Grammatical Variation in Neo-Assyrian

by Maria Yakubovich
Grammatical Variation in Neo-Assyrian
Maria Yakubovich
Journal of the American Oriental Society
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Reviewed work(s): Grammatical Variation in Neo-Assyrian by Mikko Luukko

Grammatical Variation in Neo-Assyrian. BY MIKKO LUUKKO. State Archives of Assyria Studies, vol. 16. Helsinki: THE NEO-ASSYRIAN TEXT CORPUS PROJECT, 2004. Pp. xiv 276. $60 (paper).
Assyrian, alongside Babylonian, is considered to be a dialectal group within Akkadian. Neo-Assyrian is the youngest Assyrian dialect, existing between approximately 1000 and 612 B.C. It was used throughout the territory of the vast Assyrian empire, together with the Babylonian and Aramaic languages.
The appearance of Mikko Luukko's book will certainly please scholars working with Neo-Assyrian texts as well as those interested in Akkadian linguistics. The variations in the writing of Akkadian can provide us with valuable information about changes in phonology, morphology, syntax, and writing conventions. Lamentably, very few works dedicated to variation in different periods of the Akkadian language have appeared so far. Furthermore, none of the extant works, such as A. Goetze, in RA 52 (1958), and J. Guy, Phonetique comparee des dialects moyen-babyloniens du nord et de l'ouest (Leuven, 1966), matches Luukko's book in clarity and accuracy of presentation and explanation.
The book under review examines synchronic linguistic variation in Neo-Assyrian texts. The main purpose of this study is to collect and describe the available evidence. The Neo-Assyrian variations investigated in this book are only those that have been transmitted to us in Neo-Assyrian sources proper. The transliterations of Neo-Assyrian words and loanwords from and into other languages have not been taken into consideration. The author tries to analyze the evidence synchronically, without comparing the divergent variants with older or contemporary forms of other dialects of Akkadian, even though occasionally he has to resort to historical comparison, especially with Middle Assyrian (pp. 93, 144). Proper treatment of historical changes that are reflected in the Neo-Assyrian variations would make the book even more useful. In any case, all future research on historical linguistics of Akkadian dialects, including Neo-Assyrian, will be greatly aided by Luukko's work.
The reader of this book should also keep in mind that even though its title is "Grammatical Variation in Neo-Assyrian," the actual textual corpus under investigation does not include all Neo-Assyrian texts. In addition to all available Neo-Assyrian letters, the author has taken into consideration the treaties and loyalty oaths of the kings published in SAA II, as well as selected legal documents. None of the royal inscriptions, literary texts, administrative and economic texts, trade documents, astrological reports, or oracle queries has been included. It is also important to note that the term "Grammatical Variation" does not precisely define all of the discussed cases.
Luukko divides variations discussed in his book into several types that belong either to the category "grammatical," such as phonological, morphological or syntactic, or the category "external," which includes geographical, orthographic, prosodic, stylistic, chronological, semantic, graphemic, and free variations, plus idiolects, idiosyncrasies, and scribal slips. The four main chapters of the book are dedicated to graphemic and orthographic peculiarities (chapter 3), phonological (chapter 4), morphological (chapter 5), syntactic (chapter 6), and semantic (chapter 7) variations. The remaining external types of variation "are inserted in places where the weight of their evidence appears meaningful." The author tries "to explain some of the causes behind variations by means of factors that lie outside the categories of traditional grammar" (p. 7).
I think one can divide all variations in Neo-Assyrian into linguistic and orthographic categories. "Linguistic" is a somewhat more appropriate term than "grammatical," because it includes phonological, morphological, syntactic, semantic and prosodic variations, whereas traditional grammar only includes phonology, morphology and syntax. Orthographic variations include number and choice of signs, choice of syllabification, defective vs. full and syllabic vs. logographic writing. In my opinion, the difference in the realization of assimilation (partial, complete and non-assimilation) belongs to the category of phonological variations.
Graphemic variations are a subcategory of orthographic variations and do not form a separate category "closely linked to orthographic variation" (p. 11). All other variations listed by Luukko (geographic, chronological, stylistic, idiolect, idiosyncrasies, and scribal slips) are motivations or causes behind the linguistic and the orthographic variations, rather than variations themselves. For example, phonological variation can be caused by geographical or stylistic factors.
Free variation represents yet another classificatory dimension. Thus the phonological variation salimtu vs. salintu (p. 10) is free because there is no difference in meaning, whereas the phonological variation le-e-pu-u-su vs. le-e-pu-us is not free because the anaptyctic vowel at the end of the word marks the interrogative intonation (p. 99).
These labeling problems do not negatively affect the overall structure of the book, which is organized in a clear manner and is user-friendly. Each example is provided with the root of the discussed word, and textual quotations for both marked and unmarked forms.
The chapter concerning graphemic variation and orthographic peculiarities includes information about all graphemes used in the corpus. The signs are listed with their values in Neo-Assyrian, numbers from R. Borger, Assyrisch-babylonische Zeichenliste (1986), occurrence in different positions and references when necessary.
The phonological chapter supplements and in many ways exceeds the corresponding part of the Neo-Assyrian grammar by J. Hameen-Anttila, A Sketch of Neo-Assyrian Grammar (Helsinki 2000). In addition to providing more examples, Luukko also presents the facts in a more systematic manner. Thus he dedicates separate sub-chapters to epenthetic (anaptyctic) vowels in a position before the stress ([section]4.8.1), after the stress ([section]4.8.2), and in an empathic context ([section]4.8.3), whereas the respective subchapters of Hameen-Anttila's grammar are organized as follows: doubly long syllables ([section]2.4.8), epenthetic vowels ([section]2.4.9), and changes of stress caused by intonation ([section]2.4.10). Luukko also lists examples from various morphological categories separately, when the difference appears meaningful.
The chapters dealing with morphology, syntax, and semantics are not as detailed and representative as their orthographic and phonological counterparts. Only select categories, such as pronouns, adverbs, Gtt- and Dtt-stems, weak verbs, word order, ellipsis, gender variation, etc., are discussed here. But even in these chapters some facts are presented better than in Hameen-Anttila's book--for example, in the case of the Dtt-stem, which is peculiar to Neo-Assyrian. Not only does Luukko provide more examples illustrating this stem, but he also offers semantic explanations and an account of peculiar phonological changes related to this stem.
Luukko's work is a very practical tool for readers of Neo-Assyrian letters, because all citations are indexed at the end of the book. There are also grammatical, personal name, divine name, and geographical indices. Unfortunately, the Akkadian word index is not as complete as one might wish. Only the most frequent and important words that have variations are listed.
Two additional appendices make the book even more useful. The entire corpus of Neo-Assyrian letters is cited according to publication numbers. The second appendix is dedicated to the authors of the letters. Information about their profession, location, and letters they (co-)authored is provided in a convenient table format. References to the appropriate volume of The Prosopography of the Neo-Assyrian Empire are given where necessary.
Luukko's book can be used in a number of ways. It can supplement the Neo-Assyrian grammar by Hameen-Anttila, which is often sketchy and does not provide enough examples and explanations. It can be also utilized as a reference work for the purpose of reading and analyzing difficult forms in the Neo-Assyrian textual corpus. Finally, it represents an important linguistic tool for reconstructing the history of the Akkadian language.
COPYRIGHT 2006 American Oriental Society

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