Conditional Structures in Mesopotamian Old Babylonian.

Author:Edzard, Lutz
Position:Book review
 
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Conditional Structures in Mesopotamian Old Babylonian. By eran cohen. Languages of the Ancient Near East, vol. 4. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2012. Pp. x + 198. $44.50.

This book is dedicated to the analysis of conditional structures in three major literary genres of Old Babylonian Akkadian: the letter corpus (chapter 2: mainly those of AbB), the law collections (chapter 3: mainly CH and LE), and the omina (chapter 4: mainly from YOS 10). The author starts out with an introductory methodological chapter that also contains relevant information about other ancient and modern Semitic languages, notably Biblical and modern Hebrew, Gs'sz, and Classical Arabic. The book is rounded out with a general conclusion summarizing the patterns found in the various genres from a comparative perspective and presenting the summa structures in a cross-genre comparison.

Even though the author specifically mentions readers versed in Akkadian as well as linguistic typologists (Cohen refers to Xrakovskij 2005) as the audience of the study, comparative Semiticists will also profit from the work. While aware of specific approaches to subject matter in the realms of (formal) philosophy and even psychology (e.g., Snitzer-Reilly 1986), the author sticks to a strictly descriptive linguistic approach. In order not to prejudge the multifaceted functions of the Old Babylonian tense/aspect system, the author always cites the verb forms in their abstracted surface forms (e.g., iprus instead of "preterite"). This approach allows for an array of particularly clear charts illustrating the various conditional structures, notably in the summary on p. 173. "Values" (tense, aspect, position in the clause) and "categories" (absolute vs. relative tense, aspect, modality) are--in the context of Cohen's study--assigned only in a genre-specific way (epistolary, legal, omen-related) to the various verb forms (summarized in chart 5.2, p. 180).

Less intuitive, at least to this reviewer, is the representation of what Cohen terms the "hypotheticality scale" in a circular model (p. 174). Where meaningful (regularly in the summaries), the author provides interlinear transcriptions of his copious examples.

In general, the discussion of conditional structures is often complicated by the circumstance that different language families encode tense and aspect in such structures in different ways. From a "Western" (e.g., English or German) perspective, a non-past form in the protasis or apodosis...

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