Tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh.

This piece by Osama S. M. Amin is about a fragment of Gilgamesh that was discovered in 2011 and published in 2014, so it’s not exactly breaking news, but I hadn’t been aware of it and I suspect many of my readers will be in the same boat. Here’s Amin’s summary of the salient points:

● The revised reconstruction of Tablet V yields text that is nearly twenty lines longer than previously known.
● The obverse (columns i-ii) duplicates the Neo-Assyrian fragments which means the Epic tablet can be placed in order and used to fill in the gaps between them. It also shows the recension on Tablet V was in Babylonia, as well as Assyria and that “izzizūma inappatū qišta” is the same phrase that other tablets being with.
● The reverse (columns v-vi) duplicates parts of the reverse (columns iv-vi) of the late Babylonian tablet excavated at Uruk that begins with the inscription “Humbāba pâšu īpušma iqabbi izakkara ana Gilgāmeš”.
● The most interesting piece of information provided by this new source is the continuation of the description of the Cedar Forest:
   ○ Gilgamesh and Enkidu saw ‘monkeys’ as part of the exotic and noisy fauna of the Cedar Forest; this was not mentioned in other versions of the Epic.
   ○ Humbaba emerges, not as a barbarian ogre, and but as a foreign ruler entertained with exotic music at court in the manner of Babylonian kings. The chatter of monkeys, chorus of cicada, and squawking of many kinds of birds formed a symphony (or cacophony) that daily entertained the forest’s guardian, Humbaba.

Thanks, Matt!

Comments

  1. David Marjanović says:

    Gilgāmeš

    ā?

    Now I find out, at the age of 33?

    I feel cheated.

  2. Michael Eochaidh says:

    I just always assumed I was pronouncing it wrong. Historically it’s been a good bet.

  3. Gilgāmeš sounds much better than Gilga-mesh.

    ‘Gilga’ sounds childish and ‘mesh’ just sounds like, well, ‘mesh’. The combination sounds primitive and childish.

    Gilgāmeš sounds much more fitting as the name of the hero of the world’s oldest epic.

    Of course, this is all from the point of view of English sound associations…

  4. I didn’t know the Akkadian paga ‘monkey’, without a Hebrew cognate. Interesting, too, the word for ‘francolin’, tarlugallu (< dar-lugal). Francolins are migratory and pass through Israel, but as far as I know no one has identified them with any older Hebrew bird name, and in Hebrew the foreign name francolin is used.

    Speaking of francolin, OED says:

    < French francolin (1298 in Old French in Marco Polo; earlier as frinquilin (a1272 in a source from Italy, also franquilin), in this form apparently via post-classical Latin franquillinus (a 1248 in an Italian source) ), and partly (in α. forms) < its apparent etymon Italian francolino (although this is first attested later than the French word: 1310 in a translation of Marco Polo), of uncertain origin; the first element is perhaps franco free (see frank adj.2). Compare post-classical Latin francolinus (15th cent.). Compare also Catalan francolí (late 15th cent.), Spanish francolín (1423), probably < French.
    Although the word is attested in Latin and French before it is in Italian, the fact that the earliest sources are from Italy suggests that the Italian word is probably the etymon of the others.

    It has been suggested that the second element was originally < Old French corlieu curlew n., but this poses semantic as well as formal problems.

    An alternative suggestion that the Italian word may be related to post-classical Latin fringilla chaffinch, finch (see fringillaceous adj.), via Italian regional (northern) frangol, also poses semantic problems.

  5. Description: Banana languages or Proto-Tigris languages refer to a hypothetical substrate in the Sumerian language. Attested only by personal names used in Sumerian texts. These names have a characteristic feature, reduplication of syllables (like in the word banana): Inanna, Zababa, Chuwawa, Bunene etc. Such feature of the “banana languages” reminds the extinct Minoan language whose genetic relations are unclear. The hypothesis was proposed by Igor Dyakonov and Vladislav Ardzinba who identified these hypothetical languages with the Samarran culture.

    Humbaba is clearly one of them.

  6. … that “izzizūma inappatū qišta” is the same phrase that other tablets being with.

