Archive for May 2008

School’s out forever…

May 21, 2008

I turned in my last Akkadian assignment and e-mailed my last paper yesterday. Today I hauled all my books back up to the University of Cincinnati. The next time I step foot in a classroom I will be teaching (knock on wood). After a normal semester I would feel a huge sense of relief, however my body already crashed a few weeks ago, and I am now on the clock for comprehensive exams.

Here at HUC there are three written comprehensive exams in areas of your choice. Each exam is a full-day. I have created sort of a hybrid program for myself that has broadly focused on Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East, but I am more interested in the languages so I have taken Semitics classes whenever I can. Unfortunately there are not a lot of programs interested in someone who can teach Semitic languages. As of now, my three exams will be Hebrew Bible, Semitic Languages (2/3 Akkadian and 1/3 other), and Ancient Near Eastern History.  


The character of grad programs

May 19, 2008

I am intending to finish up my series on applying to graduate programs once I finish finals this week by discussing sample papers. However, the discussion following my last post made me think of something to look for concerning the nature of grad schools.

“Nobody” mentioned that at Chicago the Akkadian professors fly through the text and expect you to keep up. Having never studied at Chicago, I am not sure if this is a general character of their classes, but here at Hebrew Union it is the exact opposite. Drs. Weisberg and Greengus like to dwell on every jot and tittle of the text so that we might get through 10-20 lines in a 1 hr 15 min class period (sometimes it can be a little frustrating). Dr Kaufman is usually pretty thorough as well, but he reserves the right to speed up at any time so you always need to have prepared plenty of material. I wonder if this is partly why Charles and I are wanting to stress the difficulties of reading Akkadian, while “Nobody” is concerned to stress its general opacity?

I have mentioned before that it is important to find a grad program that is a good match for you. This is one of those characteristics. Are you interested in studying the minute details of the language, or are you interested in the history and ideology that you learn from reading the texts? Both are important, but each professor is different in what they emphasize and how they expect you to prepare for class.   

(Note: Chicago’s program is certainly oriented toward the languages as well, so I am not implying that you will not get to study the details of language there.)

Reading Akkadian

May 8, 2008

My last post reminded me of something sage Dr Greengus said in class last week, “Nobody reads Akkadian, we are really just deciphering.”


May 7, 2008

I have been quite busy the past few weeks as the semester winds down, but I wanted to pick up on a topic begun by Jay at mu-pàd-da and continued by Duane at Abnormal Interests. Jay was musing/freaking out about how many languages he needed to master to be a competent in the field, while Duane was reflecting on being educated in general. 

I have somehow gotten myself into a Comparative Semitics comp along with Hebrew and Akkadian comps,  which means in under a year I need to have relative mastery of Hebrew (classical, late, DSS, Rabbinic), Akkadian (three dialects), Aramaic (across the dialects including Syriac and some Neo-Aramaic), and all other languages represented in Bergsträsser (South Arabic, Classical and Modern Arabic, Ge’ez, etc). Add to this the necessary modern scholarly languages (French, German, Modern Hebrew) and it is quite an impressive/daunting list.

Now the problem is, I try to explain to people what it is exactly that I do with my life and they inevitably ask me “Wow, how many languages do you speak?” Well, one. I don’t really speak any of those languages. I mean we read texts aloud in class, and I can comprehend them aurally for the most part, but I don’t have competence in creating new sentences. I suppose I speak French OK, and I could probably get by with my Hebrew if I was in Israel, but I never have an opportunity to converse in German, much less any of the other modern or classical Semitic languages. So how many of these languages do I really “know”? 

On the plus side, according to Duane being educated requires a broad knowledge base including math through partial differential equations and statistics. Well, with my Mechanical Engineering degree I have that covered. Frankly, you don’t need to know calculus, but I wish a few more biblical scholars had a basic grasp of statistics. 


Knudsen, Ebbe Egede, “Stress in Akkadian,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Jan., 1980), pp. 3-16.

May 6, 2008

The focus of contemporary linguistics on spoken language seems to have increased the interest in phonetics among scholars of dead languages. I myself am fascinated by the question of how much phonetic info we can squeeze out of these texts. In this article, Knudsen analyzes the letters of Hammurapi to determine whether the stress pattern in Akkadian is closer to Arabic or Hebrew and Aramaic. 

In prosody, stress is often divided between accent and pitch. In Semitic languages, either accent or pitch may be a feature of a word or phrase. When it is a feature of larger segments of speech, pitch is referred to as intonation or contour. In modern Semitic languages, stress is perceived similarly to Indo-European languages – stressed syllables seem more prominent than un-stressed syllables. This is realized in a complex composed of pitch, expiratory strength, sonority, and duration. Stress combined with intonation may mark sentence and clause boundaries such as the pausal forms of Tiberian Hebrew.

The general rules of stress in Akkadian are: 1) Final, open, circumflexed long vowels are stressed. 2) Otherwise stress falls on the first syllable with a long vowel or the first non-final syllable closed by a consonant (counting from the end of the word). If neither of these occur stress falls on the first syllable.

These stress rules are very close to classical Arabic, except for final stress on circumflexed long vowels such as ibnû or rabû which seems to be an innovation in the tradition of Assyriology. It seems very probable however that the Akkadian stress rules were derived from the European tradition of reading literary and classical Arabic, hence any claim that agreement between Akkadian and Arabic stress may provide evidence for proto-Semitic stress patterns seems to be circular in nature.

In 1879 Zimmern introduced a set of Akkadian stress rules more similar to Hebrew/Aramaic which included final stress in verbal forms such as ikšúd as well as final circumflexed vowels. J Aro also published a corpus of Old Babylonian texts with abnormal plene spellings which he argued represented a variable accentuation. The question is whether Akkadian stress should be seen as in the Arabic system, the Hebrew/Aramaic system, or fixed on the first syllable. There is some help in the Aramaic and Greek transcriptions of Akkadian texts, but the lack of a living tradition demands some caution.

Knudsen suggests that the letters of Hammurapi represent a well-defined corpus for the discussion of stress. The possible reflexes of stress will most naturally occur in the use of plene spellings from which the following cases are deduced:

a. Between i-class vowels (e, i, ī) and an a belonging to a closed syllable, plene spelling of a represents a phonetic glide as in ib-bi-a-am.

b. In final syllables plene writing may render the characteristic intonation of a yes/no question: in-na-ak-su-u as an interrogative, cf in-na-ak-su. Even short vowels can be treated this way.

c. In penultimate syllables plene writing may render “the intonation of emphasis” as in an imperative. 

d. Plene writing of long vowels in initial and final position is obligatory, in medial position it is variable. 

e. 3ms imperfect I-weak use plene writing in first syllable to distinguish from preterite, i-il-la-ak  versus il-li-ik. This does not represent stress, nor a *yiʼallak form since ia is preserved for I-y in OB. Variation of plene and defective writing occurs very often in common spellings.

Conclusive evidence for word stress in Akkadian comes from the existence of the opposition of plene and defective writing in the case of a vowel preceding an enclitic –ma and in monosyllabic words mu-u and šu-u against lu, la and ša. Here the grouping of defective and plene writing follows the categories of words that would be treated as independent carriers of stress and those that are grouped with following words as stress-units.

The stress in the Old Babylonian texts suggests differentiation between main and secondary stress, and the stress pattern seems to be zweisilbengesetz where the character of the final two syllables determine stress placement. Thus Knudsen concludes that Akkadian stress follows more closely to that of Hebrew and Aramaic then Arabic.