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Nouns in Akkadian are relatively easy to understand. Akkadian grammar is very regular and for the noun one has only to know a limited number of grammatical forms. Most of the effort in understanding Akkadian goes into the study of the verb.
2.1.1 The case of a noun
A grammatical form called the 'case of a noun' indicates the relation of the noun to other nouns or to other parts of the phrase, in particular in relation to the verb.
In English inflection has disappeared for the most part and word order marks the relation between words, e.g.:
|houseboat|| is a kind of boat|
|boathouse|| is a kind of building|
|dog bites man|| 'dog' subject, 'man' object|
|man bites dog||'man' subject, 'dog' object|
There are still some remaining case inflections in English e.g.
for the possessive form (genitive case)
John's book = 'the book of John'
relating the two nouns 'book' and 'John'.
The genitive in English is also seen in forms expressing other relations (e.g. time) like in
a day's work, for heaven's sake, a month's salary
In English other grammatical 'cases' exist in the personal pronouns. The subject pronouns (I, he, she, we, they, etc.) are the nominative case of the personal pronouns and used as subject in the phrase.
The object pronouns (me, him, her, us, them, etc.) are the accusative case (also called object case) of the personal pronouns and used as object in the phrase. The nominative and accusative case thus mark the relation with respect to the verb. E.g. in
I love her
is the subject I the nominative case of the personal pronoun, the one who carries out the action described by the verb.
her is the accusative case of the personal pronoun, object of 'to love'.
Despite the name 'accusative', the referent of 'her' in this phrase is not accused of the verb-action 'love' expressed by the referent of 'I'. The term 'accusative' was in Latin a loan word from Greek and probably rest (I am told) on a wrong interpretation of Greek aitiatikè ptosis ('the case of cause'), as if one had read aitia 'to accuse'.
In Akkadian three cases are mainly used:
|arrum||'(the/a) king'||nominative||(masculine singular) |
|arrim||'(the/a) king'||genitive||(masculine singular) |
|arram||'(the/a) king'||accusative||(masculine singular) |
The case indicators are the vowels u, i and a resp.
(final -m in the endings) falls into disuse after
the Old Babylonian period: arrum > arru etc.
Akkadian (unlike some other semitic languages) has no definite ('the') or indefinite ('a', 'an') article. arrum may be translated 'a king', 'the king' or 'king' as context requires.
(Articles are a relatively late development in English. 'The' evolved from the demonstrative pronoun ('that'), while the indefinite article 'a' is related to 'one'.)
oblique case is the term one uses when the form of the genitive and the accusative case is the same. e.g. in the plural (ä, ï, ü here indicating long vowels):
|arrü||nominative||(masculine plural) |
|arrï||genitive or accusative||(masculine plural)|
The plural thus is characterized by long vowels (often not indicated
in de writing) and by the loss of mimmation,
the loss of
the final m in the case endings. After the Old Babylonian period
(no mimmation in the singular) the distiction is mainly the
In learning Akkadian one should be able to recognize the forms, but one should realize that the function may be different (e.g. use of the accusative form to express an adverb etc.) One should know the forms and may dispute the function.
2.1.2 Gender in Akkadian: masculine and feminine
English has only natural gender
(gender, Lat. genus), which involves reference to the sex
of real-world entities. French, German etc. have also
grammatical gender: each noun belongs to a class with similar
groups of grammatical forms, called masculine, feminine or neuter.
Although (in Indo-european languages) originally evolved from natural gender,
they now may or may not have anything to do with natural gender.
In German and Dutch the word for 'girl' is neuter.
Grammatical gender is now a formal category and is about to disappear
in many languages.
Some languages (like Sumerian) only know animate/inanimate as grammatical gender.
Akkadian (as all other semitic languages) has two genders, masculine and feminine. There is no neuter. The function of the neuter in some Indo-european languages (used for abstract nouns, like 'happiness') is taken by the feminine.
In general the feminine is marked by -t or -at suffixed to the stem. Nouns without this suffix are (almost always) masculine. Thus masculine nomen have no special mark. E.g. with stem *arr- 'king' + fem. ending -at + nom. ending -um
| Akkadian masculine case forms singular|
|arrum||'king' nom.sing.||arratum||'queen' nom.sing.|
|arrim||'king' gen.sing.||arratim||'queen' gen.sing.|
|arram||'king' acc.sing.||arratam||'queen' acc.sing.|
A number of words in the oldest vocabulary, like ummum 'mother' are masculine in form, yet they obtain feminine attributes. Also the plural has feminine plural ending ummätum (nominative). In semitic languages probably the grammatical gender is not related to the natural gender, but derives from a special grammatical form that indicates an individual/particular example from a collective name, like 'cow' is an individual from the collective 'cattle'. This use of the -at ending is still common in Arabic. The change of meaning to ''feminine'' would in this theory be caused by the fact that most individuals in herds are female.
