Giorgio Buccellati

Philology, linguistics and literature


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At Mozan in 2000

     I give here a brief overview of research interests and institutional activities relating to the written record of ancient Syro-Mesopotamia. For my work in the areas of history and archaeology see the links below.
     Last updated: February 2012

Education

     The classical training that started at the Liceo Gonzaga and continued at the Catholic University of Milan pointed me in the direction of a search for harmony in the study of the texts. "Harmony" meant integration of knowledge and meaning, of technique and intuition. It was the underpinning, and the strength, of an open humanism, one that sought substance in the data without foreclosing insight from whatever source it may come, such as concrete comparisons or abstract methods. It might not in and of its own develop a theory and appropriate an external system of principles, but it would accept anything that might bring us closer to a fuller understanding of the meaning within the data.
     This sensitivity was heightened at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, where philological control was clearly seen as the foundation of all research, while at the same time there was a keen awareness for the specifics of general linguistics and of the contributions that it could make towards the understanding of the textual base. More than just confrontation, there was, in other words, an explicit intellectual momentum towards appropriating the method for its own merits, and autonomously re-shaping it as needed while illuminating, through it, the data.
     At the Catholic University of Milan my main mentors were G. Rinaldi for Semitic languages and G. Billanovich in the area of Medieval philology, but I also worked with M. Apollonio (Italian literature), G. Bolognesi (linguistics), O. Montevecchi (papyrology), A. Pertusi (Greek), B. Riposati (Latin). – At the Oriental Institute my main mentor was I. J. Gelb, but I also worked very closely with Th. Jacobsen, A. L. Oppenheim, E. Reiner and (more informally) with B. Landsberger.
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Teaching: Supervision of doctoral dissertations in languages and literature

1971 Richard D. Patterson Old Babylonian Parataxis as Exhibited in the Royal Letters of the middle Old Babylonian Period and in the Code of Hammurapi
1975 Yoshitaka Kobayashi Graphemic Analysis of Old Babylonian Letters from South Babylonia
1976 Paul W. Gaebelein Graphemic Analysis of Old Babylonian Letters from Mari
1979 Thomas J. Finley Word order in the clause structure of Syrian Akkadian
1984 John L. Hayes Dialectical Variation in the Syntax of Coordination and Subordination in Western Akkadian of the el-Amarna Period
1993 James H Platt Eblaite Scribal Tendencies: Graphemics and Orthography
1994 Tien F. Leong Tense, mood and aspect in Old Babylonian
1994 Joseph M. Pagan Morphological and Lexical Study of Personal Names in the Ebla Texts
1998 Chang Bae Lee A Comparative Study in the Syntax of Old Babylonian Royal and Private Letters
2005 Terrence L. Szink Computer-Aided Analysis of the Semitic of the Ebla Tablets
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Linguistics

     Arriving at UCLA in the mid sixties, I found a strong impetus to develop even further in the direction towards which my earlier education had pointed me. The stimulus came from two sources.
     (1) The teaching responsibility entailed the training of students who, at first, came to the study of Akkadian with an essentially tangential interest. The linguistic dimension provided a common ground. In many cases it also stimulated a rethinking of the student's own field of study, such as Biblical Hebrew, but soon, Akkadian came to serve as the primary focus of interest for a number of students.
     (2) The presence of colleagues with great interest in linguistic theory and a special focus on Semitic and related languages encouraged me to think of an institutional basis for Afro-Asiatic as an organized study project. Out of this came an intense editorial activity, with the start of a number of publication series including Afroasiatic Linguistics and Afroasiatic Dialects.
     The publications listed to the right track the progress of my research, along a number of parallel lines – including in particular graphemics, morphology, syntax and style. In my 1996 Grammar I gave an extensive synthesis of my thinking, with particular emphasis on morpho-phonemics and syntax. A second printing is in the offing, and when that appears I will add here a page with corrections and additions. (The link to the right leads to the front matter of the volume, including the preface and the introduction, by kind permission of Harrassowitz).
     I am also currently getting back to graphemic analysis, beginning with the Ebla texts. This aspect of my research is highlighted as a separate theme.
   ref.↓      full text↓            BR=bk review
   1966  Amorites Ur III Period Part 1, Part 2
   1968 "Akkadian Stative"
   1972 "Infinitive"
   1972 BR Pennacchietti, Pronomi det.
   1976 "Attributive Genitive"
   1976 "Formal Typology Akkadian Similes"
   1976 "Plural -ānu"
   1977 "Linguistic Analysis"
   1979 "Comparative Graphemics"
   1981 "Principles of Stylistic Analysis"
   1982 "Ebla Graphemics"
   1984 "Introduction" (MA Laws)
   1988 "State of the Stative"
   1990 "Cybernetica Mesopotamica"
   1990 "On Poetry, Theirs and Ours"
   1990  "The Ebla Electronic Corpus"
   1992 "Akkadian"
   