    Should that be “begin with” ?

  7. Almost certainly—good catch!

  8. @SFReader: Could you elaborate on the connection to the Minoan language? Unless I’m mistaken, Linear-A texts have not been deciphered yet. A relation to Near Eastern languages sounds reasonable and is probable, but has it been proved? I mean, Linear-B was supposed to be Etruscan, but the great Michael Ventris proved it was archaic Greek.

  9. David Marjanović says:

    Unless I’m mistaken, Linear-A texts have not been deciphered yet.

    Well, the script has mostly been deciphered; the inscriptions can be read aloud again – the language is just not understood. And that’s assuming it’s a single language.

  10. I just always assumed I was pronouncing it wrong

    Well, so were the Akkadians, actually; his original Sumerian name was apparently Bilgamesh.

  11. “But you can call me Bill.”

  12. Michael Eochaidh says:

    TR: Akkadian speakers presumably have the same problem I did: they never heard the word actually spoken by someone who knew what they were saying. (Or at all, for a lot of words I still mispronounce.)

  13. marie-lucie says:

    Gilgamesh, Bilgamesh

    A correspondence of /g/ and /b/ suggests that the original name started with /*gw/ (whether the names were cognate or one was borrowed).

  14. I would think it’s just a natural simplification of an opaque foreign name.

  15. ə de vivre says:

    “I just always assumed I was pronouncing it wrong”
    To be fair the latest etymology/reconstruction argues that at the time of the first attestations of the name ~2600 BC it was pronounced *pabilgames (or *pʰapilkames), where *pabilga is “older (paternal) relative” and *mes is “hero”. Where the stress went on that is anybody’s guess. In any event you’re still way ahead of the first modern account of the name which read it as “izdubar”. The “š”, incidentally, was probably pronounced *s in Sumerian and Akkadian.

    “A correspondence of /g/ and /b/ suggests that the original name started with /*gw/ (whether the names were cognate or one was borrowed).”
    IIRC an underlying /gʷ/ was proposed in the 60s or 70s, but ultimately never gained much acceptance as being present in historical Sumerian. Interestingly enough a b-g correspondence is common between main dialect Sumerian and eme-sal (eme-sal being another ‘flavour’ of written Sumerian that probably at least originated in a non-standard spoken dialect, since some Akkadian loans look like they came from eme-sal forms rather than main-dialect). Except it’s usually the other way ’round: /igi/ “eye” in main-dialect shows up as /ibi/ in eme-sal, and main-dialect /aga/ “behind” is eme-sal /aba/. Unfortunately the one eme-sal spelling of Gilgamesh is ambiguous in its pronunciation, and may not even refer to Gilgamesh at all. But if it did turn out that the b-g “thing” was systematic, you’d be looking at a sound correspondence that goes back to sometime before ~2800 BC when the first syllabic Sumerian starts turning up.

    (Hi, first time long time here. I’ve followed the blog for a while, but I’ve recently taken advantage of an unexpectedly long period of unemployment and a never quite dormant degree in linguistics to get way more caught-up in Sumerian linguistics than I ever imagined possible. As a result I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share some of what I’d learned with people who might actually find it interesting)

  16. marie-lucie says:

    But replacing [g] by [b] (presumably that is the direction of change) is not a case of “simplification”, like [ts] to [s], for instance. And the middle [g] is not changed. But changes from [*gw] to[ g] (a true simplification) and [*gw] to [b] are both attested in a variety of languages.

    One possibility is that “Gilgamesh” seemed to be partially analyzable in the borrowing language and was changed to *Bilgamesh* which was more meaningful, so the apparent “phonological correspondence” would not be a regular one. (Regular correspondences are not unknown in borrowings, especially if one of languages has borrowed heavily from the other at a certain stage in its development).

