is the branch of grammar which studies the structure of words (from Greek morphe 'form') and the formation of words. The term morphology contrasts with syntax, the combination of words into phrases and sentences. Important subfields are the study of inflections (inflectional morphology) and the study of word formation (derivational morphology).
A number of general linguistic concepts are used that makes a description of a (foreign) language easier. Some of these term are listed below for general reference.
Akkadian morphology may seem complex, but in fact is quite regular and therefor basically not difficult to learn. One doesn't have to memorize a large number of exceptions, only (a significant number of) regular patterns in the form of paradigms.
Notations in linguistics
The three symbols *, <, > are often used in grammatical descriptions.
The asterisk symbol * is used in three ways:
| *He are ready|
The < symbol means 'is derived from', e.g.
| immature < *inmature < in+mature|
| morphology < Gr. morphe |
In Akkadian cuneiform words are not easily recognized as a group of signs separated by a blanc space. In many ancient languages (like Latin) word separators do not exist. The use of punctuation marks and spaces is a much later development.
Usually a phrase, clause or sentence will be fitted on one line. A phrase with a small number of signs is widely spaced, making the last sign right justified. In order to do so the last horizontal wedge of a sign is sometimes made very long. In general one tries to avoid a word break. A word never continues on the next line.
Formal definitions for a word are very difficult to make
(e.g. ''smallest unit of grammar which
can stand alone as a complete utterance'').
In grammar a word is a grammatical unit consisting of morphemes and functioning to form phrases, clauses and sentences.
is a part of a word with a distinctive meaning, like un- and -y in 'unhappy'. It is the smallest functional unit in the decomposition of a word. Examples are affixes (re- in 'reopened'), the stem of a word (open) and declension/inflection morphemes (the past-tense morpheme -ed). Free morphemes can also occur as a separate word (like open), whereas bound morphemes are not found as words (like most affixes).
is a morpheme: a collective term for three types of morphemes (word parts). Affixes are additions to a word, called prefix (in front of a word), infix (inside a word) and suffix (at the end of a word). Adding an affix is called affixing, affixation. This morphological process for word formation is called derivation (as opposed to compound words as in 'blueprint'='blue'+'print'). In most languages (including Akkadian) it is an important way in which words are formed. E.g. in Akkadian the pronouns (e.g. possessive 'my', 'your' and personal pronouns 'me','him' etc.) are formed by suffixation. One has to know and recognize the limited number of affixes in another language, because words with an affix are usually not listed as such in a dictionary. The affix re- has the general meaning 'again' (so called iterative aspect), but words like 'remake', 'rework' etc. may not always be found in a dictionary. This is particularly true for semitic languages.
An English example of stripping off the affixes is:
| Stripping off the affixes|
|word||class||formed with||out of|
|affectionately||adverb||adv.suffix -y||< adjective affectionate|
|affectionate||adjective||adj.suffix -ate||< noun: affection|
|affection||noun||abstract noun suffix -tion||< verb: affect|
|affect||verb||with Lat.prefix -ad||< Lat.ad+facere|
In Akkadian stripping off the affixes and recognizing the root is necessary to come
up with a correct translation.
| Stripping off the affixes|
|a-ma-qú-tak-ku-nu-im-ma||suffix -ma|| enclitic particle, connecting to next verb 'and'|
|a-ma-qú-tak-ku-nu-im||suffix -kunuim|| dative 2nd person plural '(to) you' (pl.) |
|amaqutam||-tam < -tak|| by assimilation; -am ventivus ending|
|amaqqut||prefix a-|| 1st person sing. present tense with double q |
|*mqt||root|| with infinitive maqätum |
|amaqqutakkunuimma|| this is now the correct transcription|
is a morpheme (word part) , a special type of affix. A prefix is an addition to a word that comes in front to form a new word, like re- in reopen and un- in unkind.
English examples for prefixes to a verb that modify the meaning of the verb:
|Some examples of prefixes in English|
|re-||again|| reopen, rebuild, remake|
|co-||together|| co-exist, co-operate|
|en-, em-||make verb transitive|| enable, enlarge, embody|
|un-||reversing, removing|| undo, unpack, unwrap|
In Akkadian personal pronouns used as subject ('I', 'you', 'he/she')
are not explicitly
given as a separate word, but expressed in the verb conjugation by
prefixes and special endings.
