Introduction to Ugaritic, unpublished manuscript

by Miller C. Prosser, Ph.D University of Chicago
copyright Miller C. Prosser, 2010

The style and general structure of this text is inspired by Thomas O. Lambdin’s Introduction to Sahidic Coptic, one of the most lucid and instructive beginning grammars I have encountered.

The approach to the Ugaritic language adopted in this introduction is linked directly to the instruction I received from Dr. Dennis Pardee. To him I owe a multitude of thanks. As a rule, I do not cite other grammars or articles throughout this Introduction. I should acknowledge the influence the following works have had on my understanding of Ugaritic language

Bordreuil, Pierre, and Dennis Pardee. 2009. Manual of Ugaritic. Linguistic Studies in Ancient West Semitic 3. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

Greenstein, Edward L. 2006. Forms and Functions of the Finite Verb in Ugaritic Narrative Verse. In Steven E. Fassberg and Avi Hurvitz, eds.,Biblical Hebrew in Its Northwest Semitic Setting: Typological and Historical Perspectives:75-102. Jerusalem, Winona Lake: Magnes, Eisenbrauns.

Huehnergard, John. 1987. Ugaritic Vocabulary in Syllabic Transcription. Atlanta: Scholars Press.

Tropper, Josef. 2000. Ugaritische Grammatik. Alter Orient und Altes Testament 273. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag. (cf. Pardee, Dennis. 2003-2004. Review of Ugaritische Grammatik, by Josef Tropper. Archiv für Orientforschung 50:1-404.

List of Texts in the Exercises
Introduction RS 92.2010:1-5 (Manual, plate 33)
Lesson 1 RS 92.2010:6-13 (Manual, plate 33)
Lesson 2 RS 92.2010:14-24 (Manual, plate 33)
Lesson 4 RS 94.2168:1-15 (Manual, plate 41)
Lesson 5 RS 92.2168:1-10 (Manual, plate 41)
Lesson 6 RS 94.2168:11-15 (Manual, plate 41)
Lesson 7 RS 94.2965:1-14 (Manual, plate 42)
Lesson 8 RS 94.2965:15-23 (Manual, plate 42)
Lesson 9 RIH 83/22 (Manual, plate 56)
Lesson 10 RIH 83/22:1-7
Lesson 11 RIH 83/22:8-13
Lesson 12 RS 2.[003]+ i 7-25
Lesson 13 RS 2.[003]+ i 7-17

NV Nonverbal
PC Prefix Conjugation
RS Ras Shamra, used in tablet numbering
SC Suffix Conjugation

Bibliographic Abbreviations
Olmo Lete, Gregorio del, and Joaquín Sanmartín. 2003. A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition; Part One: ['(a/i/u)-k], Part Two: [l-z]. Handbuch der Orientalistik 67. Leiden: Brill.

Bordreuil, Pierre, and Dennis Pardee. 2009. Manual of Ugaritic. Linguistic Studies in Ancient West Semitic 3. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

This Introduction to Ugaritic is prepared with the beginning student in mind. The beginner may use this introduction for self-directed study. However, many of the ambiguities and nuances of the language are not explained in detail here. Classroom study with an instructor and utilization of reference grammars can fill in these gaps. For example, much of Ugaritic morphology is reconstructed from comparison to other languages. Some of the finer points of the language remain uncertain. While striving not to mislead, this Introduction rarely indicates these uncertainties. Vocalizations are provided throughout. In many cases a given vocalization may be disputable. The goal is to provide at least one possible vocalization as a beginning foundation for learning the language. If dabḥu is not absolutely certain as the Ugaritic vocalization, it is at least one of the most likely possibilities. Also, one finds rather complete paradigms presented throughout. In truth, the Ugaritic language is not yet attested to the degree that would allow one to cite every paradigmatic verb form. This Introduction does not claim to be a reference grammar. It intends to explain the concepts of the verbal and nominal paradigms, not to cite only attested forms. I chose not to mark unattested forms for aesthetic reasons as much as pedagogical ones. Having provided this disclaimer, it should be noted that examples of word forms and phrases are taken from or modeled closely upon texts in most cases. Further, internet resources supplement the Lessons, including citations of extant forms. As a first step toward learning Ugaritic, this Introduction aims to provide the foundation from which the student can progress toward a more detailed under of the difficulties of the language.

The exercises reference the plates in Bordreuil and Pardee (2009) Manual of Ugaritic, Linguistic Studies in Ancient West Semitic 3, Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns. On a typographic note, italics for Ugaritic words have been avoided for aesthetic reasons.