1992 "The Ebla Electronic Corpus"
   1995 "Eblaite and Amorite Names"
   1996 Structural Grammar of Babylonian
   
1997 "Akkadian"
   1997 "Akkadian & Amorite Phonology"
   2006 (e)-tic and -emic
   2011 Introduction to ARED 1
   in prep. "Ebla Graphemics 2"
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Philology

     My first confrontation with cuneiform tablets in their physical reality was in the tablet room of the Oriental Institute, where I worked for a short while assisting I. J. Gelb as he was beginning work on a catalog of the Tell Asmar tablets. The office was next to B. Landsberger's and across from A. L. Oppenheim's, who were very welcoming whenever I approached them with my epigraphic questions.
     From that experience, and at the suggestion of T. Jacobsen, I was able to go as epigraphist to Nippur, during the 8th season (1962-63): I published the texts from that season in 1969 Cuneiform Texts. On my way back from Iraq, I stopped in Istanbul to work in the Museum on the Ur III texts that contained references to the MAR.TU: these I published in 1966 Amorites Ur III Period.
     The next important confrontation with epigraphic material did not come until 1995, when I worked on the legends of the seal impressions of the royal storehouse of Urkesh, which I published in 1996.
     As indicated by the titles in the column to the right, I also dealt occasionally with additional epigraphic material from my own excavations at Terqa and Urkesh, and with the study of epigraphic documents seen as objects.
   ref.↓      full text↓
   1963 "Due note ai testi"
   1966 Amorites Ur III Period
   1969 Cuneiform Texts
   1986-7 "Distrib. Epigraphic Finds"
   1993 "Through Tablet Darkly"
   1994 "Kudurrus as Monuments"
   1995 "Identification of Urkesh"
   1995"Royal Storehouse"
   1996"Seals of the King of Urkesh"
   2002 "Ta'ram-Agade"
   2003 "A LU E School Tablet"
   2005 "Urkesh as a ... Center (p.39 f.)
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Literature

     The theoretical work on a properly linguistic analysis of Akkadian pointed me in a similar direction with regard to literature. In a series of seminars on major works of Akkadian literature, I developed a rigorous method of formal analysis. With this, I was aiming at identifying recognizable patterns and mechanisms that could be seen as intentional and could serve as a means of explicit control on the expressive intents of the author. In a (for me) memorable seminar on the Theodicy I was also privileged to have in the class V. Ivanov, by then a colleague at UCLA, who contributed to my deeper understanding of semiotics.
     The publications listed in the column to the right (especially perhaps 1976, 1981 and 1990 ) represent a small part of this research. I am coming back to it now, and the first results will be in the form of two monographs on the Theodicy and on Amarna Age Letters.
     The effort towards a formal analysis benefited as well from my teaching activity at the undergraduate level, which entailed a course on Mesopotamian literature in translation. In an effort to go beyond a merely descriptive presentation, I felt the need to give the students a deeper insight in questions of structure and meaning, something that could be appreciated even in translation. I plan to publish the extensive notes from this course in the form of an essay.
   ref.↓      full text↓
   1972 "Gilgamesh in chiave sapienziale"
   1972 "Il Dialogo del Pessimismo"
   1972 "La Teodicea"
   1973 "Adapa, Genesis, Notion of Faith"
   1976 "Formal Typology Akk. Similies"
   1981 "Principles Stylistic Analysis"
   1981 "Wisdom and Not"
   1982 "Descent of Inanna"
   1990 "On Poetry, Theirs and Ours"
   2000 "On Poetry and Friendship"
   2003 "Il Cimento dell'estro"
   in prep. The Theodicy
   in prep. Amarna Age Letters
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Digital analysis

