Thursday, May 21, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., H. Craig Melchert, A Grammar of the Hittite Language. Part 1: Reference Grammar. Languages of the Ancient Near East; 1. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2008. Pp. xxii, 468; CD-ROM. ISBN 9781575061191. $59.50. Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., H. Craig Melchert, A Grammar of the Hittite Language. Part 2: Tutorial. Languages of the Ancient Near East; 1. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2008. Pp. vi, 75. ISBN 9781575061481. $22.50.
Reviewed by Philomen Probert, Wolfson College, University of Oxford

Tables of contents are given at the end of the review.1

This new Hittite grammar and accompanying teaching volume have long been awaited and fully live up to expectations. Not only are the authors outstanding scholars of the language, but they have taken great care to present the grammar accurately and clearly and to organize the teaching volume well.

The grammar begins with a very helpful introduction giving the most essential background on the Hittites, the language and its decipherment, the corpus of texts, and the most important modern reference works. Although some of the information given here will inevitably date fairly quickly (under Dictionaries one might already add A. Kloekhorst's useful Etymological Dictionary of the Hittite Inherited Lexicon, Leiden/Boston 2008), at the moment it is extremely useful for beginners to be able to orient themselves in Hittite studies, and for those with some background already to get themselves up to date. One may also find out here the answers to questions frequently asked of those who deal even slightly with Hittite, such as how many Hittite tablets and fragments are currently known (the answer is well over 30,000) and whether new texts continue to be found (the answer is yes).

The grammar then helpfully follows the traditional arrangement beginning with orthography and proceeding to phonology, declensions and conjugations, uses of grammatical categories, and the structure of clauses. The work concludes with an indispensable chapter giving the reader the small amount of knowledge of Sumerian grammar and the larger amount of Akkadian grammar needed to understand the Hittites' use of 'Sumerograms' (logograms ultimately of Sumerian origin), and of 'Akkadograms' (the spelling of some words, parts of words, and phrases in Akkadian although they were pronounced in Hittite, as if English texts included such forms as pays, pronounced 'country'). By applying the term 'logogram' to both Sumerograms and Akkadograms, the authors correctly insist on the fact that both are logographic writings; Akkadograms are syllabic spellings from an Akkadian point of view, not from a Hittite one.

As the authors say in the preface to the grammar (p. xv), 'Several generations have learned Hittite with the help of the outstanding Hethitisches Elementarbuch of Johannes Friedrich (second edition: 1960). However, the passage of more than 40 years has inevitably rendered parts of Friedrich's grammar outdated or incomplete.' Those, such as this reviewer, who were indeed brought up on Friedrich, but nearer to 2009 than 1960, have found that, for all the virtues of the grammar and reader constituting the Elementarbuch, rather a lot of remedial work has had to be done as we have tried to catch up on the developments of the last half century, as well as trying to keep up with what is happening now. In addition to learning things by a circuitous route, one almost inevitably ends up missing some things one ought to know. For this reason, it is extremely pleasing that Hoffner and Melchert have produced an entirely fresh new grammar of the language in which facts such as the existence of two classes of intransitive verbs (similar to those found in the Romance languages, one class taking the verb 'to be' as an auxiliary and the other taking the verb 'to have') are not only given the space they deserve in the grammar but form part of the basic course in Hittite one gets by working through the tutorial volume. Of course, readers will want to follow up the scholarly literature on points that interest them; Hoffner and Melchert make this much easier than it used to be by referring the reader wherever appropriate to literature that is important or recent or both. I have so far used the grammar as a starting point for several reading lists for students as well as to inform my own reading.

It is a particular virtue of the grammar that the authors manage to be accessible to those without a background in linguistics, while also including points that will interest linguists in particular. The discussion of the two classes of intransitive verbs, for example (pp. 280-3 of the grammar; cf. pp. 13-14 of the tutorial volume), includes in a footnote (p. 280 n. 7) the pertinent information for people familiar with the terms 'unergative' and 'unaccusative' and the concepts these terms refer to, but the main text is well designed not to lose those not familiar with these concepts. (Later, however, on pp. 312, 325, and 409, the terms 'unergative' and 'unaccusative' do appear in the main text.)