The Alphabet
The Ugaritic language is most commonly written in a cuneiform alphabetic script. The Ugaritic alphabet has 30 letters:
a͗ b g ḫ d h w z ḥ ṭ y k š l m ḏ n ẓ s ʿ p ṣ q r ṯ ġ t ı͗ u͗ s̀
The letters are written in cuneiform, a wedge-based writing system. There is some slight variation in the forms of the letters, but there are standard forms. The order of the letters is determined from ancient scribal exercises called abecedaries. The order presented below, from left to right, is one common order. However, there is evidence for an alternative order of letters (see RS 88.225 in RSO XIV: 341-48). The Alphabet

Notes on Writing
In most cases, cuneiform was written by impressing a stylus into clay, making the formation of triangular wedges quick and easy. When the medium was stone or some other hard material, the Ugaritian scribes drew the outline of the letter without indicating much overlap of wedges. The shapes in the chart above represent one form of each letter when impressed in clay, preserving the natural overlap of wedges.
{ṯ} is formed with two wedges impressed directly on top of one another.
{ġ} is formed with three wedges, one horizontal on top of two angled wedges.
{ı̓} is similar to {h} with the addition of a small horizontal wedge near the bottom left.
ʾ - The ʾaleph phoneme is expressed as a͗, ı͗, and u͗ and sounds like a slightly furtive version of whatever vowel follows.
ḫ - Pronounced at the back of the throat, roughly like German ich.
ḥ - Somewhat lighter or airier version of ḫ.
ṭ - Slightly more emphatic than simple t.
š - Like sh in ‘show’.
ḏ - Similar to th in English ‘the’, but not like the th in ‘thanks’.
ẓ - Similar to ḏ, but emphatic.
ʿ - Pronounced at the back of the throat, like an emphatic version of the following vowel.
ṣ - Pronounced like the combination ts.
ṯ - Like th in ‘thaw’ or ‘thanks’.
ġ - Like ʾ but articulated even further back in the throat, almost a growling sound.
s̀ - For simplicity’s sake, pronounced like s.
The Word Divider
Ugaritic uses a small vertical wedge to divide words, but it occurs inconsistently and unpredictably. The word divider is transliterated with a period or small dot {.}. It is conventional to include the word divider in a transliteration but not in a vocalization: e.g. bnš . b . bt, /bunušu bi bêti/, 'the man is in the house'.
Ugaritic is a consonantal language in its written form. No vowels were written in alphabetic cuneiform. Ugaritic probably preserves six original vowels: /a/, /i/, /u/, /ā/, /ī/, /ū/. Two common diphthong are /ê/ < *ay and /ō/ < aw. In rare cases, other vowels will be encountered, most notably as the result of a simplified triphthong.
The Root
Ugaritic words can be described according to their root, an abstract sequence of consonants and vowels. Nouns are usually characterized by two or three root consonants, one or two vowels, and sometimes various affixes and suffixes. Verbs can be formed with the same root consonants as nouns, but show their own characteristic consonantal and vocalic patterns. For example the consonantal root √D-B-Ḥ refers to sacrificing. The noun dabḥu, ‘a sacrifice’, places these consonants in a nominal pattern with one short internal vowel DaBḤu. (The final vowel is a case marker, not part of the nominal root. See Lesson 1.) The noun madbaḥu places these consonants in a different nominal root pattern, one that typically refers to the place where the action takes place. In this case, a madbaḥu is an altar, i.e. the place where sacrificing takes place. The root consonants √D-B-Ḥ are attested in verbal forms also. One infinitive is formed according to the pattern DaBāḤu, ‘to sacrifice’. A third masculine singular finite form of the verb dabaḥa means ‘he sacrificed’. Not all consonantal roots are as productive as √D-B-Ḥ.
QTL represents a triconsonantal pattern wherein the letters QTL can be replaced by any three strong root consonants. This root pattern is supplemented with consonantal affixes and vowel patterns characteristic of the noun or verb in question, e.g. QaTāL- represents the pattern of the infinitive dabāḥu. The example madbaḥu would be represented as maQTaL-.
A Note on Transliteration in the Exercises
It is conventional to place transliterated text within {curly brackets} when emphasis is being placed on what is written. Vocalized text is typically placed within /slanted brackets/. It is not necessary to do either in the exercises.
A. Write the alphabet in order, first in transliteration, then in cuneiform.
B. Transliterate RS 92.2010:1-5 (Manual, plate 33).