Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Evidence of an Early Metathesis among Akkadian Piristum-Stem Nouns

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Evidence of an Early Metathesis among Akkadian Piristum-Stem Nouns

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Discussions of Semitic grammatical issues frequently fail to draw a distinction between two discrete aspects of the investigation of morphology, viz. synchronic parsing and diachronic etymology. (1) The core of the typical Semitic word-stem is said to lie in the root, an ordered set of consonantal elements serving as the word's formal and semantic skeleton. The root serves as the "raw material" out of which the morphological machinery of the language "constructs" the stem in question. Identifying the root within a given stem is, in one sense, a fairly simple question of parsing. There is, however, an intrinsic duality to the role of the root within the methodology of grammatical analysis--while, on the one hand, the root serves as the origin of the word-stem, at the same time it is the product of the analyst's act of grammatical deconstruction. As long as we are dealing solely with the synchronic plane, the difference between these two aspects of the root--the root as a building block in the construction of words vs. the root as an artifact of grammatical analysis--is fairly trivial. The distinction becomes crucial, however, when the analysis shifts to the level of diachrony, where our principal concern lies in the explication of linguistic history. Once we allow for the possibility that language change might play a key role in determining the shape which any given word has assumed by the time of its documentation, it becomes apparent that it is impossible to draw a simple equation between that word's synchronic root--the set of consonants which the grammatical parsing of a given stem will extract--and its etymological root. Since linguistic formations are inherited from the past at least as much as they are generated in situ in the present, an etymological analysis will often demonstrate that, in historical terms, a given linguistic formation is ultimately the product of a set of developmental factors quite different from the grammatical processes of the language in which it is embedded.

II. A HYPOTHESIS

The following pages are intended as a case study, drawn from the prehistory of Akkadian, of the significance of the distinction between the root accessible to a "parsing" and the root unearthed through an etymological analysis. The material under consideration here is the set of Akkadian nouns of the shape ([C.sub.1])i[r.sub.2]i[C.sub.3]tum, i.e., feminine nouns of the pattern "piristum" in which the second radical is -r- and the third radical is non-weak. An examination of the recent Concise Dictionary of Akkadian (2) provides us with twenty-eight instances of words of the shape (C)iriCtu(m) and (C)eriCtu(m). Of these, one at least ("miriqtu II") is probably best discarded, (3) and we should allow for the possibility that several of the remaining words actually reflect other formations--at least one of them (erimtu II "cover(ing)") is taken by von Soden as a reflection of the stem-shape *CariC-t-um, (4) two others (eristu | "cultivation" and giristu "loaf of bread") seem to contain an underlying long vowel, (5) and two further stems (pirindu and tirimtu) are liable to have yet other origins. (6) The remaining twenty-two words are listed in Table 1, along with any other terms with which the Akkadisches Handworterbuch (AHw) or the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary (CAD) associates them. Since there can be little doubt that the ongoing investigation of the Akkadian language will continue to unearth lexical items of this structure, we cannot treat this list as comprehensive. (7) Nevertheless, this list will serve as an adequate basis for the present investigation.

The claim will be made here that, in etymological terms, the members of this set of nouns may be traced back to two distinct root-types. While, for the majority of these nouns, the historical root proves to be the same as the root revealed by a synchronic parsing (viz. *[square root of ([C.sub.1][r.sub.2][C.sub.3])]), it is suggested that in a small but significant number of cases we find words which are better traced back to etymological roots in which the -r- was the third radical rather than the second (*[square root of ([C. …

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