Cuneiform Digital Library Notes
2015:018        «              »
Some Material Concerning the Meetings of the Sumerian Grammar Discussion Group

Gábor Zólyomi
Eötvös Loránd University

The Sumerian Grammar Discussion Group, a workshop for discussing questions of Sumerian grammar, was initiated and founded by the late Jeremy Black (Oxford) and Joachim Krecher (Münster). There were altogether six meetings between 1990 and 1999. Five of these meetings (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th) took place in Oxford, one of them in Münster (5th). The 5th meeting was originally planned in Munich in 1994, but it was later cancelled.

The papers of the sixth and last meeting of the Sumerian Grammar Discussion Group (= SGDG) were published in Acta Sumerologica 22 in 2005 (Black and Zólyomi 2000). As regards, however, the previous five meetings of the SGDG, there is only sporadic information available in the Sumerological literature on their topics and participants. This is, obviously, due to the fact that the papers of the previous meetings were not published in separate volumes.

Consequently, anyone attempting to write a history of our field in the nineties would find herself in a situation that hardly any information about these important scholarly events exists. This is to be regretted, for the meetings of the SGDG profoundly influenced the way we think about Sumerian, as many of its former participants publish extensively on questions of Sumerian grammar even today. The titles of the papers below will also show that, although the papers of the first five meetings were not published in separate volumes, many of the papers delivered formed the basis of future publications.

The aim of this short paper is to collect and make available to a wider public some basic data on these scholarly gatherings, with the hope that this part of our field’s history may not fall into complete oblivion, and the material collected here may prove helpful in reconstructing the exchange of ideas within Sumerology for someone interested in such issues.

The topics discussed, the title of the papers delivered, and the names of the participants indicate that the SGDG might have had the potential to help in creating a frame of reference for describing the grammar of Sumerian that could be accepted and used by the majority of Sumerologists. The lack of this common frame of reference is a major disadvantage of the field that hinders, for example, the creation of a large modern dictionary of Sumerian (similar to CAD). It also relegates Sumerian to the status of an interesting language whose study, however, involves a great deal of subjectivity and uncertainty.

With hindsight, it might be stated that unfortunately the SGDG could not fulfill its potential. The methodological gap among the different schools and/or scholars has not become smaller, only more visible because of the publication of a number of works (e.g., Edzard 2003, Michalowski 2004, Rubio 2007, Woods 2008, Jagersma 2010). An instructive example that highlights the existence of this gap is Jan Keetman’s recent paper on the Sumerian ventive (Keetman 2015), which by its description of the forms of the ventive prefix questions the very fundamentals of Christopher Woods’s monograph (Woods 2008). It would be difficult to imagine a similar situation in the case of a work on the grammar of Akkadian.

The following material is based on the author’s own collection of letters, papers, and notes and on similar documents kindly received on request from Daniel Foxvog, Bram Jagersma, Joachim Krecher, Vera Meyer-Laurin, and Annette Zgoll (née Ganter). I thank all of them for their kindness in sharing their material and memories with me. Opinions expressed in this paper reflect solely the personal views of the author. Capitalization of the English paper titles has been made uniform, and may not reflect the original.

1st meeting

The 1st meeting of the SGDG took place between 10 - 13 July 1990 in Oxford. Participants of the meeting were Thomas Balke, Jeremy Black, Dietz Otto Edzard, Annette Ganter, Daniel A. Foxvog, Thorkild Jacobsen, Joachim Krecher, and Mamoru Yoshikawa.

There were six sessions during the meeting. Their topics were as follows (on the basis of the program distributed to the participants, written by Jeremy Black):

Session 1: “Introduction. Open discussion about the topics for the meeting; what the principal unsettled problems of Sumerian grammar are; aims and values of grammatical research.”

Session 2: “Close study of a selected text: praise-song for the deified Iddin-Dagan (TCL 16 88 and duplicates ...) ....” (= Iddin-Dagan A = ETCSL 2.5.3.2)

Session 3: “Discussion around the topic: source materials for the study of Sumerian grammar. Criteria for selection of, and value of, the various groups for the study of Sumerian grammar: Presargonic administrative texts; ‘royal’ inscriptions of Lagash; administrative letters of Ur III; Ur III legal records; OB mss. of literary texts from Nippur and elsewhere; Shulgi praise poetry; Ellil surase; Der Vater und sein mißratener Sohn; proverbs; OBGT; NBGT; UD.GAL.NUN; Emesal etc. etc. Diachronic and synchronic variation.”

