Linguistics Anonymous

01 April 2006

A Lateral Kick to the Shins: Part 3

Sorry for the delay. In the interim, my paper was accepted by the conference, so I really need to get going on this. The remaining posts will describe the change and previous explanations for it, then give a detailed account of my proposal including the phonetic evidence. This first post will give evidence for the change itself.

The change of š to l in Akkadian can be seen between the Old Babylonian and Middle Babylonian periods. It is particularly clear in certain verbal forms (especially the so-called Š-Stem, which forms causatives) and in certain verbs like šaparum "to send" and šakanum "to place." Some examples of these forms from the Amarna letters (from Franz Böhl, Die Sprache der Amarnabriefe mit besonderer berücksichtigung der Kanaanismen): iltapranni "he sent to me" (from ištapranni), altapra "I sent" (from aštapra), ulzizušu "I set it up" (from ušzizu-šu, Š-Stem of izuzzum "to stand" with the clitic pronoun -šu), altakanma "I settled (them)" (from aštakan with the enclitic conjunction -ma).

Some other examples (from Richard Steiner, The Case for Fricative-Laterals in Proto-Semitic): ildu "foundation" (from išdum), ilti "with" (from išti). These indicate that the sound change is general rather than morphophonemic, as might be expected from the verbal forms alone.

I should note that this change is never fully complete in the written language; forms with š continue into very late texts. However, I do maintain that the change was complete in the spoken language by the Middle Babylonian/Middle Assyrian period and was only reflected in writing sporadically because of the extremely conservative character of the cuneiform writing system and scribal traditions. One piece of evidence for this contention is the fact that different types of texts show different patterns of attestation of the change: royal inscriptions, which tend to be more formal and use more archaic language generally, show it much less than letters, which tend to be less formal and closer to the spoken language. Jussi Aro (Studien zur mittelbabylonischen Grammatik) reports that a sample of Middle Babylonian letters showed lt 52 times and št 18 times (8 letters had both forms). This suggests that the change had become widespread in the spoken language at that point (at least in certain dialects; some peripheral areas don't show the change at all).

So that's the basic structure of the change as attested in the texts. Although not all possible environments were shown in the examples above, it occurs before /t/, /d/, /ṭ/, /s/ and /z/. These are all coronal segments (their exact phonetic realization as dental or alveolar is of course impossible to determine), so this definitely looks like a conditioned sound change. But more on that later.


Post a Comment

<< Home