Another virtue is that the authors mention, albeit unobtrusively, outdated views that some of us will have got from Friedrich or other earlier literature, in order to avoid any confusion that might arise if the up-to-date view were merely presented instead (for example, on p. 134 the authors correct an idea one learnt from Friedrich, that there are personal pronoun forms with -a extensions, such as a nom. sg. *ziga or *zigga 'you'; on pp. 325-6 they correct an incorrect account--still found in some fairly recent literature--of the meaning of a verb of motion, pai- 'go' or uwa- 'come', in series with another verb). On points where there is currently debate, the authors succeed in making clear their own position while pointing the reader to literature where contrary views are expressed (so p. 43 with n. 80, on the reason for occasional ablatives ending in -anza).

Where appropriate, the authors discuss the period of the language at which particular grammatical phenomena appear or disappear; in paradigm tables, those forms attested in Old Hittite are distinguished using bold type. The authors make quite clear, however, that the book makes no attempt to cover the prehistory of the language in any systematic way: 'We have referred to prehistoric factors only where we feel that they help elucidate features of attested Hittite or are of broad interest. We expressly disavow any intent of systematic coverage in this regard.' (grammar volume, p. xv) This work is thus not the place to go for the latest on the origin of the hi-conjugation or any such issue. Where some information on prehistory is given (e.g. on the endings specific to the pronouns, p. 133 of the grammar) it does indeed help to explain the Hittite facts and to make them easier to remember.

The grammar is full, well organized and satisfying. In preparing texts for a reading class, I found that when I became uncertain on a grammatical point the answer was invariably located swiftly in Hoffner and Melchert. Inevitably, particular readers will find the occasional thing confusing in a work of this size,2 and will disagree with the occasional point.3 This reviewer was not surprised to find very little to disagree with (given the authors' superior knowledge of Hittite), but was pleasantly surprised to find very little confusing.

The tutorial volume contains fourteen lessons, each introducing some Hittite paradigms and most also introducing one or more new grammatical categories with their uses, and some syntax. The material to be learnt is for the most part not presented in the tutorial volume itself, but the user is guided through the parts of the grammar volume relating to each lesson, being told which sections to read, what to read especially carefully, and what to memorize. Each lesson finishes with some (usually fifteen) sentences for translation from Hittite. Especially in later lessons, many of the practice sentences are taken or adapted from actual ancient texts. These sentences are marked with special symbols, and the relevant references are given at the end of the volume. The practice sentences in the first four lessons are given in so-called 'broad' or 'bound' transcription (an interpretative transcription without hyphens, easier to use at first than a sign-by-sign transliteration). The sentences in lessons 5-9 are given first in sign-by-sign transliteration and then, to help readers make the necessary transition, also in bound transcription. The sentences in lessons 10-14 are given only in sign-by-sign transliteration. The tutorial does not teach Hittite cuneiform signs (indeed, cuneiform signs hardly appear in either volume, other than a few in the chapter on orthography and phonology in the grammar volume). This decision will be regretted by those who would like to be introduced to the signs as they learn the language, but makes both volumes fully accessible to those who do not wish to learn the script as well as those who do.4 Those in the latter category will, however, still need to go elsewhere to learn the script; the best serious while relatively gentle introduction I am aware of is still J. Friedrich's out-of-print Hethitisches Keilschrift-Lesebuch (Heidelberg 1960).

At the end of the tutorial volume the user will have read about half of the grammar. Although the course thus does not cover all the grammar the authors lay out in the larger volume, it gives the user an extremely good basic course and good foundation for picking up chapters that have not yet been read in their entirety. The authors state (grammar volume, p. xvi) that 'we have designed the tutorial primarily for classroom use with an instructor who knows the language. Although some readers may be able to use the tutorial for self-instruction, we cannot give assurance that such a method will produce satisfactory results.' Conversations with people in various universities suggest that the book has indeed been adopted swiftly for introductory Hittite classes, and has given the impetus for some new classes. Given the conditions under which Hittite is often learned, however, the book will inevitably also be used for independent study. Furthermore, it will be worked through by those (like this reviewer) who need to be able to act as teacher or helper but for whom this means first working through and benefitting from the course themselves. The next four paragraphs are intended partly to guide those thinking of adopting the book for a class, and partly to guide those thinking of using the book other than with an experienced Hittitologist as teacher. The main point to grasp is that this course is for the serious student; work is needed, but it pays off and one is rewarded by really learning the language.