     In 1968 I was awarded one of the first major NEH grants for digital studies in the humanities. It was the Old Babylonian Linguistic Analysis Project. Goal of the project was the digitization of the transliterated version of the Old Babylonian letters, with special emphasis on graphemics and morphology. To this end I developed an exhaustive categorization system, which went well beyond the immediate needs of providing the necessary codes. I also expanded the data base to include other corpora, with the help of colleagues and students, in particular the texts from Ebla, the Akkadian texts from Amarna and Ugarit, the Middle Assyrian Laws.
     The computer infrastructure was at that time cumbersome and complex (mainframe computers, punched cards, large fanfold paper printouts). This made it difficult to bring to general fruition the results of the research: no ready means for electronic distribution were available, and printouts in the thousand of pages were clearly impractical. As a result, published evidence of that early project is limited. Besides descriptive articles about the project (1977, 1984, 1990), I published three data bases on floppy disks, authored by colleagues and students using my categorization system (1987, 1989, 1997). Now that proper electronic distribution (on CD and online) is possible, I have resumed the publication of these data, beginning with the Ebla texts (2011, authored by Milano).
     However, that extensive work helped me focus on the essentials of the conceptual system, which served me in good stead in subsequent projects, including those in archaeology. I have developed the theoretical implications in a number of articles (1984, 1990, 1997) as well as in my 1996 Grammar. I am currently in the process of developing the theory (2010), especially within the framework of the Urkesh website (currently in an alpha stage).
   ref.↓      full text↓
   1977 "Old Babylonian Analysis"
   1984 "Introduction" (MA Laws)
   1987 PODANY,Terqa Data Base (disk)
   1989 SAPORETTI.Middle Assyrian Laws (disk)    1990 "Cybernetica Mesopotamica"
   1990 "Ebla Graphemic Analysis"
   1992 "Ebla Onomastic Analysis"
   1996 Structural Grammar of Babylonian
   1997 "Preface" to Pagan ARES 3
   1997 PAGAN,ARES 3 (disk)
   2010 "Question of Digital Thought"
   2011 Introduction to ARED 1
   2011 MILANO,ARED 1 (CD)    in prep. Royal Letters from Babylon    in prep. "Ebla Graphemics 2"
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Theory

     An overriding concern for method led me to deepen in every case the theoretical underpinnings of each specific research area. The goal was not so much to pursue theory for its own sake, as rather to find ways to reach a more complete understanding of the culture to which the data served as a window. In the process, I developed a sense of the importance and even beauty of a theoretical system that, by virtue of its own internal coherence, would alert me to hidden patterns and regularities. The constant feedback between the inductive approach based on the texts and the deductive approach based on the wider theoretical framework became an ever more powerful stimulus in my research
     While I have not devoted specific studies to questions of theory as such, many of my publications refer explicitly and even extensively to the role that this had in framing, and answering, pertinent questions. I list on the right some the articles that are more directly relevant in this regard.
   ref.↓      full text↓

LINGUISTICS
   1990 "Cybernetica Mesopotamica"
   1990 "Ebla Graphemic Analysis"
   1992 "Ebla Onomastic Analysis"
   1996 Structural Grammar of Babylonian

LITERATURE
   1981 "Principles Stylistic Analysis"
   1990 "On Poetry, Theirs and Ours"

DIGITAL ANALYSIS
   2010 "Question of Digital Thought"
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CV and other links

Curriculum Vitae

departmental
affiliations at UCLA

additional links

  • the Mozan/Urkesh Archaeological Project
  • the Joint Expedition to Terqa
  • IIMAS – The International Institute for Mesopotamian Area Studies
  • the UCLA Faculty Research Lectureship
  • the Archaeological Institute of America Award for Best Practices in Site Preservation

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Page background

     The image used as the background for this page is the cuneiform legend of a seal of a king of Urkesh (A14.239), which I published in SMEA 47 (2005), pp. 39-40 and Fig.6. It is shown below as it appears in the impression on a door sealing we excavated at Tell Mozan, ancient Urkesh.
     It reads:      i-šar-GI
en-da-an
ur-kèš-KI
Išar-kīnum
endan
Urkeš
Ishar-kinum
the ruler
of Urkesh
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