The Amarna letters from Canaan offer us a unique glimpse of the historical and linguistic panorama of the Levant in the middle of the fourteenth century BCE. Their evidence regarding verbs is crucial for the historical and comparative study of the Semitic languages. Proper evaluation of this evidence requires an understanding of its scribal origin and nature. For this reason, The Verb in the Amarna Letters from Canaan addresses the historical circumstances in which the linguistic code of the letters was born and the unique characteristics of this system. The author adduces second-language acquisition as a proper framework for understanding the development of this language by scribes who were educated in centers on the cuneiform periphery. In this way, the book advances a novel interpretation: the letters testify to a scribal interlanguage that was born of the local use of cuneiform and was affected by the fossilization and transfer processes taking place in these language learners.
This vision of the linguistic system of the letters as the learners' interlanguage informs the main part of the book, which is devoted to verbal morphology and semantics. The chapter on morphology offers an overview of conjugation patterns and morphemes in terms of paradigms. Employing a variationist approach, it also analyzes the bases on which the verbal forms were constructed. Next, the individual uses of each form are illustrated by numerous examples that provide readers with a basis for discovering alternative interpretations. The systemic view of each form and the various insights that permeate this book provide invaluable data for the historical and comparative study of the West Semitic verbal system, particularly of ancient Hebrew, Ugaritic, and Arabic.
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