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Akkadian (lišānum akkadītum) was a Semitic language (part of the greater Afro-Asiatic language family) spoken in ancient Mesopotamia, particularly by the Assyrians and Babylonians. The earliest attested Semitic language, it used the cuneiform writing system derived ultimately from ancient Sumerian, an unrelated, non-Semitic language. The name of the language is derived from the city of Akkad, a major center of Mesopotamian civilization.
Akkadian is divided into several varieties based on geography and historical period:
- 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
Template:Ancient Mesopotamia Akkadian scribes wrote the language using cuneiform script, an earlier writing system devised by 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. 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 minus any vowels).
As far as can be told from the cuneiform orthography of Akkadian, several Proto-Semitic phonemes are lost in Akkadian. Proto-Semitic glottal and pharyngeal stops Template:Semxlit and fricatives Template:Semxlit are lost as consonants, either by sound change or orthographically, but they gave rise to a vowel quality e not known in Proto-Semitic. The interdental and the voiceless lateral fricatives (Template:Semxlit) merged with sibilants as in Canaanite, leaving 19 consonantal phonemes:
There are four vowels, with distinctive vowel length:
Akkadian is an inflected language, and as a Semitic language its grammatical features are highly similar to those found in Classical Arabic. It possesses two genders (masculine and feminine), distinguished in second person pronouns (you-masc., you-fem.) and verb conjugations; three cases for nouns and adjectives (nominative, accusative, and genitive); three numbers (singular, dual, and plural); and unique verb conjugations for each first, second, and third person pronoun.
Akkadian nouns are declined according to gender, number and case. There are three genders; masculine, feminine and common. Only a very few nouns belong to the common gender. There are also three cases (nominative, accusative and genitive) and three numbers (singular, dual and plural). Adjectives are declined exactly like nouns.
Akkadian verbs have thirteen separate root stems. The three basic modifications of the simple stem (numbered I, or called the Grundstamm, G-Stamm) are doubling of the second root-letter (II or Doppelungsstamm, D-Stamm), š-prefix (III or Š-Stamm) or n-prefix (IV or N-Stamm). A second series is created by infixing the syllable ta between the first two root letters, creating a generally reflexive set of stems. These two sets of four stems each are the most commonly used in Akkadian. A third set is created by the infixation of the syllable tan between the first two root letters. The final stem uses both the š-prefix and doubling of the second root letter. The stems, their nomenclature and examples of the third-person masculine singular permansive of the verb parāsum (root PRS: 'to decide, distinguish, separate') is shown below:
|I.1||G||paris||the simple stem, used for transitive and intransitive verbs||corresponding to Arabic stem I (fa‘ala) and Hebrew qal|
|II.1||D||purrus||gemination of the second radical, indicating the intensive||corresponding to Arabic stem II (fa‘‘ala) and Hebrew pi‘el|
|III.1||Š||šuprus||š-preformative, indicating the causative||corresponding to Arabic stem IV (’af‘ala) and Hebrew hiph‘il|
|IV.1||N||naprus||n-preformative, indicating the reflexive/passive||corresponding to 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||corresponding to Arabic stem VIII (ifta‘ala) and Aramaic ’ithpe‘al|
|II.2||Dt||putarrus||doubled second radical preceded by infixed t, indicating intensive reflexive||corresponding to Arabic stem V (tafa‘‘ala) and Hebrew hithpa‘el|
|III.2||Št||šutaprus||š-preformative with t-infix, indicating reflexive causative||corresponding to Arabic stem X (istaf‘ala) and Aramaic ’ittaph‘al|
|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||š-preformative with tan-infix|
|IV.3||Ntn||itaprus||n-preformative with tan-infix|
Akkadian verbs usually display the tri-consonantal root, though some roots with two- or four-consonant roots also exist. There are three tenses: present, preterite and permansive. Present tense indicates incomplete action and preterite tense indicates complete action, while permansive tense expresses a state or condition and usually takes a particle.
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 SVO language Geez.) 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 BC to the 1st millennium AD, possibly under the influence of Aramaic.
- Atrahasis Epic (early 2nd millennium BCE)
- Enûma Elish (ca. 18th century BCE)
- Amarna letters (14th century BCE)
- Epic of Gilgamesh (Sin-liqe-unninni' "standard" version, 13th to 11th century BCE)
- Bussmann, Hadumod (1996). Routledge Dictionary of Language and Linguistics. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-20319-8
- Caplice, Richard (1980). Introduction to Akkadian. Rome: Biblical Institute Press. (1983: ISBN 8876534407; 1988, 2002: ISBN 8876535667)
- Huehnergard, John (2005). A Grammar of Akkadian (Second Edition). Eisenbrauns. ISBN 1-57506-922-9
- Marcus, David (1978). A Manual of Akkadian. University Press of America. ISBN 0-8191-0608-9
- Mercer, Samuel A B (1961). Introductory Assyrian Grammar. New York: F Ungar. ISBN 0-486-42815-X
- Soden, Wolfram von (1952). Grundriss der akkadischen Grammatik. Analecta Orientalia 33. Roma: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum. (3rd ed.: ISBN 88-7653-258-7)
- Akkadian Language Sample
- A detailed introduction to Akkadian
- First lesson of Richard Caplice, Introduction to Akkadian
- Sample pages of Introductory Assyrian Grammar by Samuel A B Mercer
- Akkadian-English-French Online DictionaryTemplate:Link FA
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