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Chroniques de Chant-de-Fer  |  English Guest Room  |  The Khuzdul  |  Fil de discussion: Akkadian « sujet précédent | | sujet suivant »
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« le: 20 Octobre 2004, 16:27:59 »

In order to expand (a little) the english section of the site, I thought it will be a good idea to translate a brief overview of this language I've posted sometimes ago, to give something to read to our English-speaking friends :salut:


It is the oldest known semitic language (~2500 B.C..). It was in use through a large area, spreading from Egypt to Persia, including Anatolia (modern Turkey), until Caesar's times (under writing form exclusevely).
Several dialects are derived from akkadian : babylonian (early, middle, later), assyrian...


To have some idea of the degree of relationship :

   SEPTENTRIONAL SEMITIC : amorite, ugaritic, eblaite
   CANAANITE :  phoenician,  moabite, hebrew
   ARAMAIC :  aramaic, jewish aramaic, samaritan, nabatean,
   SOUTH-WESTERN SEMITIC: old arabian, classical arabian, ethiopian,

Linguistic spreading of the use of the cuneiform system (semitic or not)

Language/    Period/   Area

   Sumerian   /~VI/III millenium B.C./   Mesopotamia
   Hurite   /~III/II mill. B.C.   /South Anatolia
   Old Akkadian/   ~III mill. B.C.   /Mesopotamia
   Canaanite/   ~II mill. B.C.   /Palestin
   Hittite    /~II mill. B.C.   /Anatolia
   Elamite/   ~II/I mill. B.C./   South-Western Persia


Contrary to its cousins, the akkadian is a non-alphabetical cuneiform semitic writing. So, there is no alphabet !

Pronunciation is the same as in English, but :

- u is always pronounced ou : Uruk = Ourouk,
- all the consonants are pronounced : Ningirsu = Ninn-gir-sou, and not Nain-gir-sou
- all the consonants are hard : Ningirsu = Ninn-guir-sou, and not Ninn-jir-sou
- h correspond to the spanish jota,
- s (shin) correspond to ch (like in church).
- there is no sound corresponding to f, c, v, x, y.

The circumflex accent on a vowel indicates a long variant : Atra-hasîs.

Curiosity of this language, the vowel « o » doesn't exist in akkadian !


1) Words

- Words are not separated  by a blank in akkadian. Generally, a sentence fits into a single line of writing. Thus, a sentence including few words will be very spaced out.  The last sign is aligned to the right, and a word is never prolonged on the next line.
- All the words are formed with short syllables (ex : pa-ra-sum).
- Like in the others semitic languages, the root of an akkadian word is formed by 2 or 3 consonants (ex : *prs = parâsum (infinitive form)= to decide, to separate).
- Unlike the others semitic languages, as in hebrew for example, vowels are written. The meaning of this exception is  the use by akkadians of sumerian cuneiforms, who systematically wrote the vowels.
- The akkadian doesn't have any definite or indefinite article, but definites the noun according to the context.

2) Affixes (prefixes, suffixes, infixes)

a) Prefixes

In akkadian, the personal pronouns subjects doesn't appears as a separate word, but are expressed in the conjugations by prefixes and/or particular endings (ex : i for he/she). Thus : « he decided » gives   i-prus  (infinitive form parâsum).

b) Suffixes

In akkadian, possessive pronouns are suffixed. Thus : his, her =  su  , with qatum  (hand), it gives  qatsu  = his/her hand.


   Your (m.)   -ka
   Your (f.)   -ki
   His   -su
   Her   -sa
   Our   -ni
   Your (m. pl.)   -kunu
   Your (f. pl.)   -kina
   Their (m.)   -sunu
   Their (f.)   -sina[/list]

c) Infixes

In akkadian, -t- (often present under the -ta- form) is largely widespread and generally shows a passive form of the verb.

    iparras   Present : he's separating   
       iptaras   Perfect : he has separated

3) Nouns

a) Case of the noun

In akkadian, 3 cases are principally used :
- nominative : shows the subject of the sentence.
- genitive : shows the relations between nouns and  prepositions.
- accusative : shows the object in the sentence.

Exemple :
sarrum (the/a king)   nominative   
sarrim      génitive      
sarram      accusative

Here, vowels indicates the case.

b) Name gender

Akkadian has two genders, masculine and feminine.

The feminine is marked by -t or -at suffixed to the root.
Thus : - *sarr- (king) +  -at (feminin's mark) +  -um  (noun's genitive mark ) = sarratum (queen).
            -  kârabu (to bless) + -i (genitive) + -t (feminin's mark) = kâribtu (she (who) blesses)

c) Number

Maybe as the khuzdûl, akkadian has 3 grammatical forms :  singular, plural et dual.

The plural form is characterized by long vowels  and the suppression of the -m.

