It was always my understanding that Hittite borrowed the cuneiform script from the Sumerians via Akkadian. This would prevent Hittite from borrowing lexemes from Sumerian unless Akkadian borrowed them as well. Now, in Akkadian, logograms are understood to be Sumerian writings that are pronounced in Akkadian (e.g., DUMU.MEŠ would be pronounced mārū/mārī; "sons"). I don't know Hittite, but this is consistent with the brief description of Hittite cuneiform on Wikipedia.

In round one of the 2016 edition of NACLO (North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad), Hittite is used in exercise F (PDF, start on p. 15). They give a phonetic rendering of a Hittite cuneiform passage, including:

  • dumumeššu (line 5; "his sons"; written [DUMU.MEŠ-ŠU])
  • dingirmešša (last line; "and the gods"; written DINGIR.MEŠ-ša)

(I added the writing from the edition of the larger context given by Beckman in JANES 14 (1982), 11–25. The words are found in lines Bi9' and Bi17' of that edition [§10 and 12].)

Now these words are clearly from the Sumerian DUMU.MEŠ "sons" and DINGIR.MEŠ "gods". But how is that possible, if in Akkadian these sign sequences are pronounced mārū/ī and ilū/ī, respectively, and Hittite did not have direct contact with Sumerian? Where is the fault in my reasoning? Or is the "phonetic rendering" given in the NACLO exercise incorrect?

  • 1
    I notice they don't give the source of the Hittite. I would be suspicious of the transcription, and guess that somebody has ignorantly rendered the sumerograms in Sumerian (this doesn't have any effect on the task, after all). – Colin Fine Jan 2 '19 at 22:59
  • 2
    @ColinFine that would be my guess too, but still I wanted to make sure that I didn't misunderstood some part of the development. Indeed, it is not relevant for the exercise. I now found the poem in JANES 14, 11–25, §10–12. There a transcription rather than a "phonetic rendering" is given, and the words are indeed logograms (with phonetic complements). – Keelan Jan 2 '19 at 23:06
  • 2
    @ColinFine you do need this for question F2c, though, because they there ask the meaning of the -meš suffix. The more forgiving explanation would then be that they knew this is incorrect, but are cutting corners to not have to deal with the tricky elements of the writing system in this exercise. – Keelan Jan 2 '19 at 23:15

Firstly, even though Sumerian had died out by the time Hittite was spoken, the Akkadian priesthood kept using it for religious purposes, and so they would have preserved some knowledge of its pronunciation.

The answer to your question lies elsewhere, however. The words represented in the Olympiad questions as »dumumeššu« and »dingirmešša« are not "proper" Hittite words. Rather, as fdb points out, they are transcriptions of logograms. The word forms »dumumeššu« and »dingirmešša« do not in fact aim to represent actual Hittite pronunciations and so are not really phonetic renderings, even if most of the text is.

For the same reason these words are written in capitals in the source you found – something that the creators of the Olympiad questions likely found would be unnecessarily confusing and therefore dropped.

Indeed, since the word for "son" in Hittite was always written with the Sumerogram DUMU, as opposed to being written phonetically, the actual pronunciation of the word for "son" in Hittite is unknown. The word for "deity", on the other hand, is known to be »šiuš«, so we may hypothesize that DINGIR.MEŠ-ša was pronounced something along the lines of »šiuešša« (or in later times »šimešša«).

| improve this answer | |

dumumeššu and dingirmešša are not Hittite, nor are they Sumerian. They are Sumero-Akkadian heterograms for Hittite words.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks, but I'm not entirely sure I understand. It is written the same in Akkadian and Sumerian (ignoring the suffix), but pronounced differently? But the Sumerians would have pronounced it dumumeš, right? – Keelan Jan 3 '19 at 8:10
  • @Keelan. Yes. It is written as in Akkadian (Sumerogram + Akk. suffix ŠU), but read in Hittite. – fdb Jan 3 '19 at 10:14
  • It should be noted, though, that -meš in Sumerian is not a plural ending, even if it is used as such in Akkadian and Hittite Sumerograms. In Sumerian -meš is an enclitic copula in the third person plural – that is dumumeš would mean "they are son(s)". – pinnerup Jan 3 '19 at 13:47
  • @pinnerup. That is correct. – fdb Jan 3 '19 at 19:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.