  17. marie-lucie says:

    Reading back upthread, I see that the original may have been Bilgamesh. A change [b] to [g] is even more difficult to justify that the opposite change, but an original [*gw] giving rise to both [b] and [g] (perhaps in different dialects) is even more likely.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    A correspondence of /g/ and /b/ suggests that the original name started with /*gw/

    I was sure I had read something about spelling variation between g and b in Sumerian being interpreted as just such a phoneme. But now I can’t find anything on this in the English or the German Wikipedia; this paper states on p. 4 that “we know that the Sumerian language had a phonemic labio-velar stop /gʷ/”, but the lone citation at the end of the long sentence on the sound system is only about the vowels.

  19. marie-lucie says:

    I just looked up the French counterpart. It mentions the “male” and “female” versions of the language, and the fact that “m” in one of them sometimes alternates with “g” in the other. But in the list of consonants, “g” is listed as a “nasal” alongside “m” and “n”. Again, alternation between a velar and a labial suggests an original labio-velar.

  20. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks for the link to the paper, which gives Sumerian words possibly borrowed from other languages especially PIE. The footnote you cite says that a proto-language *gw* would explain the g / b alternation in the two (known as “male/female”) versions, as I supposed. Another footnote p.8 cites a possible “gb” cluster (with superscript g).

    Among the possible borrowings are things like gigir(a) ‘chariot’, probably from PIE *kwekwlo-; the related kir ‘to roll’, PIE *kwel- ‘turn, twist’, and several others where PIE has a labio-velar or a sequence of labial or velar before rounded vowel (eg *ku, *bu).

    This suggests that “Bilgamesh” was not the oldest form, only the oldest attested form.

  21. marie-lucie says:

    Humbaba

    Does anyone know if Humbaba is always a male figure? In some ancient cultures the deity in charge of the forests and/or mountains (= the non-cultivated area, the wilderness) is female.

  22. Trond Engen says:

    ə de vivre: IIRC an underlying /gʷ/ was proposed in the 60s or 70s, but ultimately never gained much acceptance as being present in historical Sumerian.

    The Sumer of ’69.

    Interestingly enough a b-g correspondence is common between main dialect Sumerian and eme-sal […]

    P-Sumerian and Q-Sumerian?

    marie-lucie: Does anyone know if Humbaba is always a male figure? In some ancient cultures the deity in charge of the forests and/or mountains (= the non-cultivated area, the wilderness) is female.

    In more recent mythology Humbaba can be identified with another partly reduplicated ruler of the wilderness, Tom Bombadil. B/Gilgamesh obviously survives as Bilbo. The name of his companion Enkidu is found as Gamgee. (We see that modern mythology has split the hero character in two.)

  23. marie-lucie says:

    Trond: P-Sumerian and Q-Sumerian?

    Yes! except in Sumerian these are in different registers (I think) rather than different language groups.

    And thank you for mentioning ə de vivre.

    ə de vivre: Sorry, I missed your post above and only looked it up now because Trond referred to it. Mine would have been better or at least more informed if I had read yours first.

    Do you have a reference for the proposal about possible *gw ?

  24. Trond Engen says:

    I didn’t see Schwa’s comment before rereading either. As a first time comment it was probably delayed in moderation.

    If there’s a deity of the wilderness in Norse mythology, it’s Skaði, wife of Njörðr and daughter of the sea giant Þjazi. Her name might be interpreted as a personification of the land itself (Skadin Augio-).

  25. ə de vivre says:

    It looks like the French wiki article isn’t up to date on their transliterations. The ‘g’ in the g / m alternation is a *ŋ, usually transliterated as ‘ĝ’. It was originally transliterated ‘g’ because the velar nasal didn’t exist in Akkadian which was deciphered first. You can check out a list of eme-sal words and their main-dialect equivalents at the electronic Pennsylvania Sumerian dictionary (http://psd.museum.upenn.edu/epsd/epsd/emesal.html)

    It’s not clear what the relation between ‘feminine’ eme-sal and the main dialect is. The most plausible explanation I’ve heard is that it was a particular dialect that became stereotypically associated with women’s speech in the written tradition, like Pali in Sanskrit literature. There’s a fairly recent overview with additional citations starting on page 31 here: https://www.academia.edu/879452/Sumerian_Literature_in_From_an_Antique_Land_An_Introduction_to_Ancient_Near_Eastern_Literature_2009_

    Humbaba first shows up as a personal name in south Mesopotamia in spellings that alternate between [ḫuwawa] or [ḫubaba], and unlike Gilgamesh doesn’t have a Sumerian etymology. Attestations from Mari, a Semitic city-state on the upper Euphrates, has it as [ḫuppipi] with a closed 1st syllable. It appears the [b]s in Humbaba don’t have the same history as the [b] in Bilgamesh. If you’ve got JSTOR access there’s a paper that reviews some of the debates about the Sumerian phonemic inventory (up until 1990 at least) called The Alleged ‘Extra’ Phonemes of Sumerian by J.A. Black.