Session 4: “Discussion around the topic: grapheme - phoneme - morpheme. Phone(ma)tic vs. morphematic (etymological or historical) orthography of morphs; transmission of these orthographies; sound changes in morpheme chains.”

Session 5: “Discussion around the topic: the overall structure of Sumerian (e.g., clause syntax, verbal syntax [marking in the verbal complex of (pro)nominal elements]), with reference to languages structurally or otherwise comparable; constrictions on shape that might affect a language such as Sumerian, in the light of general linguistic theory.”

Session 6: “‘Consensus vs. dissent’ session: an attempt to assess areas of common ground and to clarify areas where no consensus has as yet been, or can be, reached.”

During the sessions handouts or draft papers were distributed among the participants in relation to the topics. On the basis of the sources available to me the existence of the following ones could be confirmed:

Black, Jeremy: “[Draft version of Black 1990]”

Edzard, Dietz Otto: “Response to Thorkild Jacobsen: Sumerian grammar”

Krecher, Joachim: “‘Zustand’, state (stative) as a variety of ‘Aktionsart’”

Yoshikawa, Mamoru: “[Draft version of Yoshikawa 1991]”

2nd meeting

The 2nd meeting of the SGDG took place between 3 - 5 July 1991 in Oxford. Participants of the meeting were Jeremy Black, Claude Boisson, Miguel Civil, Dietz Otto Edzard, Daniel A. Foxvog, Annette Ganter, Thorkild Jacobsen, Bram Jagersma, Joachim Krecher, Piotr Michalowski, Mamoru Yoshikawa, and Gábor Zólyomi.

There were six sessions during the meeting. Their topics were as follows (on the basis of the program distributed to the participants, written by Jeremy Black):

Session 1: “Close study of a selected text (Ur III letter published by D.I. Owen in Fs. C.H. Gordon [New York, 1980], pp. 189-222.” (= MVN 11, 168) Sessions 2, 3, and 4: “to be devoted to the principal topic, i.e. the opposition in the verbal system between so-called ḫamṭu and marû forms, with special regard to the following points, in sequence:

(1) external features and their identification, (2) function, in finite verbal forms, (3) function, in non-finite verbal forms, (4) occurrence of ḫamṭu and marû forms in grammatical texts, and (5) (modern) terminology.”

Session 5: “Discussion of the grammar and constructions of the verb /bal/.”

Session 6: “‘Consensus vs. dissent’ session. Discussion of future plans.”

During the sessions handouts or papers were distributed among the participants in relation to the topics. On the basis of the sources available to me the existence of the following ones could be confirmed:

Black, Jeremy: “A summary of some arguments against the use of the Babylonian terms hamṭu and marû to designate, in modern grammatical analysis, the formal and/or functional categories in the Sumerian verbal system”

Foxvog, Daniel A.: “A preliminary proposal concerning the phonotaxis of ‘ed’ and the structure of the ‘infinitives’”; “Some complexities in the marking of the patient in transitive maru forms”

Krecher, Joachim: “ḫamṭu : marû - Basic semantics; basic shape of verbal bases”

Yoshikawa, Mamoru: “On the aspectual difference between tùm and tùm-mu” (later published as Yoshikawa 1993)

A paper of Claude Boisson (“Topics in Sumerian phonology”) was also distributed among the participants, but it was not discussed during the sessions.

3rd meeting

The 3rd meeting of the SGDG took place between 30 June - 3 July 1992 in Oxford. Participants of the meeting were Thomas Balke, Jeremy Black, Miguel Civil, Dietz Otto Edzard, Thorkild Jacobsen, Bram Jagersma, Joachim Krecher, Piotr Michalowski, Claus Wilcke, Mamoru Yoshikawa, and Gábor Zólyomi.

There were six sessions during the meeting. Differently from the previous meetings, the program of the meeting lists no specific topics but assigns papers to be discussed to the sessions, except for session 3:

Session 1: Bram Jagersma: “Some observations on word order in noun phrases.”

Session 2: Gábor Zólyomi: “Genitive constructions in Sumerian.” (draft version of Zólyomi 1996a)

Session 3: “The idea of the ‘word’ in Sumerian. (J. Krecher will introduce.)”

Session 4: Mamoru Yoshikawa: “The valency-change system in the Sumerian verbal prefixes.” (published as Yoshikawa 1992b)

Session 5: Thorkild Jacobsen: “Thirteen theses.”

