Chapter Akkadian Language, section Akkadian Grammar,
This is subsection About Akkadian morphology

About Akkadian morphology

This page uses tables that should display well using Netscape.
  1. morphology, the structure of words
  2. notations in linguistics
  3. words
  4. morphemes (word parts)
  5. word change/word form terminology
  6. Akkadian word structure
  7. root of a word
  8. about paradigms

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:

  1. * to denote a reconstructed form
    e.g. 'immature' comes from '*inmature' bij assimilation (compare 'invisible')
  2. * in historical linguistics to denote a reconstructed form not found in written records
    e.g. words in Indo-European are all reconstructed
  3. * to denote an unacceptable of ungrammatical form, e.g.
    *He are ready

The < symbol means 'is derived from', e.g.

The > symbol means 'becomes', 'is developing into'

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 <

The last step shows that an original prefix ad- is difficult to recognize because of assimilation of d to f. In this English example all words listed are also found in a dictionary.

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

(A ventivus suffix is in later times often used before a dative suffix, the ventivus has no special meaning).
We now search a dictionary under maqätum and find the meaning 'to throw oneself to something'. Since the present tense often is used for the future (there is no future tense in Akkadian) we translate
'I will throw myself to you' (either literally or as 'to attack')
This comes from a medical text, where a personalized illness (to be bilious) attacks his victims, while they are having diner.

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
To add an prefix is called prefixing, prefixation. This morphological process for word formation is called derivation (by prefixing) (as opposed to compound words as in 'blackbird'='black'+'bird').

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
ip-ru-ús, iprus

Suffix (postfix)
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

To add an suffix is called suffixing, suffixation. This morphological process for word formation is called derivation (by suffixing) (as opposed to compound words as in 'bus stop'='bus'+'stop').
In Akkadian possessive pronouns ('my', 'your', 'his') are expressed as a suffix. A very frequently occurring suffix is the possessive pronoun 'his' u (e.g. with the sign a cuneiform sign that derives from a pictogram of a hand or in later times with the sign ú). With qätum 'hand' (where -um is the nominative singular ending): qätu 'his hand' (the case endings disappear, the form qät- is called the construct state of the noun qätum, which is used in the suffixation; it is often simply the form without case endings).

Infix (insertion)
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

(The -ta- infix may even appear twice as in the last example to indicate both functions)

Enclitic particle
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.

  1. -ma as emphasis, as a suffix attached to a word that is object of the actual information in the sentence.
    ana Tiämat ellïtamma izakkari
    'he spoke to Tiämat in a loud voice' (Ee-I-36) with emphasis on ellïtam 'highly'
  2. -ma to mark a nominal sentence (or in general a predicate that is in a logical sense the object of communication):
    dKingu-ma ... 'It was Kingu! (who started the war)' (Ee-VI-29)
  3. -ma as a coordinating particle, often to be translated with 'and' or another choice of a conjunction. -ma is attached to the personal form of the verb and indicates a intimate connection with the next clause, which often has to be translated as a subordinate clause.

is a morpheme (word part) consisting of the word without its affixes and case endings.
Akkadian word meaningstem
arrum 'king' arr-
abum 'father' ab-
ilum 'god' il-
mahrum 'front' mahr-

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
adjectivefactitive verbmeaning
'deaf' 'to deafen' 'to make deaf'
'black' 'to blacken' 'to make black'
'bright' 'to brighten' 'to make bright'
'straight' 'to straighten' 'to make straight'

Some verbs are called causative, they express the fact that the subject caused the action of the verb.
In Akkadian some of these categories are expressed as special stems of the verb. They often have to be translated in English with auxiliary verbs or other auxiliary words (like adverbs, pronouns), e.g.
verb aspect expressed with auxiliary words in English
verb aspect example description
'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'

In the spelling long vowels are often not explicitly indicated, so depending on the context we could interpret the following as an infinitive or as a participle.
An explicit long vowel would be indicated with a vowel sign, like the second a-sign in
a-wa-a-tum, awätum 'word'

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:
nounverb 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

Akkadian examples:
root akkadian meaning type stem
*prs paräsum 'to decide' infinitive paräs-
*prs pärasum 'he who decides' participle päras-
*prs purussûm 'decision' noun puruss-

The root system is also explained elsewhere on the net, see

paradigm (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
infinitivepast tensepast participle
bleed bled bled
begin began begun

One could say that 'to feed' (feed-fed-fed) follows the paradigm of 'to bleed' while 'to drink' (drink-drank-drunk) follows the paradigm of 'to begin' and all other forms modify accordingly.
Example of a paradigm for the personal forms of the preterite (past tense) for the root *prs (infinitive paräsum 'to separate', 'to decide') is
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'

These forms are called finite forms (finite forms are those which express a predication)
Note that the personal pronouns (I, you, she) are not given as a separate word, but are uniquely given by the finite verb forms (like in Italian, Spanish parlo 'I speak').
sg. or sing. stands for 'singular' (Lat. singularis).
pl. stands for 'plural' (Lat. pluralis).
1,2 and 3 stand for the personal forms (in English expressed with the personal pronouns: sg. 'I', 'you', 'he/she'; pl. 'we', 'you', 'they').
m. or masc. stands for masculine (Lat. masculinum)
f. or fem. stands for feminine (Lat. femininum)
c. stands for communis, when no distinction is made between m. or f.
In semitic languages the paradigms for the conjugation of verbs start with the 3rd person. This is often the most simple form, here only the prefix i- and no suffix (ending).
In Akkadian there is a distinction between between masculine and feminine personal forms in 2sg. and 3pl.
The most frequent forms are in the 3rd person, so these should be memorized at least and at first.
The table here is only given as an example of a paradigm and is not meant as a full treatment of the preterite (past tense) form. In this case it refers to verbs that conjugate according to the so called a/u-class: verbs that have an a in the present tense and an u in the preterite tense. We will learn that all (strong) verbs can be classified in four classes, each having different vowels in present and preterite.

Chapter Akkadian Language, section Akkadian Grammar,
This is subsection About Akkadian Morphology
Other references to morphology on the net:

Maintained and updated by John Heise
lu2.shab.tur shumallû 'pupil'
last modification on Feb 10, 1996