The tutorial volume is fairly demanding. The exercises require that the relevant parts of the grammar have been thoroughly understood; sometimes a piece of information needed was in a footnote in the grammar (thus sentence 6.8 in lesson 6 requires p. 121, n. 204 to have been taken in when p. 121 was read for lesson 5). Many sentences include points of grammar not yet covered, or not otherwise covered at all, with footnotes to guide the reader to the relevant paragraph of the grammar. I found it satisfying to be guided to the right part of the grammar rather than just told how to translate something, but sometimes a necessary piece of information is given a bit fleetingly even in the grammar (for example, the instrumental of separation is discussed at p. 269, para. 16.109, to which the reader is referred when translating sentence 6.5, but the reader is left to infer that this instrumental can actually agree with an ablative). Sometimes it would have been useful to be given an extra footnote (for example, sentence 8.12 requires one to recognize a nominative of direct address in the 'embedded appositional construction', which is introduced properly in lesson 11, although it might have been encountered if one read chapter 16 when told, in lesson one, to see chapter 16 for 'further details' on the uses of the cases).

Some of the sentences taken or adapted from ancient texts contain idioms or Hittite ideas that may seem bizarre to those new to the Hittite world (e.g. in sentence 9.10 the idea of turning someone's eyes to the mountain). While appropriately making it important for users to pay careful attention to the grammar, these points (when not explained in the notes) can also make users unnecessarily uncertain about their own translations. Furthermore, some sentences have more than one possible interpretation, at least in the absence of further context. This is a fact the authors acknowledge (p. 26, n. 92; p. 33 n. 112), as is the fact that some of the sentences from actual texts may be analysed more than one way even in context (p. 34 n. 120; p. 42 n. 161). However, the possibility of more than one interpretation is not always signalled by the authors, and again it can be difficult for a beginner to tell whether he or she needs to work harder to eliminate the incorrect interpretation, or has hit upon more than one grammatically correct possibility. (In sentence 6.7, for example, does the priestess see the sun god of heaven or does the sun god of heaven see the priestess? Which of them is eating the bread of life? Only if one instinctively grasps the whole situation, or has the intuition that to 'see the sun god of heaven' and 'eat the bread of life' represent being alive, will one be sure to identify the priestess as the subject.) For those fortunate enough to participate in a class, of course, such sentences will provide valuable opportunities for classroom discussion.

At the back of the tutorial volume there is a cumulative vocabulary for all the exercises, making it easy to look words up if they were not learned when first encountered (or have since been forgotten), but there are some omissions (e.g. ALAM 'statue', huhha- 'grandfather', and hanna- 'grandmother', all needed for sentence 8.1, are not given anywhere).

In one respect, by contrast, some sentences are arguably too easy. Sometimes the user looks up the paragraph of the grammar referred to in a footnote and finds that the very sentence being attempted is translated there (e.g. sentence 13.12). The places where this happens may be frustrating for those using the work in a classroom, but for the independent student they may well be welcome. Some users will regret the absence of an answer key. Given that the book is aimed for classroom use, I do not think the authors should have provided a key, but somebody else might enjoy the project of producing some supplementary sentences for each lesson, with key.

Pdf files of both volumes are provided on an accompanying CD. These files are searchable and page cross-references are hyperlinked to the page to which they refer (both within the grammar or the tutorial and between the two). Searching is on the whole very straightforward, and words with diacritics are found even if one types them without diacritics. The upper-case transcription of a Sumerogram (e.g. DINGIR) or Akkadogram (e.g. ABU) can, however, only be found if, having already located an example, one copies and pastes it into the 'Find' box. (One may, more easily, search for the likely English translation of a Sumerogram or Akkadogram, but not every example of the Sumerogram or Akkadogram will be found.) A pleasingly brief and non-technical set of tips and recommendations for using the pdf files is provided on the CD. I found the pdf files perfectly user-friendly without the tips and recommendations and looked at these only at a late stage, but then discovered there a more sophisticated way of searching, as well as an explanation of the non-searchability of DINGIR, ABU, etc. The grammar does not have a traditional index; the combination of very full table of contents on the one hand and searching facility on the other provides a rather good substitute for one--though for those of us not automatically connected to a computer at all times and in all teaching contexts, a slight re-thinking of working habits is required. The searchability of the whole work also makes life a bit easier for those using the tutorial (especially if they are using it for independent study), since some help can often be gained e.g. if, having failed to recognize a form, one tries searching for it in the grammar.