  26. David Marjanović says:

    the fact that “m” in one of them sometimes alternates with “g” in the other. But in the list of consonants, “g” is listed as a “nasal” alongside “m” and “n”.

    As Wikipedia makes clear in other languages, that’s [ŋ], traditionally transcribed as g̃ by Sumerologists (or as ĝ by Sumerologists under typesetting constraints).

  27. David Marjanović says:

    Oh. I hadn’t seen ə de vivre’s comment either before I wrote both of mine today.

    In more recent mythology Humbaba can be identified with another partly reduplicated ruler of the wilderness, Tom Bombadil. B/Gilgamesh obviously survives as Bilbo. The name of his companion Enkidu is found as Gamgee. (We see that modern mythology has split the hero character in two.)

    Full of win.

  28. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    So, what does paleontology tell us about those alleged Middle Eastern monkeys in the antiquity? Now there are some just on the south-western tip of the Arabian Peninsula but, I imagine, there could be more before deforestation and stuff.

  29. David Marjanović says:

    Sure; there were elephants in Syria, too.

  30. As a result I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share some of what I’d learned with people who might actually find it interesting

    Excellent; please carry on as you have begun! Also, I love the moniker “ə de vivre.”

    As a first time comment it was probably delayed in moderation.

    Yup, and I was out tramping the woods with my grandson, so it took longer than usual (during the daytime) to approve it.

  31. marie-lucie says:

    David: (“g” is listed as a “nasal” alongside “m” and “n”)that’s [ŋ], traditionally transcribed as g̃ by Sumerologists (or as ĝ by Sumerologists under typesetting constraints).

    Thanks. I correctly interpreted the “g” there as [ŋ] but was under the constraints of my keyboard. My old computer used to make it very easy to access a list of many non-standard characters, but my new one does not. Very frustrating. (Here I just copied and pasted the character from your sentence).

    LH: I love the moniker “ə de vivre.”

    I just realized the pun! I was afraid there was no joi in that poor person’s life.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    p.s. And ∂, thank you for your comments and references!

    Humbaba, earlier Huppipi: The correspondence -mb- / -pp- reminds me of Greek “aggelos” = “angelos”, where the apparent geminate is actually a sequence of Nasal + Stop. Does that make sense for Sumerian?

  33. ə de vivre says:

    LH: For shame, enjoying the outdoors with family while my golden words languished unread for nigh on an hour or two!

    marie-lucie:
    The correspondence -mb- / -pp- reminds me of Greek “aggelos” = “angelos”, where the apparent geminate is actually a sequence of Nasal + Stop. Does that make sense for Sumerian?
    I’m going off “The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic” by A.R. George for attestations and etymologies for the names Gilgamesh and Humbaba, and he doesn’t mention any spellings with the [mb] cluster until the Early Neo-Assyrian period, when Sumerian had been dead for 1000ish years. I’ve never seen any proposed pp/mb alternations internal to Sumerian, but that Black article I mentioned has something about a prenasalized bilabial. It looks like a lot of those examples are cases where a /ŋ/ was hidden by out Semitic point of entry or cases where Sumerian [mb] corresponds to Akkadian [mm] or [bb], though. There are also almost minimal pairs like [babbar] ‘white’ and [ambar] ‘reed-bed, marsh’ that would suggest [bb] and [mb] were not allophonic. So could be a Semitic thing, but I don’t know enough about East Semitic phonology to say how plausible that is. On the other hand Humbaba/Huwawa doesn’t have a Sumerian etymology (so far), and there are all sorts of non-Semitic, non-Sumerian languages from the area that are known only from the names given to them by literate folks, so there are plenty of 3rd-party ‘common ancestor’ candidates to pick from. Maybe he came from Meluḫḫa in the Indus valley whose merchants left bead-making drills in pre-Sargonic Lagash!

