Studies on linguistic and orthographic variation in Old Babylonian letters

Hernáiz, Rodrigo (2020). Studies on linguistic and orthographic variation in Old Babylonian letters. Alter Orient und Altes Testament, 465. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.

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Abstract

The book interrogates the extent to which a range of written variation in the Old Babylonian letters from the central area of Mesopotamia relate significantly to variables denoting temporal-historical (diachronic), spatial-geographical (diatopic) or individual-situational heterogeneity. The object of the study is Old Babylonian, an ancient language whose large written record embodies a widespread practice of writing in a sizeable array of genres, including cursive and personal scripts, that flourished in a time of substantial geo-political changes.

Some dialectal varieties of Old Babylonian have been already identified and described in detail, particularly those of the peripheral areas. However, despite early attempts to define broad linguistic dialectal areas there is not yet a full description of the palaeographic, orthographic and linguistic traits of variability within the central Mesopotamian area.

The present study analyses the documented variation of a set of orthographic and linguistic variables as they transpire in a corpus of Old Babylonian correspondence (ACCOB) created for that purpose, which contains grammatical as well as extralinguistic annotations of temporal, geographical or social characteristics of the producers or the consumers of the letters.

The combination of a quantitative approach to the distribution of variables and a micro-level study of the documents demonstrates that, despite limitations in the type of extra-linguistic information available and the restrictions of a research project focused solely on the analysis of edited transliterations of letters, a number of orthographic and linguistic features associate significantly to regional and/or temporal coordinates, sometimes revealing an intertwined multicausality of factors. On the other hand, the alleged sociolinguistic or diaphasic saliency of epistolary documents from the central royal administration needs to be redefined under the perspective of the heterogeneous landscape of the Old Babylonian language.

The findings for the variables analysed in the study present a more nuanced description of the Old Babylonian language and its orthographic practices that may serve as a basis for further research in the area.

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