A very frequently occurring
prefix is the 3rd person singular 'he/she' with the prefix i-.
e.g. iprus 'he/she decided'
(infinitive paräsum 'to decide').
This prefix is (in this case) not realized with the sign
i, but e.g. as
is a morpheme (word part), a special type of affix. A suffix is an addition to a word that comes at the end to form a new word, like 'happy' > 'happiness'. Some English examples (out of many):
|Some examples of suffixes in English|
|-tion||abstract noun from verb|| information, situation|
|-ness||abstract noun from adjective|| sadness, redness|
|-y, -ty, -ity, -iety||abstract noun from adjective|| harmony, beauty, density|
|-mmer, -tter||iterative (repeated action)|| glitter, glimmer, stammer|
|-mble, -bble||iterative (repeated action)|| mumble, ramble, bubble, dribble, tremble|
|-ify||'to make' or 'to cause'|| electrify, falsify|
|-ize, -ise||'to make' or 'to cause'|| legalize, modernize|
is a morpheme (word part), a special type of affix. An infix is an addition to a word that comes in the middle of the word. Thera are no English examples of this type, but there are many in Semitic languages. An infix may make a word difficult to recognize at first. To add an infix is called infixing, infixation. This morphological process for word formation is called derivation (by infixing) (as opposed to compound words as in 'yourself'='your'+'self').
A well known infix in Akkadian is the t-infix, often appearing as ta-infix. used in the formation of other verb stems and in some verb tenses. E.g. with the verb paräsum 'to separate', 'to decide' (often used in examples as paradigma; the prefix i- indicates 3rd person singular 'he/she')
|Akkadian -ta- infix|
|iparras||'he separates'|| present tense |
|iptaras||'he has separated'|| perfect tense|
|iptaras||'he separated'|| also Gt-stem|
|iptatras||'he has separated'|| Gt-stem in perfect tense|
is a morpheme, an unstressed form (weak word) attached to a preceding (strong) word (like -a in cuppa for 'cup of' and -'t in can't for 'can not'). A proclitic leans against the following word (like the English indefinite article an). Clitics (enclitics and proclitics) play a role in informal speech and in languages that spell as pronounced (like Old English).
The Akkadian enclitic particle -ma occurs frequently. It has various functions: coordinating, emphasizing and marking a nominal sentence.
is a morpheme (word part) consisting of the word without its affixes and case endings.
Stems of a verb
For completeness we mention another use of 'stem' which does include certain affixes. It is a different concept. Akkadian verbs (and verbs in other semitic languages, like Arabic and Hebrew ) may be conjugated according to different patterns (subsystems) called stems. The basic (most simple) form of the verb is called the G-stem (G from German Grundstamm), also termed I-stem (as opposed to II, III and IV-stems). The other stems are formed by reduplication of consonants and/or by the addition of certain prefixes and infixes. These verbal stems convey an additional meaning to the verb (e.g. repeated action, passiveness, causing the action etc.). An English analogue could be the element re- prefixed to a verb and giving it an iterative aspect to indicate repeated action (to do again, to do a second time), like
'remake', 'rewrite', 'reanimate', 'recall', 'recite', 'recreate'
A second English example is the suffix -en added to an adjective which makes a verb with a so called factitive meaning ('to make ...') like
|English suffix -en make transitive verbs from adjectives|
|'deaf'||'to deafen'|| 'to make deaf'|
|'black'||'to blacken'|| 'to make black'|
|'bright'||'to brighten'|| 'to make bright'|
|'straight'||'to straighten'|| 'to make straight'|
|verb aspect expressed with auxiliary words in English|
|'to accuse'||passive:||'to be accused'|| subject undergoes action |
|'to be deaf'||factitive:||'deafen', 'to make deaf'|| subject makes the state|
|'to build'||causative:||'to let somebody build'|| subject causes the action|
|'to enjoy'||reflexive:||'to enjoy oneself'|| |
|'to look'||reciprocal:||'to look at each other'|| |
|'to make'||emphatic:||'I made it myself'|| action is performed with emphasis|
|'to gleam'||iterative:||'to glimmer'|| action is performed repeatedly|
Akkadian word structure
Akkadian words short (two or three letter) syllables, like paräsum, pa-rä-sum ('to separate', 'to decide'), a word structure common to Semitic languages. The syllables are called open or closed. Open syllables have a consonant (c) and a vowel (v): c-v, like bi, lä. Closed syllables have the form c-v-c, like in bab, sum, lim. As a consequence of the syllable structure a word never starts nor ends with two consonants, unlike e.g. English and other Germanic languages. A Dutch word like 'angstsschreeuw' ('cry of fear') has a cluster of seven consonants and the word 'kraaieeieren' (crow's eggs) stacks seven vowels. Such words are impossible in Semitic languages.
