Use of aspect-tense verbal forms in Akkadian texts of the Hammurapi period (1792-1750 B.C.)
Institute of Oriental studies,
Russian Academy of Sciences, St.-Petersburg
The conjugated forms traditionally named as the Present, Preterite and Perfect are the main components of the Akkadian aspect-tense verbal system. The existence of the Akkadian Perfect and the peculiarities of its usage had been the subject of lengthy discussion. When studying the Perfect in the Middle Assyrian dialect the author came to the conclusion that the use of the Perfect in that dialect should have been explained a way different from that suggested by W. von Soden (Grundriss der Akkadischen Grammatik. Roma 1952; 19953). Thus, the necessity arose to check anew the use of the Perfect at the earlier stages of the development of Akkadian. The Perfect being a component of the single aspect-tense verbal system, its usage was to be studied along with that of the Present and Preterite. The detailed analysis of all the verb contexts in the letters of Hammurapi and in the Code of Hammurapi has led to the following conclusions.
In the texts under discussion as in the Old Babylonian dialect in general the three conjugated forms could express the action of any time and aspect. The difference lies, in the first place, in the frequency of their use in this or that aspect-tense function. But this difference is so great in a number of cases that one can speak of certain aspect-tense functions as attached to a particular verb form.
Comparing Old Babylonian with later Akkadian dialects shows that the aspect-tense system was constantly changing. It is best seen on the relations of the Preterite and Perfect within the past. A clear tendency is observed of the Perfect becoming the form of the punctive in the past in affirmative sentences (or main clauses) and the Preterite into the form of the punctive in the past in subordinate clauses.
The changes within the aspect-tense system were penetrating into the texts of various genres not evenly but depending on the closeness of this or that written genre to the spoken language. This seems to explain the uneven distribution of the Perfect in different texts: being an innovation of Akkadian, the Perfect is more frequent in the texts which are closer to the spoken language.
It has long been debated on which time and tense should be applied to translate protases of the law clauses of the Code of Hammurapi. The author is of the opinion that most protases of the law clauses of the Code of Hammurapi should be translated by the past. Her arguments are as follows. The law part of the Code of Hammurapi as a whole can be considered as the main clause of a complex sentence whose subordinate clause of time placed in the Introduction of the Code of Hammurapi refers to the past. So the main clause seems to refer to the past as well. When used together in one šumma-clause of a protasis the Preterite as a rule denotes a prior action while the Perfect — a posterior one. An analogous phenomenon is observed in the Old Babylonian letters in sentences (or main clauses) describing past events. In the subordinate clauses of protases the punctive is expressed as a rule by the Preterite. In Akkadian the punctive of subordinate clauses expressed by the Preterite generally referred to the past.
ISBN 9783895866920. LINCOM Studies in Afroasiatic Linguistics 09. 2002.