Session 6: Joachim Krecher: “Word formation by suffixes: The suffix of determination -/a/.” (revised version published as Krecher 1993)

Two more papers of M. Yoshikawa were distributed among the participants during the meeting: “The verbs of agentive-oriented infixation” (published as Yoshikawa 1992a) and “A Sumerian genitival construction in terms of ‘status constructus’” (published as Yoshikawa 1992c).

4th meeting

The 4th meeting of the SGDG took place between 30 June - 2 July 1993 in Oxford. Participants of the meeting were Jeremy Black, Dietz Otto Edzard, Annette Ganter, Bram Jagersma, Joachim Krecher, Claus Wilcke, Mamoru Yoshikawa, and Gábor Zólyomi.

The principal topic of the meeting was modality. During the six sessions of the meeting the following handouts or draft papers were discussed:

Black, Jeremy: “Another look at conditionals in Sumerian” (revised version published as Black 1995)

Ganter, Annette “na- ši- ḫe-: modal preformatives in Sumerian”

Krecher, Joachim: “Categories of wishes”

Wilcke, Claus “The ‘cohortative’ in Ur III (and earlier) legal documents and ‘letters’”; “Performative assertive (?) vs. precative?”; ḪA-, ḪÉ- and ḪU- in Ur III letters and documents”

Yoshikawa, Mamoru: “[A shorter version of Yoshikawa 1994]”

Zólyomi, Gábor (“Syntactic ergativity in Sumerian from the perspective of the Philippine-type voice system”) (revised version became chapter 5 of Zólyomi 1993)

5th meeting

The 5th meeting of the SGDG took place between 18 - 20 July 1995 in Münster. Participants of the meeting were Dietz Otto Edzard, Annette Ganter, Bram Jagersma, Joachim Krecher, Vera Meyer-Laurin, Claus Wilcke, and Gábor Zólyomi.

All participants presented at least one paper. The following handouts or draft papers were discussed during the sessions of the meeting:

Edzard, Dietz Otto: “Vorläufiger Bericht über das morphosyntaktische Verhalten sumerischer (Ur III-zeitlicher) Personennamen”

Ganter, Annette: “/du/ in Ninmešara”

Jagersma, Bram: “Basic structure of a Sumerian sentence”; Sumerian orthography and phonology”

Krecher, Joachim: “Some proposals for general questions to be discussed with regard to orthography [A lamento by way of question-marks]”; “Double consonants in prefix chains: orthography or morphology?”

Meyer-Laurin, Vera: the title of the distributed paper was “Bezeichnung und Nichtbezeichnung grammatischer Morpheme in den Altsumerischen Lagaschinschriften”; at the meeting, however, she gave a talk with the title 
“Plene- und Defektivschreibungen. Anmerkungen zur sog. ‘defektiven Schreibweise’ des Altsumerischen”

Wilcke, Claus: “Unorthographische Schreibungen in Ur III-Urkunden”

Zólyomi, Gábor: “Some remarks on the optional use of object-markers in finite marû-forms”; “Additional pages on the allographs of ‘préfix locale’, and the meaning of du11/e/di” (some parts of the papers became part of Zólyomi 1996b)

An excerpt from a letter from Jeremy Black (who could not participate) to Krecher (04 May 1995) was also pre-circulated, in which Jeremy reflected on the question: “Was ist ein (selbständiger) Satz?”.

6th meeting

The 6th meeting of the SGDG took place from 17 - 18 September 1999 in Oxford. Participants of the meeting were Jeremy Black, Miguel Civil, Jerrold S. Cooper, Dietz Otto Edzard, Markham J. Geller, Bram Jagersma, Christian Huber, Fumi Karahashi, Jacob Klein, Theo J. H. Krispijn, Piotr Michalowski, Gonzalo Rubio, Walther Sallaberger, Niek Veldhuis, H. L. J. Vanstiphout, Claus Wilcke, and Gábor Zólyomi.

The principal topic of the meeting was diachronic and synchronic variation in Sumerian. The participants had been asked to send their papers in advance; the papers were bound then into two volumes, which were pre-circulated. The revised version of all papers were published in Black and Zólyomi 2000; except for the paper of H. L. J. Vanstiphout (“/i/ again. Reflections on the consecutio praefixorum as a supra-sentential phenomenon”). Gonzalo Rubio could not be present personally at the meeting.

Black and Zólyomi also wrote an introduction to the papers in Acta Sumerologica 22 (= Black and Zólyomi 1999), but the paper eventually was not published in the volume. A revised and abridged version of the paper was published as Black and Zólyomi 2007 after the untimely death of Jeremy.



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