    Geminate consonants in general are kinda tricky in Sumerian. There are some complex signs like AD-DA (sign names are in all caps) for [adda] ‘father’ and A-DA-MIN [adamin] ‘contest, debate’ that suggest that Sumerian did indeed have contrastive geminates. On the other hand Sumerian scribes often used ‘redundant’ spellings, where the final consonant of one sign is repeated in the following one, probably partly due to orthographic convention in order to disambiguate readings of logographic roots. For example the sign TAR can either be read as ‘kud’ or ‘tar’ but followed by the nominalizing suffix /a/ it would be spelled X-da or X-ra depending on which reading was intended. In other cases, especially with the pre-verbal prefixes which are both morphologically complex and spelled pseudo-syllabically, certain prefixes are sometimes (but not always) written to suggest geminates (that is VC1-C1V rather than V-CV). In eme-sal everything is spelled syllabically and all bets are off, so the word ‘beloved’ (a compound of /kig/ and /aŋ/) can be spelled KI-GA-AĜ, KI-IG-AĜ, or KI-IG-GA-AĜ, presumably all pronounced [kigaŋ].

    There’s an unpublished dissertation that claims that all the pre-verbal VC1-C1V spellings are underlyingly geminate that’s gained some currency despite not offering any systematic argument in favour of that interpretation (I have Strong Opinions about the phonology in that paper, but I am trying to avoid getting worked up when people are wrong on the internet). On the other Joachim Krecher claims in “Verschlusslaute und Betonung im Sumerischen” that VC1-C1V spellings are related to stress placement, but that paper’s both in German and not available on the internet so I don’t have much to say about it. As far as I can tell most people think Sumerian had contrastive geminates, but I’ve never seen any systematic investigations of it.

  34. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks ∂. Of course with the names of mythical characters there is always the problem that some of them come from different languages, perhaps ancient substrates or older indigenous languages.

    I wonder if the baba part is the same in Humbaba and Kubaba? Of course the existence of Huppipi would seem to be a counterargument, unless this name is a variant belonging to the other register.

  35. Sure; there were elephants in Syria, too.

    Don’t forget their still-there cousins.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    I have Strong Opinions about the phonology in that paper

    I’m curious. 🙂 While clearly not everything is rock-solid, I do find it unusually well argued.

  37. ə de vivre says:

    @David
    I just discovered the ‘Commented-On Language Hat Posts’ link in the side-bar so I only recently saw your post, and if there’s one thing I love, it’s venting my spleen about the finer points of Sumerian phonology.

    My biggest frustration with the phonology in the dissertation is the reconstruction of a contrastive glottal stop. The idea is pretty old, and there probably are a couple ‘invisible’ consonants in Sumerian, but the version of the hypothesis in the dissertation is based on some odd premises:

    The initial argument for *ʔ is a piece of circular reasoning starting from the observation that only a subset of the attested logographic V(C) signs are used to syllabically spell word-initial prefixes. These signs must therefore represent a *ʔV(C) syllable because all Sumerian syllables must have an onset, which makes sense typologically as languages with contrastive glottal stops usually require all syllables to have onsets. There’s no citation or evidence for why all Sumerian syllables are assumed to require onsets, and the connection between the invisible *ʔ in word-initial prefixes and the phenomena used to illustrate the observable effects of the *ʔ is based solely on the fact that the sign A is used to write both for the verbal prefix *ʔa- and the nominal enclitic *=ʔa(1). He also doesn’t address that, typologically, left-edge word boundaries are exactly where languages that otherwise always require onsets allow onsetless syllables. Nor does he address that laryngeal consonants often cannot fulfil onset requirements in languages that do have them as contrastive segments(2).

