknowledge of other systems, and as such, a firm understanding of the connection between the Sumerian tongue and the development of the writing system would shed light on not a small number of interesting linguistic and psycholinguistic areas.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c [Woods C. 2006 “Bilingualism, Scribal Learning, and the Death of Sumerian.” In S.L. Sanders (ed) Margins of Writing, Origins of Culture: 91-120 Chicago [1]
  2. ^ Sumerian Language
  3. ^ Michalowski, P., 2006: The Lives of the Sumerian Language, in S.L. Sanders (ed.), Margins of Writing, Origins of Cultures, Chicago, 159-184 [2]
  4. ^ in Keilschrift, Transcription und Übersetzung : nebst ausführlichem Commentar und zahlreichen Excursen : eine assyriologische Studie (Leipzig : J.C. Hinrichs, 1879)
  5. ^ Modern brewers recreate ancient beer, by Miguel Civil
  6. ^ [Keetman, J. 2007. Gab es ein h im Sumerischen? In: Babel und Bibel 3, p.21]
  7. ^ Michalowski, Piotr (2008): Sumerian. In: Woodard, Roger D. (ed.) The Ancient Languages of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Aksum. Cambridge University Press. P.16
  8. ^ D. Foxvog, Introduction to Sumerian grammar, p. 21. Retrieved 2009-03-15.
  9. ^ ETCSL overview of Sumerian
  10. ^ Attinger, Pascal, 1993. Eléments de linguistique sumérienne. P. 212 [3]
  11. ^ [Keetman, J. 2007. Gab es ein h im Sumerischen? In: Babel und Bibel 3, passim]
  12. ^ Michalowski, Piotr (2008): Sumerian. In: Woodard, Roger D. (ed.) The Ancient Languages of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Aksum. Cambridge University Press. P.16
  13. ^ Smith, Eric J M. 2007. [-ATR] Harmony and the Vowel Inventory of Sumerian. Journal of Cuneiform Studies volume 57
  14. ^ Michalowski, Piotr (2008): Sumerian. In: Woodard, Roger D. (ed.) The Ancient Languages of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Aksum. Cambridge University Press. P.17
  15. ^ Kausen, Ernst. 2006. Sumerische Sprache. P.9
  16. ^ Zólyomi, Gábor, 1993: Voice and Topicalization in Sumerian. PhD Dissertation [4]
  17. ^ a b Johnson, Cale, 2004: In the Eye of the Beholder: Quantificational, Pragmatic and Aspectual Features of the *bí- Verbal Formation in Sumerian, Dissertation. UCLA, Los Angeles[5]
  18. ^ See e.g. Rubio 2007, Attinger 1993, Zólyomi 2005 (Sumerisch. In: Sprachen des Alten Orients, ed. M. Streck), PPCS Morphological model
  19. ^ E.g. Attinger 1993, Rubio 2007
  20. ^ Rubio 2007 and references therein
  21. ^ Zólyomi 1993; Also Woods, Cristopher, 2008: The Grammar of Perspective: The Sumerian Conjugation Prefixes as a System of Voice
  22. ^ a b E.g. Zólyomi 1993
  23. ^ a b c d e f Rubio 2007
  24. ^ a b c Zólyomi 2005
  25. ^ Zólyomi (forthcoming): Structural interference from Akkadian in Old Babylonian Sumerian. To be published in Acta Sumerologica 22 [6]
  26. ^ Zólyomi 1993, Attinger 1993
  27. ^ Attinger 1993, Khachikyan 2007: (Towards the Aspect System in Sumerian. In: Babel und Bibel 3.)
  28. ^
  29. ^ a b Zólyomi 1993
  30. ^ Johnson 2004:22
  31. ^ Zólyomi forthcoming

[edit] Bibliography

  • Edzard, Dietz Otto (2003). Sumerian Grammar. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 90-04-12608-2.  (grammar treatment for the advanced student)
  • Thomsen, Marie-Louise (2001) [1984]. The Sumerian Language: An Introduction to Its History and Grammatical Structure. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag. ISBN 87-500-3654-8.  (Well-organized with over 800 translated text excerpts.)
  • Diakonoff, I. M. (1976). "Ancient Writing and Ancient Written Language: Pitfalls and Peculiarities in the Study of Sumerian". Assyriological Studies 20 (Sumerological Studies in Honor of Thorkild Jakobsen): 99–121. 
  • Rubio, Gonzalo (2007). "Sumerian Morphology." In Morphologies of Asia and Africa, vol. 2, pp. 1327-1379. Edited by Alan S. Kaye.. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns. ISBN 1-57506-109-0. 
  • Attinger, Pascal (1993). Eléments de linguistique sumérienne: La construction de du11/e/di. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck&Ruprecht. ISBN 37-2780-869-1. 
  • Volk, Konrad (1997). A Sumerian Reader. Rome: Pontificio Istituto Biblico. ISBN 88-7653-610-8.  (collection of Sumerian texts)
  • Michalowski, Piotr, 'Sumerian as an Ergative Language', Journal of Cuneiform Studies 32 (1980), 86-103.

[edit] Further reading

  • Ebeling, J., & Cunningham, G. (2007). Analysing literary Sumerian : corpus-based approaches. London: Equinox. ISBN 1845532295
  • Halloran, J. A. (2007). Sumerian lexicon: a dictionary guide to the ancient Sumerian language. Los Angeles, Calif: Logogram. ISBN 0978642910

[edit] External links

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