Research Report 2007

Publications by writers and editors at Memorial University

The Hittite —HI/-MI Conjugations: Evidence for an Early Indo-European Voice Opposition

By Dr. Sarah Rose

Book Cover: The Hittite -HI/-MI Conjugations

In this monograph, the author tackles one of the thorniest and most recalcitrant of the issues which arose after the "discovery" of Hittite in the early 1900s: the nature and significance of the two present -hi/-mi conjugations which are found only in Hittite, the most archaic of all the Indo-European languages.

Excavations in central Turkey unearthed the vast palace archives of the once-mighty Hittite empire to reveal some 30,000 clay tablets which recorded, in cuneiform script, works of history, treaties, religious rituals, poetry and myth, as well as political correspondence between some of the movers and shakers of the ancient world (including the widow of King Tutankhamen).

Although the language was quickly decoded and understood to be Indo-European (based on its vocabulary and structure), much of the linguistic hard evidence was at odds with the received wisdom in historical linguistics as to what the parent language looked like. Nowhere were the differences between Hittite and the other ancient languages as pronounced as in the verbal system.

Portrait of Dr. Sarah Rose

Dr. Sarah Rose

Following the general belief that verbal inflections developed from pronouns appended to verbal stems, the author analyses the two -hi/-mi endings as different case-marked pronouns, added to indicate how directly the subject was involved in the verbal action. The direct nominative case pronoun -h indicates higher involvement than accusative case pronoun -m. Analyzed in this manner, the system of Hittite is in essence identical to the binary voice system of Vedic Sanskrit, the language closest in archaism to Hittite.

Despite the weighty subject matter, the author's lively writing style and panoramic grasp of the cultural and linguistic milieu of the ancient world make this an extremely readable journey to the early stages of grammatical inflection.

The Hittite —HI/-MI Conjugations was published by Institut für Sprachen und Literaturen der Universität Innsbruck, Austria, in 2006.

Dr. Sarah Rose has a joint appointment in English and Classics.