Sunday, September 20, 2009

I, the Elamite!

Elamite, the mother tongue of Elam (in modern Iran) was a language that really did its own thing. It was not related to the Indo-European or Afro-Asiatic language families, or even to Sumerian - the only somewhat plausible suggestion is to connect it with the Dravidian languages of India (such as Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, etc.), but even that possibility is highly uncertain - a bit dubious even.

One of the things making Elamite such an odd language is the fact that its nouns were inflected according to grammatical person, so that you get special forms for "I, the King," "you, the king" or "he, the king ". This is not a case of possessive suffixes but of endings showing the identity of the word itself. The Elamite word for "king" was sunki, but when the king was speaking of himself it was inflected sunkik (something like "the king, i.e. me"). The "second person" of "king" was sunkit and the third was sunkir.

The terms most often used to describe these strange forms are locutive, allocutive and delocutive. The suffix -me may be used to create abstract nouns: sunkime is thus "kingdom".

This tendency to inflect nouns according to person is extremely rare. A similar system is supposed to exist in the Khoisan language Nama, but apart from that I think it is rather unique ...

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