2.1.3 Number: singular, dual, plural
Most nouns know a grammatical form in singular (one) and plural (more than one). In most languages the singular is an unmarked form and the plural is indicated with special endings. In Akkadian the forms for masculine plural we have seen already:
| Akkadian masculine case forms plural|
|arrü||'(the) kings'||nominative||(masculine plural)|
|arrï||'(the) kings'||oblique (=genitive or accusative)||(masculine plural)|
Masculine plural is characterized by endings with a long vowel. The forms of feminine plural are:
| Akkadian feminine forms plural|
|arrätim||oblique (=genitive or accusative)||(feminine plural)|
The feminine ending -ät in the plural has a long a vowel.
In Akkadian (and some other languages, like
Greek) there is in addition another form called dual
(two, Lat. dualis).
Some languages even have a separate form 'trialis' (three) to indicate
'three of a kind'.
Akkadian has separate forms for singular, pluralis and dual. Dual is
general used to indicate pairs, but already in Old Babylonian limited
to nouns denoting or connoting parts of the body, originally
symmetric body parts that come in two like 'hands', 'eyes', 'feet'
(together with derived meanings like 'foundation' for 'feet')
but in an extended sense also other parts
(like 'head' and its derived meaning 'top').
The dual is also used when more than one pair is meant (like in 'the eyes of the people'). Dual forms are characterized by long vowels and nunnation, that is a final -n in the endings
| Akkadian dual forms|
|ïnän||'two eyes'||(dual nominative)|
|ïnïn||'two eyes'||(dual oblique = genitive or accusative)|
After the Old Babylonian period nunnation disappears, and thus the distinction between dual and plural.
Some words occur only in a singular form
(Lat. singulare tantum, from Lat. 'tantum'
= 'only'). English examples are the mass (or uncountable) nouns, such as
water, snow, sugar (in general substances and food)
fun, happiness, sleep (and many other abstract nouns)
One cannot ask: 'How many are there?' (some are uncountable nouns in English ('advice'), but not in other languages).
Some words occur only in plural form (Lat. plurale tantum), like
odds, regards, thanks, stairs (and many tools and clothing)
In Akkadian the plural-only form is seen in words that indicate a collective (for which English sometimes has no plural), like
2.1.4 State of a nomen: the construct state
A fourth category of grammatical forms is the so called state of a nomen.
This is new for most students knowing only about Indo-eurepean languages.
It is a common feature in semitic languages.
In some languages compound nouns are easily formed, sometimes simply by placing them together without any change of form (either written as one word, with a hyphen or as two words), like in English
landlord, steam engine, fire-insurance
Some languages (French, Latin) have more difficulties in forming compounds. A concept is described, like in French
l'assurance contre l'incendie'(''Insurance against the fire'')
In Greek the making of long compounds is very flexible, a feature used for many (new) scientific terms.
If in Akkadian two nouns are combined to form a compound, the
first part (that identifies the object/person) is written in a special
grammatical form, called the construct state
(Lat. status constructus). The second part
(a further specification) could be a noun in the genitive.
'Landlord' would in Akkadian be written as 'lord land', with bëlum 'lord' in the construct state bël and bïtum 'land' in the genitive bïtim: 'lord of the land':
The form of the construct state often is the shortest form of the noun which is phonetically possible, e.g. the construct state of arrum 'king' is ar
|ar arrï||'king of the kings'|
(with long i, here written as ï, the genitive masc.plural)
In general: the construct state is used when the noun is further specified and immediately followed by:
2.1 Simplest type of the construct state
Construct state of the noun, simplest types|
|example||with genitive||with suffix|
|bëlum||singular||bël älim||bël-ï|| bëli-ja |
|('lord')||bël-u|| bëli-u |
|plural||bëlü älim||bëlï älim||bëlü-'a|| bëlï-ja |
|bëlü-u|| bëlï-u |
|aatum||singular||aat awïlim||aat-ï|| aati-ja |
|('wife')||aassu|| aati-u |
|plural||aät awïlim||aätu-'a|| aäti-ja
2.2 Other types of the construct state
An adjective is a type of word that expresses a quality or attribute to a noun,
in general a word that modifies the meaning of a noun ('the big man'),
either by attributing the specification to the noun, or by describing the
noun using a verb ('the man is big'). As always we should know the
grammatical forms of the adjective and may dispute the actual
function/use of the adjective.
In English adjectives are invariable: they do not change their form (no case endings, no distinction between singular/plural etc.). English adjectives have no particular form (except in comparative and superlative), however in English there are a set of suffixes added to a (special type of) noun, (a special type of) verb or other adjectives to make new adjectives. Some suffixes are frozen, but some are dynamic and may still be used to form new adjectives not (yet) found in a dictionary (the suffix -less is dynamic: 'a handless telephone').
|some formations of English adjectives|
|suffix||added to||meaning|| to form adjectives like: |
|-y||noun||having the quality of|| foggy, cloudy, hairy, healthy |
|-able||verb||able to do this|| admirable, drinkable, variable |
|-ive||verb||performs the action of|| attractive, explosive, possessive |
|-ish||adjective||more or less|| reddish, youngish, fattish |
In English an adjective may show contrast of degree ('great', 'greater', 'greatest') which are expressed by special endings (-er, -est). It is in general a characteristic of adjectives, however:
3.1 No degrees of comparison.
In Akkadian there are no degrees of comparison expressed by special endings. Adjectives like rabû 'great' must sometimes be translated as 'greater', depending on the context.
