S14 – Grammar


  1. Rodrigo Hernáiz Gómez (Philipps-Universität Marburg / Universitat de Barcelona)
  2. Øyvind Bjøru (University of Texas at Austin)
  3. Jacob J. De Ridder (Universität Leipzig)
  4. Boris Alexandrov (Moscow State University)
  5. Sara Manasterska (Uniwersytet Warszawski = University of Warsaw)

Paper Titles and Abstracts 

Investigating Variation and Change in the Old Babylonian Language: New Perspectives
Rodrigo Hernáiz (Philipps-Universität Marburg / Universitat de Barcelona)

In 1945 Goetze published ‘The Akkadian dialects of the Old-Babylonian Mathematical Texts’, an article that suggested the existence of designated dialectal areas in OB Mesopotamia, and fostered further analyses to assess this hypothesis: “It seems promising to ask whether the classification derived from business documents and letters is also applicable to the mathematical texts, and whether perhaps a study on them can furnish criteria for positing additional sub-classes.” (Goetze 1945, 146). Nevertheless, despite many later analyses of individual archives and peripheral areas (e.g. Mari or Susa), the nature, extent and significance of the orthographic and linguistic variation for most of the core OB textual record is still underdeveloped. At the general level of Akkadian, Worthington observes: “The knowledge which Assyriology possesses about Akkadian orthography and textual change is neither systematised nor efficiently pooled: with rare exceptions, [note 9: Goetze 1945. MW] insights achieved are not widely taken note of and reapplied to new sources, but left to languish in inconspicuous footnotes.” (Worthington, 2012, 2-3).
In the last decades, the advantages of applying digital tools and techniques to data recovered from past societies have become a corner-stone for new approaches to the so-called social sciences. In the field of linguistics, for example, the creation and analysis of text corpora has shed light on processes of language variation and change as they interweave with diastratic and diatopic variables. Nevertheless, could we stretch the scope of such techniques to endeavour into the study of ancient languages without losing fundamental robustness?
In this contribution, some of the methodological issues of the study of orthographic and linguistic variation in an annotated corpus of Old Babylonian letters will be discussed. This will include some of the pitfalls derived from textual and extra-linguistic sources, and some of the outcomes from the corpus-based analysis that suggest a link between textual nuances and the fluctuating sociolinguistic landscape of the Old Babylonian period.

Selected references

Charpin, D. (2010): Writing, law, and kingship in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia. University of Chicago Press.

Goetze, A. (1945). The Akkadian dialects of the Old-Babylonian Mathematical Texts, in: O. Neugebauer, A. J. Sachs, A. J., & A. Goetze: Mathematical cuneiform texts. American Oriental Society.

Hernáiz, R. (tbp): Studies on linguistic and orthographic variation in Old Babylonian letters. (PhD Dissertation).

Romaine, S. (1988): Historical sociolinguistics: problems and methodology. In U. Ammon, N. Dittmar, & K. Mattheier, Sociolinguistics: Soziolinguistik: Ein Internationales Handbuch Zur Wissenschaft Von Sprache und Gesellschaft. Zweiter Halbband: An International Handbook of the Science of Language and Society. Second Volume (pp. 1452-1469). Walter de Gruyter.

Sallaberger, W. (1999): " Wenn Du mein Bruder bist,...": Interaktion und Textgestaltung in altababylonischen Alltagsbriefen. Brill.

Worthington, M. (2012): Principles of Akkadian textual criticism. De Gruyter.

Semantic Transitivity and the Akkadian verbal Stems
Øyvind Bjøru (University of Texas at Austin)

In this paper, I will use recent advances in transitivity theory to show how each of the Akkadian verbal stems can be seen as performing a quite specific function in terms of semantic transitivity.
The derived verbal stems in the Semitic languages are commonly explained in one of two ways: 1) in terms of diathesis, with each stem being ascribed a core grammatical voice, to which exceptions are mere variations, or 2) by means of a more or less exhaustive list of otherwise disparate syntactic and semantic functions. Both of these approaches are inadequate in that they either give too much weight to emblematic voice distinctions (passive, reflexive, causative, etc.), or fail to account for what allows varied syntactic and semantic categories to be expressed by the same morphological form. I will show that configurations of three parameters of the Agent (and Patient), viz. volition, instigation, and affectedness can elucidate both oppositions and overlaps within the system. In doing so, I mount a critique of N.J.C. Kouwenberg’s work on the D-stem in particular and partly rehabilitate A. Goetze’s interpretation of the D-stem as factitive, as opposed to a causative Š-stem, recasting and developing the argument in terms of semantic transitivity.

