Sentential Complementation in Akkadian

Article excerpt


GUY DEUTSCHER'S RECENT BOOK comprises a number of studies that treat different facets of sentential complementation in Akkadian. Following a short introductory chapter, the second chapter is a general discussion of the term "sentential complementation." The third is an introduction to Akkadian for the non-specialist reader, including a short but useful section devoted to the language of the letters. The fourth chapter is an attempt to prove that finite complements marked by kima originate in historically adverbial clauses of the same structure. Chapter 5 describes the evolution of the quotative marker umma X-ma. Chapter 6 introduces the functional domain of complementation. Chapters 7 and 8 describe the complementation of verbs of perception and knowledge and verbs of manipulation, respectively. The ninth chapter treats indirect questions. Chapter 10 adduces cross-linguistic parallels to the Babylonian development. The last chapter discusses putative reasons for the development of finite complementation in Babylonian.

The book as a whole is a thorough, large-scale investigation of several interrelated issues in the diachronic syntax of Babylonian. The resulting diachronic statements are obtained only after the synchronic facts regarding the issues in question have been recovered and stated. Some synchronic facts of Old Babylonia syntax are actually revealed for the first time in this book. The comments to follow stem mainly from the reviewer's different interpretation of the material or are the result of a disparate linguistic point of view.


What is referred to by Deutscher as "sentential complementation" should more precisely be regarded as substantival clauses, for such clauses, in addition to their function as objects, can commute (i.e., they can serve as subject, object, appositives, etc., at least in principle) with an infinitive anywhere in the text. Viewing these clauses as arguments is perhaps a bit too extreme (since verbal arguments may just as well be adverbial, e.g., "behave well," "se comporter comme il faut"), and does not account for that-clauses adjoining a substantive, viz., "the fact that you came," etc. (if we remember that the substantive fact has no parallel verb synchronically requiring such complementation, nor is it a sentence).

Chapter 4 is an attempt to show that complement kima-clauses emerged from adverbial kima-clauses via a semantic bleaching process of kima. Such proposed bleaching is a mirror of the same ever-debated issue in regard to Indo-European languages. Deutscher derives the conjunction kima from the preposition kima, taking the latter as diachronically preceding the conjunction (p. 38), probably on semantic grounds. (Note that while the element k- in Semitic is indeed comparative, it also has a co-temporal value.)

The hard evidence indeed shows that kima-clauses are not attested as substantival clauses in Old Akkadian. This conforms well to another view stating that there had been, in pre-Old Akkadian times, a particle *ma / ma having just this function. (1)


Deutscher says (p. 50) that verba dicendi are weakly transitive or intransitive. It is true that verba dicendi do occur with no nominal objects (e.g., direct speech, or with no object at all) but they do just as frequently appear with objects; note, in past chains, their co-occurrence with infinitives. It is normal for a verbum dicendi to take a direct citation as its object, (2) which does not make it any less transitive. Transitivity in Akkadian means the capacity, rather than the requirement, to have an object. The verb nadanum ("to give"), a natural double-object verb, often comes with merely one, at times even no object at all. Nevertheless it is not to be considered an intransitive. A paratactic structure like qibisum-ma lillik ("tell him he should go," lit. …