The whole work is nicely produced and I noticed very few typographical errors. The work is already in its second printing and a small number of typographical and other errors to the first printing have been corrected in the second; a list of these is available on the Eisenbrauns website.

This work is likely to be the standard Hittite grammar for a considerable time to come. The combination of grammar and tutorial volume, and current up-to-dateness of both, makes the present time an extremely good one to start learning Hittite.

Table of Contents for Part I: Reference Grammar
1. Orthography and Phonology
2. Noun and Adjective Formation
3. Noun and Adjective Inflection
4. Noun and Adjective Declension
5. Personal Pronouns
6. Possessive Pronouns
7. Deixis: The Demonstratives
8. Relative and Indefinite Pronouns
9. Numbers
10. Verb Formation
11. Verb Inflection
12. Conjugation of mi-Verbs
13. Conjugation of hi-Verbs
14. Medio-Passive Conjugation
15. Grammatical Agreement
16. Noun Cases
17. Adjectives
18. Pronouns
19. Adverbs
20. Local Adverbs, Preverbs, and Postpositions
21. Verb Voice
22. Verb Tense
23. Verb Mood
24. Verb Aspect
25. Non-Finite Verb Forms
26. Negation
27. Questions
28. Particles
29. Conjunctions
30. Clauses
31. Sumerian and Akkadian


1. I am very grateful to Helen Sims-Williams, a graduate student who has successfully used the tutorial to give herself a good grounding in Hittite grammar, for sharing her reactions to the course. It is not to be inferred that she necessarily agrees with everything said in this review.

2. A point of confusion arose for me (I suspect as a result of different views of the same sentence creeping into different parts of the book) in connection with the 'optative and potential' particle ma-an, which the authors carefully distinguish (pp. 314-15 of the grammar) from the conjunction ma-a-an 'if, whenever'. Normally the first of these words is written ma-an (or -ma-an or -ma-n-) while the second is written with an extra vowel sign (so-called 'plene writing'). The authors state (p. 315) that 'All examples but one (KBo 5.8 iii 15) of the plene writing of potential man are clause-initial and followed by a vowel'. This statement suggests that in the sentence beginning ma-a-an-wa-mu 1-an DUMU-KA pa-is-ti... (KBo 5.6 iii 12-13 = sentence 13.15 in the exercises), the initial ma-a-an is the conjunction 'if' and not the optative/potential particle. Yet at p. 421, paragraph 30.52, it is suggested rather that the initial ma-a-an is the optative/potential particle with plene writing.

3. I had one disagreement in connection with verbal aspect (which is, however, a difficult subject excellently treated, with a very clear and accessible presentation of the results of recent work by both authors). On pp. 169 and 320 of the grammar it is pointed out that multiplicative adverbs (such as 'once', 'twice', etc.) are never used with the specifically 'imperfective' verb forms such as those in -ske-. On p. 317 it is suggested that in combination with these adverbs the basic verb has to be read as imperfective (with the multiplicative expression providing sufficient indication of imperfectivity). It seems to me more likely that multiplicative adverbs normally require perfective verb forms, as in Latin, where multiplicatives such as bis are found with perfects, not with imperfects (so H. Pinkster, Latin Syntax and Semantics, tr. H. Mulder, London 1990, p. 223; Pinkster suggests that the perfect occurs with bis etc. because 'Quantifying expressions of this kind can typically be applied in retrospect to ended states of affairs'). In this light, the exceptions mentioned on p. 169, where a multiplicative adverb is accompanied by a distributive expression such as 'year by year' (to give sentences meaning e.g. 'Let them read them aloud before you three times yearly'), make sense: the distributive expression gives rise to a genuinely imperfective reading.

4. Many Hittite texts, including the most widely discussed, are available in transliteration, so that the language is worth learning even without the script. Learning the script of course makes the full range of published texts accessible; even a fairly basic acquaintance with the script makes such things as debates about readings much easier to follow.

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