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Einfuhrung in die urartaische Sprache.

Einfuhrung in die urartaische Sprache. BY MIRJO SALVINI and ILSE WEGNER. Wiesbaden: HARRASSO-WITZ VERLAG, 2014. Pp. ix + 124, illus. [euro]28 (paper).

The study of Urartian has its roots in the early nineteenth century, yet after all this time it remains on the fringes of ancient Near Eastern studies. This is due to numerous factors: the relatively short duration of the Urartians as a significant power, the short diachronic coverage of the small amount of extant textual material, and the "exoticness" of the language are among the most important. Mirjo Salvini has devoted a considerable portion of his career to the Urartians, from philological work to the exploration of sites and discovery of new inscriptions. In many ways the past six years have represented a culminating experience for his research. In 2008, the first three volumes of his Corpus dei testi urartei (CTU) were published. In these volumes he has collected all known Urartian rock inscriptions and provided new transcriptions and translations for them. A fourth volume has been published in 2012, covering inscriptions on bronze and other material as well as general paleographic concerns. The work under review is a valuable companion piece, presenting the grammar of Urartian in a clear, concise manner. This short work will be a valuable addition for anyone interested in this fascinating language.

The grammar is co-written by Ilse Wegner, who, while focusing on Hurrian, has also worked on Urartian. More importantly, Wegner brings her experience from her Hurrian grammar (2000, revised 2007), and this Urartian grammar follows closely the format that she has developed in these earlier works. The book begins with a short introduction providing background information on Urartian chronology and the basics of how Urartian scribes used the cuneiform script to write the language (pp. 1-11). The second part of the book is devoted to grammar (pp. 13-62). This is followed by the third section, which includes a large sample of Urartian passages with translations and some philological commentary (pp. 63-106). This section is useful but also problematic as will be explained below. The book concludes with a short glossary of Urartian words (pp. 107-15), a list of abbreviations (pp. 116-18), and five photos showing various Urartian inscriptions (pp. 121-24). The photos are all of good quality. Topic-specific bibliographies appear throughout the work (pp. 10-11, 64-66). The remainder of this review will focus on the second and third part of the grammar.

In chapter II.B (pp. 14-16) the authors discuss issues of phonology and orthography that are important when dealing with Urartian. There are a variety of inconsistencies in how the scribes inscribed the Urartian language, which in turn affect how we understand the phonological shape of Urartian word forms. The authors briefly touch on the issue of aesthetics concerning plene writings of vowels (p. 16). This is followed by a discussion of abbreviated spellings ("Wortabkurzungen"). It is quite possible that the Urartian script was developed as a means of approximating rather than faithfully recording the language. The scribes likely had a high degree of license when inscribing texts, allowing them to play with word forms in ways that have warped their phonetic realizations.

The authors then discuss nominal morphology (pp. 17-34). I found the section on enclitic pronouns (pp. 23-24) to be well presented. There are two formatting issues in the table on "Beispiele zu den Kasus" (pp. 28-29). At the bottom of page 29, there should not be blank lines between Ispuini=? and Minua=a. On page 29, the complex phrase [sup.d]quera=i=na=na=a tarma=na=a belongs under the locative plural, not the singular as given. On the second-to-last line of page 29, correct "(Punkt 2.2.5)" to "(Punkt 2.2.1)."

The one part of this section that I found problematic was the first sentence of the second paragraph of 2.3 on page 31. The authors state that in a "pure suffixing ergative language" like Urartian we should find postpositions but not prepositions. The first issue is the inclusion of "ergative language" (Ergativ-Sprache) in this formulation. The preference for postpositions has nothing to do with the ergativity of Urartian (or Hurrian) but would solely be a result of Urartian being a suffixing agglutinative language. Urartian's ergativity affects noun and verb morphology but does not trigger postpositional phrases. The second issue with this statement is that it is contradicted by the authors themselves under section 2.4 (p. 34), which discusses prepositional constructions in the language.

The long section on verbal morphology (pp. 39-60) is indicative of the various difficulties that these parts of speech still present us. The authors do an admirable job of trying to navigate these issues in a clear and concise manner, but some issues remain. I have a problem with their analysis of the plural suffix -it-u (p. 50 sub b). The authors prefer to see this as a suffix =itu, before which the transitive =u= morpheme elides, although they do allow for other possibilities. Based on Hurrian, which clearly shows the third plural marker =id= before the transitive valence marker, there is little reason to see the Urartian as any different. The schema that the authors favor is: (Urartian) VERB+(VALENCE(=u))+PLURAL(=itu) and (Hurrian) VERB+PLURAL(=id)+VALENCE(=o). More likely in my opinion is (Hurrian/Urartian) VERB+PLURAL(=id/t)+VALENCE(=o/u). The Hurrian construction with the plural preceding valence is invariable throughout the approximately thousand-year period that this language was documented, and as such, I believe proto-Hurro-Urartian would have been similar. If we follow the authors in analyzing the Urartian as having plural =itu following an elided valence, then it must be explained how the construction was reanalyzed. The final -u of the Urartian plural is then better analyzed as a valence morpheme.

On the same page, the authors discuss the elision of the i of the plural morpheme =it when immediately following a stem ending in r (e.g., partu < *par=it=u). I wonder if this could be an example of rhotacism (or at least partial-rhotacism) in Urartian? On page 51 under 5, the "Objekt 3. Pers. Sg." needs to be changed to "Objekt 1. Pers. Sg.," which better suits both the passage and the authors' abbreviated "er--mich."