    The glottal stop’s distribution is intended to explain why some sequences conventionally analyzed as /VV/ are spelled as a single syllable while others are spelled as two. But the environments in which the proposed /VʔV/ are actually realized as 2 syllables is very small compared to the number of cases he has to posit given the morphology he proposes. In fact there are only 2 environments /VʔV/ is reliably spelled as 2 syllables is in Old Sumerian: when the nominalizing suffix *-ʔa is followed by an enclitic locative *=ʔa or copula *=ʔam(3), and when the locative enclitic *=ʔa follows certain possessive pronouns ending in long vowels(4). At the same time he also suggests that the nominalizing suffix is itself long (-*ʔaː), so the basic generalization appears to be: Vː-LOC and Vː-COP are realized as 2 syllables. An underlying *ʔ is certainly one solution, but if you don’t come into the data already looking for a contrastive glottal stop, adding one doesn’t offer many advantages over the alternatives, and it creates a whole new set of problems.

    I don’t want to come off like I think Jagersma is a complete dumb-dumb. There’s good evidence that there are more phonemes in Sumerian yet to be ‘discovered’ and a laryngeal consonant is a reasonable bet, but this hypothesis ain’t it. Besides, it’s a doctoral dissertation, it’s bound to contain loose-ends, half-formed ideas meant to be picked up in later projects, and a few claims he’ll quietly hope no one ever brings up again. But somehow it’s become *the* citation among a certain circle of Sumerologists for the glottal stop in Sumerian. The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Royal Inscriptions, for example, has included Jagersma’s locative/nominalizing *=ʔa and copula *=ʔam in their lemmatizing. It boggles my mind that they’d include such an untested hypothesis in a corpus project that will hopefully be around providing useful data for a long time.

    There are other sticking points, but that’s all I’ve got time for right now. I’m more than happy to talk more about this stuff if you find it interesting.

    1) He insists that throughout the Old Sumerian period A only ever represents *ʔa, never *a, while at the same time reads E as the prefix *ʔe- and an enclitic he reconstructs as *=e. It’s unclear why he assumes A is indicative of an initial *ʔ. Not only that but both A-A, and less-frequently A, are used to represent *aja. The presence of a contrastive *j in Sumerian is on much more solid ground, and it’s often impossible to distinguish between a ‘hidden’ *j and a *ʔ given the available data.

    2) The main exceptions to this rule where ʔ acts like any other consonant are Arabic and some other Semitic languages. A lot of the unstated assumptions about phonology here appear to be coloured by the specifics of East Semitic languages.

    3) Incidentally, the only morphemes with an initial *ʔ that preserve /VʔV/ boundaries all begin with *ʔa. If I had to bet, I’d put my money on this ‘glottal stop’ being an epiphenomenon of how /a/ is realized in the syllable nucleus and outside.

    4) The distribution of which is in turn defined as exactly those vowels after which the locative suffix does not contract.

  38. I’m glad you found the thread again; that’s interesting stuff.

  39. David Marjanović says:

    Seconded! 🙂

  40. marie-lucie says:

    Me too!

  41. ə de vivre says:

    Aw, shucks guys. I’ll see if I have time tomorrow to organize more of my opinions into something more coherent than yelling at clouds.

    PS: “In fact there are only 2 environments /VʔV/ is reliably spelled as 2 syllables is in Old Sumerian: when the nominalizing suffix…” should read “In fact there are only 2 environments where /VʔV/ is reliably spelled as 2 syllables: in Old Sumerian when the nominalizing suffix…” I was trying to rephrase the sentence for clarity, but wound up garbling it with my copy-pasting instead.

  42. Trond Engen says:

    I was trying to rephrase the sentence for clarity, but wound up garbling it with my copy-pasting instead.

    Make that plural and it sums up my history on the ‘Net.

  43. Perchance is eau de vivre one of those French phrases that exist only in English? I looked through a bunch of Google pages, but all the French ones had a comma between “eau” and “de vivre”, whereas it showed up on quite a few English pages, though the meaning wasn’t obvious from context. Is it a distortion of eau-de-vie?

  44. It doesn’t exist in English either, except in this username. It’s a clever mashup of “eau de vie” and “joie de vivre.”