3.2 position of the adjective.
In Akkadian the (attributive) adjective normally follows the noun it modifies.
|arrum dannum||'the strong/powerful king'|| (nominative)|
|awïlum kabtum||'an important man'|| (nominative)|
|ellum Anum|| 'the pure/holy god Anum' (1) |
|ezzütu ärü|| 'wild/turbulent winds|
|eritu Mami|| 'the wise goddess Mami' |
3.3 case endings
In Akkadian the (attributive) adjective has in most cases the same endings as the noon, as is often the case in languages to indicated the close relation between noun and adjective (not in English though: 'the intelligent boy/boys/girl/girls' is the same in singular and plural).
arrum dannum 'the strong/powerful king' (nominative, e.g. as subject, like in arrum dannum conquered the enemy')
ana arrim dannim 'to the strong/powerful king' (genitive used after prepositions).
arram dannam 'the strong/powerful king' (accusative, e.g. as object, like in 'He conquered the arram dannam')
In masc. plural the case ending is slightly different
-ütum for nominative and -ütim in the oblique case = both
in the genitive and accusative case).
In Old Babylonian the adjective has no dual: an adjective modifying a dual stands in the plural case.
3.4 Table of endings
endings of the Akkadian adjective|
(endings are like nomen rectum except dual and pl.m.) |
|masculine|| feminine |
|sg.||nominative||-um|| -(a)t-um |
|genitive||-im|| -(a)t-im |
|accusative||-am|| -(a)t-am |
|dual||nominative||-ütum|| -at-um |
|oblique||-ïtim|| -at-im |
|plural||nominative||-ütum|| -ät-um |
|oblique||-ütim|| -ät-im |
3.5 types of adjectives.
There are several types of adjectives. Two important ones are
3.6 use of adjectives
In English an adjective may be attributive, like 'good' in 'a good book', but it may also be used after a verb (like 'the book is good') in which case the term is predicative adjective. Not all adjectives are of both types (compare 'a major question' with *'the question is major', others may be used only predicatively like 'he is ill/glad' and not very well *'the ill/glad person').
| Possessive pronominal suffixes |
|1 sg.||-ï, -(j)a|| 'my' |
|2 sg.||m||-ka|| 'your' (m.) |
|f||-ki|| 'your' (f.)|
|3 sg.||m||-u|| 'his' (m.) |
|f||-a|| 'her' (f.) |
|1 pl.||-ni|| 'our' |
|2 pl.||m||-kunu|| 'your' (m.pl) |
|f||-kina|| 'your' (f.pl.) |
|3 pl.||m||-unu|| 'their' (m.) |
|f||-ina|| 'their' (f.) |
5.1 Abstract nouns.
Abstract nouns (nouns lacking physical reference, but describing a quality or an idea like 'information', 'love', 'kingship', 'length', as contrast with concrete nouns) are in many languages often formed with special affixes.
|English abstract nouns formed with suffixes|
|suffix||added to|| examples |
|-tion||verb|| information, situation definition |
|-ment||verb|| judgement, argument, arrangment|
|-ness||adjective|| sadness, usefulness, redness |
|-th||adjective|| long-length, wide-width, deep-depth|
(often with vowel change)
|-ship||noun|| scholarship, kingship, relationship|
5.1.1 Abstract nouns with -ütu(m) endings
| Some abstract nouns with -ütu(m) endings|
|Akkadian abstract noun||meaning||-ütu(m) added to:|| meaning |
|älikütu||(function of) messenger||äliku|| he who goes |
|bëlütu||lordship/rule||bëlu|| lord |
|dannütu||fortress/stronghold||dannu|| strong |
|dajjänütu||function of judge||dajjänu|| judge |
|Enlilütu||Ellil-ship (supreme rule)||Enlil|| Enlil, the supreme god |
|errëütu||agriculture||errëu|| farmer |
|eTlütu||''youngstership''||eTlu|| young man |
|ilütu||deity, divinity||ilu|| god |
|malikütu||sovereignty||malku|| king |
|mälikütu|| function of adviser |
|mu'errütu||chairmanship||mu'erru|| principle |
|räbiSütu||watchman, guard||räbiS u|| he who watches |
(abstract noun from participle: the activity of a guard)|
|arrütu||kingship||arru|| king |
|ïbütu||testimony||ïbu|| witness |
(see spelling examples in cuneiform with -ütu ending)
5.1.2 Abstract nouns as fem. or fem. plural nouns.
5.1.3 Abstract nouns as purs-type noun.