According to Huehnergard, Akkadian had a phonemic glottal stop. This makes sense, given the language's heritage.

However, he doesn't seem to mention it anywhere in the chapters on orthography, and I certainly have never seen cuneiform glyphs for (e.g.) ʔa as opposed to a (*).

So, how did Akkadian scribes mark glottal stops? And if they didn't—that is, if they wrote naʔdum "attentive" as na-du-um with no indication of the ʔ—how do we know the glottal stop existed at all, and didn't just disappear in Akkadian like Proto-Semitic *ʕ and *h did?

(*) Kloekhorst argues that certain glyphs could indicate the presence of a glottal stop in Hittite, the reflex of PIE *h₁ in certain environments, but this doesn't seem to be a mainstream view.

  • What do you mean "mainstream view"? Hittite is not in any way main stream one way or another. – vectory Mar 18 '20 at 15:34
  • @vectory Hittite is studied by a wide variety of linguists, and Kloekhorst's idea about glottal stops does not seem to be part of the mainstream consensus among them. – Draconis Mar 18 '20 at 16:09
  • it's studied widely, perhaps, but rarely as in-depth, I suppose. – vectory Mar 19 '20 at 15:22

According to Huehnergard's grammar (appendix D.1.d), Babylonian scribes distinguished the sign 𒄴 from the sign 𒀪. The former was used for VH, and the latter for the glottal stop—some authors call it ', others call it 'V, V' (so na'du "pious" would be transliterated either na-'-du or na-a'-du). In earlier periods and other regions, the two were interchangeable, so aleph is better-known as VH₂.

(The cuneiform glyphs don't display properly here: aleph should look like HI plus AN, while VH should have two extra verticals on the right.)

In Assyrian, glottal stops were sometimes indicated with "broken writings" (C)VC-V(C) (e.g. uṣ-am for uṣ'am; uṣam without a glottal stop would be spelled ú-ṣa-am). But this was never especially consistent—a broken spelling is a good indication that a glottal stop existed, but the lack of one doesn't indicate its absence.


In Middle Babylonian the sign uh was specialized into writing ʔ specifically. But as a rule, glottal stop has no explicit graphemic expression. It's a hidden potential phoneme.
I think the equation PIE *H1 = ʔ is false, anyway. What is your reference on Kloekhorst?

  • Kloekhorst's Etymological Dictionary of the Hittite Inherited Lexicon, pages 18 and 25-26. He argues that plene spelling of vowels can sometimes indicate a glottal stop, a reflex of PIE *h₁ or *h₃, as in ne-e-a "turns" (which he says represents /neʔa/ < *néiHo). But, this idea doesn't seem to be widely accepted. – Draconis Mar 18 '20 at 16:06
  • That said, though, I didn't know UH could be used to write ʔ, that's very interesting! Could you elaborate a little bit—did it represent the consonant in isolation, or did it mean generic Vʔ (like how UH could be used for AH, EH, IH)? – Draconis Mar 18 '20 at 16:08
  • For example, you can have a look at the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary. See the tome with words starting with n. It's freely available online. – Arnaud Fournet Mar 18 '20 at 19:23

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.