  45. I thought it was a pun on “joie (de vivre)” and “schwa”. Where does “eau” come into it?

  46. Is eau de vivre one of those French phrases that is found only in English (and German)? I looked through several Google output pages, and it seems to appear in French text only in pseudo-collocations like “Il étoit, disoient-ils, impossible, avec si peu d’eau, de vivre de poisson, dont l’unique effet étoit d’altérer excessivement.”

  47. Oops, sorry for doubling up; WP has been playing games with me, and I thought it still was. But the phrase appears in this 1977 issue of the Boca Raton [Florida] News, and in such sentences as “Cachaca has been the country’s Eau de Vivre since Portuguese settlers invented it in 1532”, where I suppose it means eau-de-vie, and “They shook hands, posed for thousands of pictures in the center of a screaming, shoving mob of official professional and amateur cameramen, then feasted in a German barracks on captured German eggs, black bread with cheese and tumblers of champagne and eau de vivre, an inferior cognac bottled for the Wehrmacht.”, where it is evidently a German technical term.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    Indeed, eau de vivre does not exist except perhaps in an advertisement for a type of bottled water (Evian or others), as a pun with eau de vie, a type of strong, colourless alcoholic drink (commercial or “moonshine”).

    When “∂ de vivre” started to come here I did not see the schwa right away and thought it was the letter e (since it showed as upside-down e on my screen). I thought it came from “joie de vivre” and the writer had lost the “joi” (joy) of living. Later I realized it was to be read as schwa de vivre.

  49. I thought it was a pun on “joie (de vivre)” and “schwa”. Where does “eau” come into it?

    Oops, you’re quite right, of course. JC got me all confused.

  50. David Marjanović says:

    since it showed as upside-down e on my screen

    The letter schwa is an e turned by 180°. The ∂ you use is a mathematical symbol derived from d.

  51. In Russian folklore живая вода (literally, water which is alive) is a magical substance that makes dead corpse alive that is human again (in it’s previous normal physical and spiritual – for lack of a better word – state, I must add, not undead or zombie). Maybe I am hopelessly naive or underinformed (or both), but there is no obvious connection with aqua vita and it seems to be a rather strange coincidence.

  52. marie-lucie says:

    D.O. aqua vitae

    I did not know of the Russian connection but it does not seem to be a coincidence. Cognac or other strong alcohol can be given to a fainting person to revive them, thus appearing to bring them back from imminent death. Colourless alcohol looks exactly like water. The making of alcohol involves special apparatus. All these things would impress the ignorant as “magical”.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    David: The ∂ you use is a mathematical symbol derived from d.

    Well, no wonder it is higher than the other letters! Whatever it is, it is very convenient, more so than the @ which can also fill in for a schwa in a pinch but is less legible in small format.

  54. Why not just copy and paste from the “ə de vivre says:” at the start of his comments?

  55. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks LH, I might remember to do that, but I sometimes write things in other settings than this blog.

  56. ə de vivre says:

    At the risk of putting a hat on a hat, I chose the pseudonym because I enjoyed the polysemy between ‘joie de vivre’ and the blasé connotations of the schwa sound (that, and it’s a stupid language pun). But if I can cause any additional confusion and consternation beyond my original intent, tant mieux 🙂

  57. ə de vivre says:

    I sat down to write a follow-up to my earlier reply, but at a certain point I realized I had started writing something between a literature review and a research plan for a history of Sumerian phonology. So in the interest of not trying to write a dissertation of my own in my spare time, I’ll try to explain my disagreements a step removed from a blow-by-blow analysis.

    I think many of the dissertation’s shortcomings are more symptomatic of how most people who study Sumerian are trained. Traditionally they come from and are employed in Assyriology departments, which are usually based around the study of the Akkadian language and textual scholarship more broadly speaking. Language study in Assyriology split off from linguistics back when it was still called philology, and has developed more or less in isolation since then. As a result the only linguistic tools ‘built-in’ to Assyriology proper are morphology and enough phonology to make a phonemic inventory. Even then the pool of possible meanings for the morphemes discovered is heavily influenced by the grammar of Greek, Latin, and Biblical Hebrew. So you wind up with a concept of language that is essentially a list of morphemes, where (if I’m feeling a little uncharitable) all you have to do to figure out what a given sentence means is list out each morpheme’s gloss and squint hard enough. That’s starting to change, but slowly.

