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Good News (simutu) !

BM 34584+ is an early Seleucid copy of a hemerological treatise that compiles prognoses for three months (Abu to Arahsamnu) from a variety of sources, including the "Babylonian Almanac" and the "Prostration Hemerology." These prognoses are occasionally furnished with Akkadian translations and glosses. Thus, for instance, the prognosis of the "Babylonian Almanac" regarding the 20th of Abu (fd-da na-an-bal-e gig dab-sw) is translated as "he shall not cross a river lest disease infect him" (nara(ID) la ib-bir mursu(GIG) isabbat(DAB)su, 11. 12-13). The translation is then justified, in the spirit of Babylonian commentaries, by explaining, "the sign BAL, when read /bal/, means cto crossc" (ba-a['B]AL : e-be-ri).

A full edition of this text has been given in a recent article. c The purpose of the present note is to discuss the word si-mu-tu (4), which occurs in 1. 115 of the tablet. The text explains the prognosis of the "Babylonian Almanac" for the 24th of Arahsamnu (bu-us-rat SIG (5), "good news") as si-mu-tu (4) M dum-qi. The word si-mu-tu (4) is not booked in the dictionaries, but three other occurrences are known:

(1.) si-mu-su-nu asme-ma, "I heard their news" (sc. the news about their arrival), IM 95917 iv 32' (BagM 21 p. 417, edited in Cavigneaux and Ismail 1990: 346 and Frame 1995: 300). Inscription of Ninurta-kudurn-usur, governor of Suhu and Mari, datable to the mid-eighth century BCE.

(2.) si-mu-tu ki alliku (...) ul isturu, "they did not write (...) the news that I had departed," IM 77126 11. 11-15 (OIP 114 no. 64, edited in Cole 1996: 147-49). Letter from Nippur, second half of the eighth century BCE.

(3.) si-mu-us-su ittlsu ittesmu, "news was heard (that she was) with him," BM 30868 11. 6-7 (Nbn 682, edited in Wunsch 1997/1998: 87-88 no. 18). Document from Babylon, dated 543 BCE.

S. W. Cole (1995 and 1996: 148) has argued that the word in question does not derive from semu "to hear" and mean "news, report," but rather that it derives from samu/sacamu "to buy" and means "purchase." He cites as a parallel Sabaic [s.sup.2]'mt "purchase, merchandise" from the root [s.sup.2]'m "to purchase." This interpretation was rejected by M. Jursa (1997/1998: 423a), who defended the analysis of the word as "news," based on its occurrence in (3) above, where the meaning "purchase" is ruled out based on context. The hemerological treatise in BM 34584+ definitively confirms this analysis of simutu with its equation of si-mu-tu (4) sa dum-qC and bu-us-rat SIG (5).

The word simutu is first attested in the eighth century. By the time of the hemerological treatise, it seems to have become better known than the elsewhere much better attested bussurtu "news"; otherwise it is difficult to explain its use as explanans. A likely motivation for this distribution--relatively late first attestation combined with increased frequency throughout the first millennium--is contact with Aramaic. Reflexes of a noun *samu'at- occur as a common word for "report, news; (secondarily) legal tradition" in several dialects of Late Aramaic, including Jewish Palestinian Aramaic, Syriac, and Late Jewish Literary Aramaic, as well as possibly Jewish Babylonian Aramaic. (2) Given its existence in these dialects of Late Aramaic, this noun can confidently be reconstructed for earlier dialects of Aramaic, even if it is not yet attested. In addition, it should be noted that Aramaic *samu'at- is not a loanword from Akkadian but has a clear inner Aramaic etymology: it is derived from the root sm' "to hear" according to the pattern *qa0-, which can form nouns with passive semantics (Fox 2003: 197-202), combined with the feminine ending *-at-, which can form abstracts, i.e., "that which was heard" > "news."

It is proposed here that the emergence of Akkadian simutu in the Assyrian period as well as its increased frequency is due to contact with Aramaic *samu'at-. The mechanism of this contact-induced change is, however, more subtle than the reception of a simple Aramaic loanword in Akkadian. (3) This is because there are compelling arguments against analyzing Akkadian simutu as a loanword from Aramaic *samu'at-. First, it would be difficult to account for the discrepancy between the /i/ vowel in the first syllable of the Akkadian versus/a/in Aramaic. (4) In addition, there would be no consonantal trace of the Aramaic voiced pharyngeal fricative /7 in the Akkadian word, which would be unexpected based on other Aramaic loanwords in Akkadian. (5) Finally, simutu has a perfectly acceptable inner-Akkadian etymology: it could derive from semu "to hear" according to the nominal pattern *pirust-, which is common with III-weak roots in Akkadian (von Soden (3) 1995: [section]55j*).

It seems more likely, then, that Akkadian simutu represents a lexical replication on Aramaic *samucat-. Lexical replication, which overlaps to a large degree with the traditional calque, can result in various changes, including the creation of a new word, semantic changes in an existing word, and changes in frequency. (6) In this case, it is proposed that Akkadian simutu was created from a native Akkadian root (semu) according to a native Akkadian nominal pattern (*pirust-) but on the model of Aramaic *samu'at-. Thus, lexical replication led to the creation of a new word. This change was facilitated by the fact that Aramaic and Akkadian are both Semitic languages. (7) In addition, lexical replication resulted in an increase in the frequency of simutu, seemingly at the expense of bussurtu, at least by the Seleucid period. This helps to explain the use of the former as a gloss for the latter in the hemerological treatise under discussion.