The two or three syllable structure in Semitic
languages is still seen in Anglicized semitic proper names, such as
Je-ru-za-lem, Ne-bu-kad-ne-zar, Ja-cob etc.
Avoiding three consonants is very strict. If the formation of a word according to the exact application of a grammatical rule would lead to three consecutive consonant, additional vowels (auxiliary vowels) are added. We will see examples of this in the formation of some grammatical forms, such as the status constructus of a noun. Adding an initial vowel is called prothesis. This is also seen in other languages like French, Spanish, e.g. the initial e- in estation 'station', especial 'special' and in esprit (< Lat. spiritus).
An open (two letter) syllable is called short or long if the vowel is short or long resp. A closed syllable with a short vowel is called long and with an long vowel is called extra long (often caused by elision of an original guttural sound). The number of syllables is kept as short as possible. In two successive non-accented syllables one vowel is left out: *parasum (if all vowels are short) > parsum
It should me noted that words with short and long vowels could be different words, e.g.
|Long and short vowels may indicate different word classes|
|paräsum||infinitive|| 'to separate', 'to decide'|
|pärasum||participle|| 'he who decides' |
mimmation and nunnation
As probably already apparent from the example all Akkadian words (singular in Old Babylonian) have an ending on -m, typically -um, -im, -am resp. in the nominative, genitive and accusative case. This is called mimmation after the semitic pronunciation mim of the letter m. It never carries the word accent. The mimmation is lost after the Old Babylonian period. Some forms (the so called dual) have an word ending on -n (dual nominative -än and both genitive and accusative -ïn). This is called nunnation after the semitic pronunciation nun of the letter n. Also the nunnation disappears after the Old Babylonian period and therefor the distinction between dual and plural.
root of a word
is in semitic languages the skeleton of mostly three consonants that carry the fundamental meaning of a word. The root of paräsum is *prs (indicated with an asterisk, because the root itself is not attested, it is a tool). Such a consonant (p, r and s) is called the radix (plural radices) of the root.
All words with the same consonants (usually three, sometimes two, rarely four) have a related meaning. This fact is one of the most striking features of all semitic languages, including Akkadian, also called triconsonantism. Vowels between the consonants, doubling of the consonants and all kinds of affixes (prefix, infix and suffix) only modify the basic meaning, e.g. expressing it as a verb, noun, adjective, or forming finite verb conjugations, etc. A remote analogy of this principle can be seen in English:
|noun||verb with vowel change|| other forms (e.g. with doubling or affixes)|
|food||to feed|| feeding, feeder, fed, fodder (cattle food)|
|blood||to bleed|| bleeding, bleeder, bled, bloody, bloodless|
|loss||to lose|| loser, losel, loosing, lost |
|choice||to choose|| chosen, choser, choos(e)y|
|*prs||paräsum||'to decide'||infinitive|| paräs-|
|*prs||pärasum||'he who decides'||participle|| päras-|
The root system is also explained elsewhere on the net, see
(example, model word, a set of declensions/conjugations)
a set of grammatically conditioned forms all derived from the same root or stem is called a paradigm. It is presented for a given root (often *prs). Other forms may simply be made by substitution of the radices (root consonants).
In English the conjugation of irregular verbs is often given in a paradigm with the infinitive, past tense and past participle:
|English irregular verbs|
|infinitive||past tense||past participle|
|Akkadian preterite of a/u-class verbs in G-stem|
|sg.||3c||iprus|| 'he/she decided'|
|2m||taprus|| 'you (m.) decided'|
|2f||taprusï|| 'you (f.) decided'|
|1c||aprus|| 'I decided'|
|pl.||3m||iprusü|| 'they (m.) decided'|
|3f||iprusä|| 'they (f.) decided'|
|2c||taprusä|| 'you (pl.) decided'|
|1c||niprus|| 'we decided'|