Numerals and their Patterns in Akkadian
Jacob J. De Ridder (Universität Leipzig)

Semitic languages are known for their system of, mostly, trilateral roots which are used as a skeleton to build various verbal and nominal forms. Using this system, nouns can be derived from verbs which are generally labelled as deverbal. The opposite is also possible; verbs and other nouns can have their origin in another substantive. These statements are also true for cardinal numbers, which act as a source for several derived adjectives, adverbs and verbal forms. In this paper we will look at the situation in Akkadian while comparing the system of denominal numbers with other Semitic languages. There will be a focus on ordinal numbers, which have a relatively complex morphology in Akkadian as there are differences between the two main dialects: Babylonian and Assyrian. In addition, the morphologic ordinal number can also be used in different functions such as when they refer to fraction or collective numbers. In addition to basic nominal patterns, Akkadian can further modify nouns by the addition of suffixes such as the nisbe. These augmented patterns change the function of the modified noun into an adjective or adverb. This paper will also discuss how these suffixes are used on the various denominal forms of the numbers.


On Wh-questions in Old Babylonian
Boris Alexandrov (Moscow State University)

Interrogative sentences have already been subject of special analysis in the literature on Akkadian linguistics (e.g. Buccellati 1996: 420; Deutscher 2007: 137—148; Cohen 2013; Kouwenberg 2017, § 22.12.—22.13, 26.16.—26.24.). However, some problems still remain, and one of them concerns the word order in this type of sentences. The corpus of Old Babylonian letters (AbB 1—14) shows almost equal distribution of clause-initially moved ex-situ interrogatives and their in-situ counterparts. This is per se an interesting fact, but what strikes most is that 96% of wh-ex-situ sentences contain why-questions (ana mīnim and byforms). The paper will address the question of why’s predominance in clause initial ex-situ position. One of the possible explanation for the fact is based on the assumption that some types of why-questions are based generated in CP or left periphery of the clause, that is can occur only in clause initial position.


Buccellati, G. A. (1996): Structural Grammar of Babylonian, Wiesbaden.

Cohen, E. (2013): Indirect Representation of Questions in Old Babylonian Akkadian (Babel und Bibel, Vol. 7), p. 50-84.

Deutscher, G. (2007): Syntactic Change in Akkadian. The Evolution of Sentential Complementation, Oxford.

Kouwenberg, N. J. C. (2007): A Grammar of Old Assyrian, Leiden.

Stepanov A., Dylan Tsai W.-T. (2008): Cartography and Licensing of Wh-adjuncts: a Cross-linguistic Perspective (Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, Vol. 26), p. 589-638.

Nouns and Cases: an Analysis of Neo-Assyrian Letters
Sara Manasterska (Uniwersytet Warszawski = University of Warsaw)

In his famous grammar W. von. Soden wrote that in the Neo-Babylonian and Neo-Assyrian period the case system of Akkadian underwent a change that eliminated the accusative ending -a, resulting in a dual-case system of nominative-accusative and genitive (von Soden 1952: 80-81). This observation has been assumed to be essentially correct, although it can be neatly complemented with the observation that in the instances where the object may be difficult to differentiate from neighbouring nominal forms and needs to be emphasised for clarity, it can be preceded by the preposition ana used as a nota accusativi (Parpola 1984: 205, Hämeen-Anttila 2000: 77). However, a detailed analysis of Neo-Assyrian nouns and their cases is still pending (the history of research on cases in Neo- and Late Babylonian is summarised by Streck 2014). The following paper is an attempt to rectify this situation by presenting a detailed account of the nouns in the Neo-Assyrian letters. The nouns will be classified according to their endings, and on the basis of the verb by which they are governed and its syntactic and semantic function. The presence or absence of any statistically significant distribution patterns of nominal endings will be crucial in establishing whether the heretofore generally assumed paradigm of Neo-Assyrian declension is correct.


Hämeen-Anttila, J. (2000): A Sketch of Neo-Assyrian Grammar (State Archives of Assyria Studies 13), Helsinki.

Parpola, S. (1984): “Likalka ittatakku. Two notes on the morphology of the verb alāku in Neo-Assyrian", in: Halén, H. (ed.): Studia Orientalia: Memoriae Jussi Aro dedicata (StOr 55), Helsinki, p. 183-209.

Streck, M. P. (2014): “Die Kasusflexion im Status rectus des Neu- und Spätbabylonischen”, in: Krebernik, M. /  Neumann, H. (eds.): Babylonien und seine Nachbarn in neu- und spätbabylonischer Zeit. Wissenschaftliches Kolloquium aus Anlass des 75. Geburtstags von Joachim Oelsner. Jena 2. und 3. März 2007, Münster, p. 247-288.

Von Soden, W. (1952): Grundriss der akkadischen Grammatik (Analecta Orientalia 33), Rom.

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