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CursoDeArameo.com.ar - The Origin of Ergativity in Sumerian

CursoDeArameo.com.ar - The Origin of Ergativity in Sumerian

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267
The
orIgm
of
ergativity in Sumerian,and the 'inversion' in pronominal agreement:a historical explanation based on Neo-Aramaic parallels
l
Eleanor
COGHILL
and Guy
DEl,!;;rSCHER
The pattern
of
subject and object agreement on the verb
is
one
of
thethornier issues in Sumerian grammar. The 'inversion' in the role
of
thesuffixes and prefixes between the
ljamtu
and
Marn
constructions
is
particularly surprising.
It
seems remarkable that the same prefixes should denote the agent in one tense/aspect, but the object in the other, and that thesuffixes display a mirror image
of
the same inversion.
In
this article,
we
offer a simple diachronic explanation not only for this inversion, but alsofor the identity in form between the ergative case-marker and the 'directive' ('locative-terminative'), and thus for the origin
of
ergativity in Sumerian.
We
suggest that ergativity arose in Sumerian,
as
it did in many otherlanguages, when a passive structure was reanalysed as active-transitive, andwhen this structure became what
we
know in attested Sumerian
as
the
ljamtu
construction (HCYThe inspiration for the diachronic path that
we
propose here comesfrom a striking parallel in Neo-Aramaic. Some modem Neo-Aramaic dialects display the same 'inversion' that
we
find in Sumerian, as will be described in section §
2.
Although arrived at through a different route, thescenario suggested here
is
similar to a proposal made by Jacobsen in
1988
3
Jacobsen's proposal seems to have been largely ignored by Sumerologists, probably because it conflicts with a widespread and entrenchedassumption, namely that what needs explanation
is
the inverted
Mara
con-
1
We
are very grateful to the following people for comments and suggestions on a previousdraft:
J.
Black,
D.
O.
Edzard,
A.
Gianto,
S.
Hopkins,
G.
Khan,
W.
Sallaberger,
J.
N. Postgate,
M.
P.
Streck, and
G.
Z6lyomi.
2
We
shall henceforth refer to the
ljamtu
construction (otherwise known by the name 'preterite' and several others) as
He.
The
Marii
construction (otherwise known by the name 'presentfuture' and several others) will be denoted as MC. The terms HC and MC will refer not to therespective
ljamtu/
Maru
base, but to the whole construction. The crucial importance
of
this distinction will become apparent below. On the other hand, whether the precise semantic distinctionbetween these two constructions
is
on the basis
of
ense or aspect is not
of
paramount importanceto the present discussion.
J
T.
Jacobsen, "The Sumerian Verbal Core",
ZA
78 (1988)
213 ff.
 
