The title as a short course in Akkadian cuneiform
The four lines in the title represent the basic steps to be taken towards a
||li - ša - num ak - ka - di - tum
||(normalization or transcription)
||The Akkadian language
Translating cuneiform in steps
Students best start learning the grammar from cuneiform texts that are already
transliterated and at the same time study some of the references to the
history and to the Akkadian
culture. As introduction you can read the chapter Mesopotamia.
- recognize the sign,
There are about 600 cuneiform signs. Recognition in practice is often
difficult. Signs may overlap or may be very stretched. Clay tablets may be
damaged or difficult to read. Interpreting a broken sign is partly done such
that it makes sense in the context.
- determine the sign value
using a choice of values also given in signlists.
In syllabic writing each sign stands for a syllable (has phonetic
value), but the same sign may have different phonetic values
(polyphony). The correct choice should make a meaningful word.
The same sign may also stand for an entire word (has logographic
value), usually more than one word. The choice depends on the context.
The conversion from line 1 to line 2 is called transliteration.
- Combine sign values to Akkadian words
The transliterated texts is transcribed, combined into Akkadian as
spoken (also called normalization), resulting in line 3. There are no word
separators (blancs) as in many ancient languages, like Latin.
A combination like ka-ak does not imply a double vowel, but stands
for the sound kak with either a short vowel or long vowel. Vowels
have their own sign. An explicitly written long vowel in the syllable
kk would be ka-a-ak.
Double consonant may carry grammatical meaning (e.g. it is used in
expressing the present tense). A double consonant may also be caused by
assimilation and therefor hiding a root-consonant, which is necessary for
finding the basic meaning.
A combination ak-ka always means akka with double consonant,
but a-ka could be aka or akka
The transcription step depends on knowledge of the grammar. Although long
vowels and double consonants are often not indicated, they may have a
different grammatical meaning.
In order to be able to do this, one has to understand the basic principles
grammar and use some of the grammar
book references. A verb is listed under the infinitive of the basic
stem. The actual meaning (translation into English, in line 4) depends in
part on our knowledge of the Akkadian
About the grammar in the title
The combination of words in the title is not attested, as far as I know. The
ending -um signals the nominative-singular case. In later times (after
the Old Babylonian period) the last -m called the mimmation disappears,
and the nominative singular has the ending -u.
The noun lišnum meaning
'tongue', 'language' is feminine, although it is sometimes masculine in the
Adjectives follow the noun and conform in grammatical form (case, number,
gender) to the noun, like in French ('la langue Akkadienne'). Akkadu(m)
is the name of the city and region Akkad. The (not very frequent) ending -,
here in the feminine form -tum
makes an adjective 'Akkadian', which here conforms to the feminine nominative
case of the noun.
I could also have written 'the language of Akkad' as a combination of two nouns,
the second in the genitive case.
li - ša - an ak - ka - dim
The first noun is in the so called 'construct state' (constructing the
combination of two nouns), often the shortest form which is phonetically
possible. The second noun has the genitive case with the ending -im and -i
in later times.