Stressing the facts: Accentuation in Hittite
(2008-2011, VENI-project, funded by NWO)
Hittite was the language of the Hittite Empire, which ruled over Central Anatolia from about 1650-1180 BC. It is the best known language of the Anatolian language group, which is one of the twelve branches of the large Indo-European language family, and was written in cuneiform script on clay tablets.
Among Indo-Europeanists it is generally accepted that the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European mother language must have had free accentuation, i.e. the accent could fall on any syllable. Yet, within the Indo-European language family only Greek, Sanskrit, Balto-Slavic and Germanic are known partly to have retained this original accentuation. Nevertheless, since in these languages some sometimes major accentological innovations took place it is not always possible to reconstruct even such a basic feature of the proto-language as the accentuation patterns of specific words or word classes.
Although for a long time it has been common understanding that nothing is known about the accentuation of Hittite, in the last few decades new insights in several unrelated subjects have unexpectedly yielded some bits and pieces of information about the Hittite accentuation. These indicate that Hittite must (at least partly) have retained the Proto-Indo-European accentuation system. This would make it a very important new witness to the Proto-Indo-European state of affairs, especially because it has been demonstrated recently that the Anatolian language group to which Hittite belongs must have been the first branch to have split off from Proto-Indo-European, retaining linguistic features that have vanished in all other branches. Moreover, Hittite displays accent-consonant interactions that are typologically very interesting. Yet, thus far no one has attempted to combine these bits and pieces into a detailed description of the Hittite accentual system. None of the existing Hittite dictionaries and grammars indicate the accentuation.
My project aims to fill this gap by providing a unified account of Hittite accentuation, focusing on the following points:
a. the place of the accent: criteria will be established by which the place of the accent can be determined, and on this basis a word list will be compiled where the accentuation of individual words will be indicated; accentual patterns in word classes will be described.
b. the nature of the accent: by typological analysis of the accent governed consonant gradation in Hittite, the possible phonetic realization of the Hittite accent (stress, pitch or tone) will be assessed.
c. the Hittite accentuation in the light of its Proto-Indo-European origin: by comparing the newly gained accentological evidence from Hittite with that from the other four Indo-European languages that bear witness to the Proto-Indo-European system of accentuation (viz. Greek, Sanskrit, Balto-Slavic and Germanic), archaisms and innovations in these systems will be determined.
The outcomes of this project will not only improve the knowledge of Hittite grammar and phonology, but will also be of major importance for the study of the Indo-European accent and for general theory concerning historical phonology and accentological typology.
[This project has now ended. Its outcomes have been presented in several publication, the most important one of which is the monograph Accent in Hittite. A Study in Plene Spelling, Consonant Gradation, Clitics, and Metrics, Wiesbaden, 2014]