268
Eleanor Coghill and Guy Deutscher
struction (MC), whereas the
He
has the
original
agreement pattern.
We
shall argue, however, that this assumption
is
unjustified. By offering a detailed historical scenario based on common cross-linguistic patterns, and inparticular, by describing a precise historical parallel from Neo-Aramaic,
we
shall make a case for the 'passive to ergative' scenario in Sumerian, which
we
hope will fare better than Jacobsen's proposal.
1 Inversion in Verbal Agreement
Sumerian uses suffixes and prefixes to mark subject and object agreement on the verb. The function
of
the suffixes and prefixes in the
He
and
Me
has been the subject
of
much debate in the past. Yet it is no longercontroversial that in the
Me,
the subject (both transitive and intransitive)
is
marked only by suffixes, whereas the object
is
denoted only with prefixes
4
The agreement pattern in the
Me
thus shows a distribution which is familiar from Indo-European and Semitic languages, and is known
as
'nominative-accusative': the subjects
of
both transitive and intransitive verbs aremarked in a similar way (with suffixes), whereas the object is marked differently (with prefixes).In the
He,
however, the situation
is
almost precisely 'inverted'. Theprefixes are used to mark the transitive subject
(A
for 'agent'). The suffixes are mainly used
to
mark the object
(0)
and the intransitive subject (S).The actual picture is more complex, since plural agents in the
He
aremarked also by suffixes.
We
shall argue later that this
is
a secondary development, but for the meantime, it should not be too controversial to saythat the
main locus
for agent agreement in the
He
is the prefix set. Theagreement pattern in the
He
is
usually called 'ergative-absolutive': the intransitive subject (S) and the object
(0)
are marked in the same way (withsuffixes), whereas the agent (A) is marked differently (mainly with theprefixes). Thus,
as
recognised already by Michalowski, Sumerian has'split-ergative' verbal agreement patterns
5.
The
He
has ergative-absolutiveagreement, whereas the
Me
has nominative-accusative agreement
6.
This
4
Cf.
P.
Attinger,
Elements de linguistique sumerienne
(Fribourg 1993) 152, 195; J. Krecher,
"Die
maru-Formen
des sumerischen Verbums", in:
M.
Dietrich and O. Loretz,
Vom
alten Orientzum alten Testament
(AOAT 240; Munster 1995)
183.
5
P.
Michalowski, "Sumerian as an ergative language",
JCS
32 (1980) 86-103.
6
Krecher, AOAT 240, 188, argues that the Sumerian verb does not show 'split-ergative'agreement patterns. He says that the prefix set in the MC originally denoted oblique objects rather than direct (accusative) objects. Since the object prefixes are not originally 'accusative', heclaims that the agreement pattern in the MC should not be called 'nominative-accusative', andtherefore the Sumerian verb does not show 'split-ergativity'. But the term 'nominative-accusative
The origin
of
in Sumerian
269
general alignment is not at all unusual. In various languages, the past/perfective has ergative-absolutive verbal agreement, whereas the present/imperfective has 'nominative-accusative' verbal agreemenC.In the following presentation,
we
shall use the forms for the relevantsuffixes and prefixes
as
listed in Table 1 below. The actual forms
of
some
of
the individual prefixes and suffixes are controversial, and since neither
of
the authors is a Sumerologist,
we
shall not presume
to
discuss themhere. Only a few points will be mentioned below, which are directly relevant to the historical scenario that
we
propose.
Suffix set(
s)
Prefix set
(of
immediate preverbal slot)2 -
en
-e -(or
-e
n
-,
-e r
-,
-
j -... )
3 human
-0/-e
n-
3 non-human
-0/-
e -b -2
pI.
-enzen
3
pI.
human
-d/-ene
Table
The only contentious point about the suffixes is whether -e
of
thethird person in the transitive
Me
is
a part
of
the
Maru
base, or whether itis the marker
of
the third person
of
the
Me.
This point is not crucial toour scenario, however. The immediate pre-verbal prefixes are much moreproblematic. The second person singular prefix has been variously reconstructed by scholars
as
-e
-,
-e r
-,
-e n
-,
-
j
-.
For our discussion, theonly important issue is the relation between this prefix and the second person oblique object prefix ( -r
i -
),
which will be mentioned in section
3.
The status
of
the first person prefix is particularly uncertain, and
It
is
noteven clear whether the pronominal 'inversion' applies
to
the first person.(For example, the allomorphs
of
the ventive morpheme seem to play animportant role in marking the first person object in the
Me,
but they playno role in marking the first person agent in the
HC.)8 We
shall thereforeconfine the discussion below to second and third persons.
agreement'
is
conventionally used simply for a particular
synchroniC alignment,
where A and Sare marked in a similar way, while 0 is marked differently. From synchronic perspective, theMC in Sumerian satisfies this definition precisely: S is marked in a similar way to A (suffixes)whereas 0 is marked differently, by prefixes. Regardless
of
etymology, therefore, this alignmentcan be called nominative-accusative.
7
See literature and examples quoted by Michalowski,
JCS
32, 93. For more recent discussions, see
R.
M.
W.
Dixon,
Ergafivity
(Cambridge 1994) 97-101,
A.
Siewierska, "Passive-toergative versus inverse-to-ergative", in:
A.
Siewierska and J.
1.
Song,
Case, Typology and Grammar:
in
Honor
of
Barry
J
Blake
(Amsterdam 1998) 229-246.
8
From a cross-linguistic perspective, it would not be surprising
if
the first person (or firstand second persons) 'opted
out'
of
a passive to ergative reanalysis. The first person is on the verytop
of
the animacy hierarchy, and is least likely to trigger passivization. For a recent discussion
Orientalia
-
25

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