Abraham, K., and M. Sokoloff. 2011. Aramaic Loanwords in Akkadian--A Reassessment of the Proposals. AfO 52: 22-76.

Beaulieu, P.-A. 2013. Aspects of Aramaic and Babylonian Linguistic Interaction in First Millennium BC Iraq. Journal of Language Contact 6: 358-78.

Cavigneaux, A., and B. K. Ismail. 1990. Die Statthalter von Suhu und Mari im 8 Jh. v. Chr. anhand neuer Texte aus den irakischen Grabungen im Staugebiet des Qadissiya-Damms. BagM 21: 321-456.

Cole, S. W. 1995. On the Existence and Meaning of a Term simutu in Early Neo-Babylonian. NABU 1995/109.

__. 1996. Nippur IV: The Early Neo-Babylonian Governorcs Archive from Nippur. Chicago:

The Oriental Institute.

Epps, P., J. Huehnergard, and N. Pat-El. 2013. Introduction: Contact among Genetically Related Languages. Journal of Language Contact 6: 209-19.

Fox, J. 2003. Semitic Noun Patterns. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.

Frame, G. 1995. Rulers of Babylonia from the Second Dynasty of I sin to the End of Assyrian Domination (1157-612). Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press.

Heine, B., and T. Kuteva. 2003. On Contact-Induced Grammaticalization. Studies in Language 27: 529-72.

__. 2005. Language Contact and Grammatical Change. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

__. 2006. The Changing Languages of Europe. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

__2008. Constraints on Contact-Induced Linguistic Change. Journal of Language Contact

THEMA 2: 57-90.

__. 2010. Contact and Grammaticalization. In The Handbook of Language Contact, ed. R.

Hickey. Pp. 86-105. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Jimenez, E. 2016. Loose Threads of Tradition: Two Late Hemerological Compilations. 7CS68: 197-227.

Jursa, M. 1997/1998. Review of Cole, Nippur IV: The Early Neo-Babylonian Governorcs Archive (OIP 114), and Gibson, Nippur in Late Assyrian Times (SAAS 4). AfO 44/45: 419-24.

Kaufman, S. A. 1984. On Vowel Reduction in Aramaic. JAOS 104: 87-95.

Sokoloff, M. 2002. A Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic of the Talmudic and Geonic Periods. Ramat-Gan: Bar Ilan Univ. Press.

von Soden, W. 1966. Aramaische Worter in neuassyrischen und neu- und spatbabylonischen Texten. Ein Vorbericht. I (aga - *mus). OrNS 35: 1-20.

__. 1968. Aramaische Worter in neuassyrischen und neu- und spatbabylonischen Texten. Ein Vorbericht. II (n - z und Nachtrage). OrNS 37: 261-71.

__. 1977. Aramaische Worter in neuassyrischen und neu- und spatbabylonischen Texten. Ein Vorbericht. III. OrNS 46: 183-97.

__. (3) 1995. Grundriss der Akkadischen Grammatik. 3. erganzte Auflage unter Mitarbeit von Werner R. Mayer. Rome: Pontificio Istituto Biblico.

Wunsch, C. 1997/1998. Und die Richter berieten ... Streitfalle in Babylon aus der Zeit Neriglissars und Nabonids. AfO 44/45: 59-100.


We are grateful to Eckart Frahm (Yale University) for his helpful comments on an earlier draft of this note.

(1.) Jimenez 2016.

(2.) In the most recent treatment of the Jewish Babylonian Aramaic data, Sokoloff suggests that the occurrences of the lexeme in this dialect may be due to contact with other dialects of Jewish Aramaic (2002: 1156).

(3.) For Aramaic loanwords in Akkadian, see Abraham and Sokoloff 2011, which replaces the older studies by von Soden (1966, 1968, and 1977).

(4.) Note that Aramaic vowel reduction was not yet operative in the eighth century BCE (Kaufman 1984), and thus Akkadian /i/ cannot be explained as an attempt to represent a reduced vowel.

(5.) Among the Aramaic loanwords in Akkadian that are considered "certain" (I) in the study of Abraham and Sokoloff (2011), the following witness an attempt to represent the Aramaic voiced pharyngeal fricative Icl by a consonant in Akkadian: Akkadian duracu "arm" < Aramaic drc (no. 40): Akkadian hullatu "garden yield tax" < Aramaic clitc (no. 72); Akkadian mahat, malfi, mara "a twelfth of a shekel" < Aramaic mch (no. 128). There does, however, seem to be at least one exception in which there is no attempt to represent the Aramaic voiced pharyngeal fricative IcI by a consonant in Akkadian, viz. Akkadian sedu "to support, assist" < Aramaic scd (no. 210). Compare also Akkadian qatu "woodcutter" < Aramaic qf (no. 184), which, however, is also attested as qettacu "reedcutter" (no. 186).

(6.) This understanding of lexical replication is based primarily on the work of Heine and Kuteva; see, for instance, Heine and Kuteva 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, and 2010.

(7.) Beaulieu (2013) has recently discussed how the genetic similarity between Aramaic and Akkadian (specifically Babylonian) affected the contact situation. For contact among genetically related languages more broadly, see Epps. Huehnergard, and Pat-El 2013.
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Author:Butts, Aaron Michael; Jimenez, Enrique
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Oct 1, 2018
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