    This is a big problem for Sumerian because as a language isolate, aside from Greenbergian implicational universals, no attested phenomenon in human language is a priori unlikely. There a lot of little things that suggest the range of possible hypotheses Jagersma considers are limited by a model of phonology (and often morphology) still very much defined by traditional Assyriology. For example, he dismisses attempts to account for cases of “irregular” vowel harmony with an expanded vowel inventory by saying, “The sound change behind the rule of vowel harmony involves a merger of the low vowel /e/ with the high vowel /i/ in certain environments. Such a change precludes the existence of a vowel phoneme in the space between them. If it had existed, the merger could simply not have taken place”. I think partly he’s misunderstood the proposals he’s rejecting, but he’s also advancing an… idiosyncratic definition of vowel harmony. He’s not a phonologist and it’s not fair to demand that he frame everything in terms of current-ish work in disciplinary linguistics, but if he’s going to define the possible hypotheses based on theoretic concerns, it doesn’t look great when he doesn’t engage with the ample literature on extant languages with similar systems of vowel harmony, or even those cited in the papers whose claims he rejects.

    One habit he shares with a lot of work on Sumerian is that he frequently doesn’t distinguish between claims about diachronic sound change and synchronic constraints or rules. When certain segments aren’t pronounced in coda position, he often says that they are “lost” in the same way he proposes that Sumerian lost *j from its phonemic inventory completely. This makes it particularly hard to pin down what his specific claims about *ʔ and *h are, since sometimes it seems like they are supposed to exist in underlying forms without ever actually being pronounced as such. In the same vein, there’s a really fascinating paper by a different author on palatalization that presents a lot of great data, but the analysis is a mess that has consonants palatalizing, reversing palatalization, reducing to zero, then showing up again a few hundred years later all in the interest of fitting everything into a single historical sound change. I suspect there’s an assumption at play in both cases that I’ve encountered before where of synchronic phonology is conceived of as just a recapitulation of a language’s historical sound changes.

    Like I said before, I don’t think Jagersma is incompetent or a quack. The section on non-finite verb forms in particular is something I’d recommend to anyone interested in Sumerian, and he deserves credit for taking diachronic and regional variation seriously. I just think that the study of Sumerian has gotten to a point of diminishing returns for a morphology-first-and-sometimes-only approach. To lay my ideological cards on the table, here’s a dissertation (big pdf warning) that, methodologically, I tend to agree with more. It’s way too ambitious and batshit insane in places, but in the best possible way. His later book “Unaccusativity and the Double Object Construction in Sumerian” is probably a more coherent piece of scholarship, but unless you’ve got access to an academic library it’s harder to get a hold of.

  58. Thanks very much for that! I love running a site where someone with ideas about Sumerian phonology can share them with an attentive audience of interested non-specialists.

  59. So you wind up with a concept of language that is essentially a list of morphemes, where (if I’m feeling a little uncharitable) all you have to do to figure out what a given sentence means is list out each morpheme’s gloss and squint hard enough.

    This is known in these parts, as on Language Log, as the big-bag-of-words theory of language. Normally it’s more of a folk theory, so it’s interesting to see it adopted implicitly by professionals.

    I interpreted your pseudonym as a parody of eau de vivre because I was giving the ə its sound rather than its name, so /ədəviv(r)/.

  60. ə de vivre says:

    Hat:
    You know what they say, “you can take the boy out of the linguistics department…”

    John:
    This is known in these parts, as on Language Log, as the big-bag-of-words theory of language.

    Yeah, it’s more sophisticated than a bag-of-words theory, but it definitely has its limitations. As opposed to my own opinions, which of course allow for a full appreciation of how language *really* works.

  61. David Marjanović says:

    Interesting indeed, ə!

    While most of the thesis is beyond me, I’ve now read the preface (and the acknowledgments), and if nothing else it looks promising.

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