In their section on non-indicative verbal forms, the authors discuss the third plural jussive [tu?]-ru-ti-ni-e-ni from CTU A 5-30 rev. 10 (p. 54). The third singular jussive is -inini (=ini=ne), and the third plural appears to be -tinini. The authors then analyze this ending as -*t=i=ni=ne. In both the singular and the plural, the final =ne is analyzed as the third singular enclitic pronoun. Other plural jussives are known: ha=it=ini and as?=ast=it=ini. Both show the plural marker =it= (Hurrian =id=). However, this =it= is missing from turutinieni. The presence of the -e- may just reflect a minor variation in vowel quality from the typical =inine. According to the authors (p. 55), the form is to be analyzed as [tu]r(root)+u(TRANSITIVE)+t(PLURAL)+i(JUSSIVE)+ni+ne(ENCLITIC PRONOUN). The i of the plural morpheme =it= has elided and we have the unexpected (and ad hoc) presence of a transitive =u=. This has alternatively been analyzed as [tu]r=ut=in=e=n? by Wilhelm (2004: 131), and he suggests that =ut= may, through some unexplained mechanism, have come directly from =it=. A third possibility can be posited from Hurrian. I believe the form is to be analyzed as [tu]r=ut=(i)t=in=e=n? (with the final elements following Wilhelm's argument). Rather than having to explain away the -ut-, I would see it as a combination of the derivational morpheme =ud= (see p. 45) and the third plural =it=. In Hurrian such a combination would result in the elision of the i of the plural morpheme. This allows us to explain the lack of this vowel without resorting to positing either the presence of an unexpected valence marker or some inexplicable transformation of =it= > =ut=.

The third part of the grammar, which provides transcriptions, translations, and short commentaries on text excerpts, is useful, but it is also problematic. There are numerous discrepancies between the transcriptions given in this grammar and those in Salvini's CTU. In some instances the differences involve indications of text preservation, with variations in half and full brackets between the grammar and the CTU. In others, however, it involves the addition/deletion of actual signs. While the former are not ideal, the latter are quite problematic for accurate analysis of the texts. I offer here a list of texts displaying these problems. I provide page numbers for the transliterations, but not the entire treatment in the book.

1) bracketing problems only:

Lektion 2: CTU A 8-3 v 33-43 (pp. 71-73); CTU A 8-17A 68-69 (p. 78); Lektion 4: CTU A 5-91 1-4, 6-7 (pp. 83-84); CTU A 11-7 1-3 (p. 85).

2) bracketing and addition/omission of signs:

Lektion 1: CTU A 3-5 (p. 67); Lektion2: CTU A 8-3 v 44-46 (p. 73); CTU A 8-17A 27-30 (p. 77).

3) bracketing, addition/omission of signs, and incorrect sign readings:

Lektion 2: CTU A 8-16 1-10 (p. 75; final -ni of line 4 is -bi); CTU A 8-17A 1-9 (pp. 77-78; line 3 -tu-u- is simply -tu-); Lektion 3: CTU A 9-23 (p. 80; line 2 read -gi-is- as -gis-); Lektion 7: CTU A 9-13 (pp. 98-99; line 13 e-si-me-si as e-si-me-?i; see also CTU vol. 2 (Salvini 2008: 87) for the numerous attestations of this form; the incorrect spelling with final -si is continued in the discussion on p. 100.

I would also like to comment on two texts:

1) CTU A 8-3 v 46 (p. 73): Here we find the problematic relative construction ali abadi. The relative clause is ali abadi, with ali as the relative pronoun (see p. 36) and the verb is first person intransitive ab=a=d?. The authors translate this relative clause as "was (ali) ich erbat (ab=a=d?)," which is the same as Wilhelm 2004: 135 ("What I requested"). The problem with this is that the verb is clearly intransitive, and yet it is consistently being treated as if it were transitive, with "what" as the patient. Perhaps better is "I who pray, (the gods hear me!)" (taking the has- of the main clause as "to hear," following the authors and pace Wilhelm).

2) CTU A 5-28 obv. 1, 10 (p. 96): In line 1, [sup.d]hal-di-e is not included in the translation. In line 10, su-u-hi is also omitted from the translation.

The work concludes with a glossary. While it is nice to have this glossary I would personally have preferred to see it contain more information along the lines of Wegner's Hurrian grammars. Lexemes are presented with their German translations, but virtually nothing else is given. Including various grammatical forms (with their analysis) would allow the authors to include page numbers that the readers could reference. Also missing from this work, but present in the Hurrian grammars, is a short index of morphemes (derivational and grammatical), which would be very useful.

This brief grammar of Urartian will be a useful tool for many years. The Urartian language is difficult and while it can be deciphered, there are numerous issues in how we analyze the various forms. The authors do an admirable job of presenting the language in a clear way that does not gloss over the many uncertainties that exist. Salvini and Wegner are to be commended for the hard work that has gone into creating this grammar.


Salvini, M. 2008. Corpus dei testi urartei: Vol. I. Le iscrizioni su pietra e roccia--I testi; Vol. 2. Le iscrizioni su pietra e roccia--Thesaurus; Vol. 3. Le iscrizioni su pietra e roccia--Tavole. Documenta Asiana, vol. 8. Rome: Istituto di Studi sul Mediterraneo Antico.

--. 2012. Corpus dei testi urartei: Vol. 4. Iscrizioni su bronzi, argilla e altri supporti. Nuove iscrizioni su pietra. Paleografia generale. Documenta Asiana, vol. 8. Rome: Istituto di Studi sul Mediterraneo Antico.

Wegner, 1. 2000. Hurritisch: Eine Einfuhrung. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

--. 2007. Hurritisch: Eine Einfuhrung. 2., uberarbeitete Auflage. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Wilhelm, G. 2004. Urartian. In The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages, ed. R. D. Woodard. Pp. 119-37. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.



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Author:Campbell, Dennis
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2018
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