Exemple :
Nominative : sarrû (the kings)
Genitive : sarrî

The dual is characterized by long vowels and nunnation (addition of a final  -n )

Exemple :
Nominative : inân (two eyes)
Genitive : inîn

d) The construct state

Like in khuzdûl, two nouns can be combined to form a « compound ». The first part is the construct state (written in a special grammatical form) and the second part, a noun in a genitive.
Thus : bêl(um), « lord » in the construct state  +  bîtum, « land » in the genitive, bîtim  =  bêl bîtim, « lord of the land ».

4) Adjectives

In akkadian, there are no degrees of comparison which are expressed by special endings (Ex : great -er = more great). One more time, the interpretation depends on the context. Adjectives like rabû (great) must sometimes be translated as  « greater ».
In Akkadian, the (attributive) adjective normally follows the noun it modifies.
Example : sarrum dannum (« the strong/powerful king » ), awîlum kabtum  (« an important man »).
One also finds the inverse order (here the adjective preceding the noun) when the adjective is intimately related to the noun, like ellum Anum « the pure/holy god Anum »)

Adjective usually has the same endings as the noun :
-  sarrum dannum  (« the strong/powerful king ») nominative
-  ana sarrim dannim  (« to the  strong/powerful king ») genitive
-  sarram dannam  (« the strong/powerful king ») accusative

a) Types of adjectives

The two most common types of adjective expresses the quality of the noun  (a useful book) and the state of the noun (wet, ill).
b) Use of adjectives

In addition  of its attributive function, it can be used as a verbal adjective (a function proper to the semitic languages) : an adjective like «good » can be the state verb «to be good».

5) Abstract nouns

The akkadians abstract nouns are formed with affixes (ex. in english : sad-ness, judge-ment, ...etc).

      meaning   /abstract noun/   meaning

   âliku   /he who goes/   âlikûtu   /(function of) messenger
   bêlu/   lord   /bêlûtu   lordship
   dannu/   strong   /dannûtu/   fortress/stronghold
   enlil/   supreme god/   enlilûtu   /Enlil-ship
   etlu   /young man/   etlûtu   /youth
   malku/   sovereign   /malikûtu   /sovereignty
   sarru/   king/   sarrûtu   /kingship

6) The verb

Here is the biggest part (and the hardest) of the akkadian grammar !

The great particularity of this language (compared to the english, for example), is that the whole structure of the word can be modified according to the conjugation time, whereas only the ending changes in english. The root is the only part of the word which doesn't change at all (but see the «weak verbs »).

One more particularity :  there is no future time in akkadian ! It's the  present which expresses also the future.

a) Strong and weak verbs

The term « weak » and « strong » verbs is passed on by the definition of `weak' and `strong' consonants. A weak consonant like n and the aleph ' may undergo phonetic modification (such as assimilation) if it occurs before an other consonant. E.g. in English n in the prefix in- (`invisible') becomes (assimilates to) m in `immature' (in+mature).

Thus, in akkadian, strong verbs are verbs having 3 strong consonants in the root  (Ex : *prs), that do not undergo phonetic modification in different positions in the conjugations.
Verbs are described as « weak » when they not correspond to this definition (to simplify).

b) Stems of the verb

Like the other semitic languages, the akkadian verb is conjugated according to several sub-systems called stems. They are differentiated by the presence or the lack of infixed or increased elements.

There are 4 main stems :  
- G (from which the others are derived). Ex : iprus = he has separated (*prs au prétérite);
- D (duplication of the 2nd radical + prefix -u). Ex : uparris ;
- s (s prefix the root *prs and -u prefix the lot). Ex : usapris ;
- N (the root is prefixed by -n). Ex : ipparis (-n always assimilates to the 1st radical, here -p)

c) Tenses of the verbs

In akkadian, there are 4 times in each stem :

- present, which expresses the duration (of an action);
- preterit, which expresses an action localized in the past;
- perfect, which expresses an action in temporal relationship with another action or with the present time;
- stative, which expresses a state rather than an action. Ex : «he is old» instead of «he's becoming old » .

There is also two verbal forms which are not conjugated : infinitive and participe.

d) Classes of the verbs

We can divide akkadian verbs in two classes :

- Action verbs, characterized by different vowels (isbat, irpud, ipqîd).
- State verbs, characterized by the i vowel (idmiq)

For this time, I will not tell you about the conjugations/paradigms charts, which are particularly hard to learn.

Combination of all of these factors gives more than 1000 different forms for each verb  !

Sources (very didactic) (italian site which gives a lot of informations, but using a strange english/italian language !)
La Mésopotamie de G. ROUX éd. du Seuil 1985
Lorsque les dieux faisaient l'homme de J.BOTTERO éd. Gallimard 1989
Manuel d'épigraphie akkadienne de LABAT/MALBRAN-LABAT (the reference !)

i]C'est parce que la vitesse de la lumière est plus rapide que celle du son, que bien des gens paraissent brillants avant de passer pour des c....[/i]
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