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Hittitology today: Studies on Hittite and Neo-Hittite Anatolia in Honor of Emmanuel Laroche’s 100th Birthday

Alice Mouton

I. Linguistique, grammaire et épigraphie

Agreement Patterns Of Collective Nouns in Hittite

Elisabeth Rieken

Texte intégral


  • 1 After Laroche, the dispute has been mainly on the putative semantic value and the question of categ (...)

1The honorand of this volume, Emmanuel Laroche, was the first one to draw attention to the close connection between the animacy of a given subject referent and its morpho-syntactic marking with -anza (plural -anteš). Nevertheless, Laroche (1962) regarded the use of these morphemes as a mainly syntactic phenomenon related to the transitivity of the verb. Following Laroche, words containing -anza or -anteš are called “ergatives” in most publications on the topic.1

  • 2 The research underlying this paper is part of the project „Diachrone Entwicklung von Kongruenzsyste (...)

2Another area where animacy and transitivity come into play in many languages is number agreement (cf. Corbett 2006: 182f., 185-193; Joosten et al. 2007: 89f. with further references). The same is true for the related semantic concepts of individuation and agentivity. The following pages will deal with Hittite evidence for the role played by both animacy (together with individuation and agentivity) and syntactic categories such as ergativity and transitivity in number agreement between subject and verb. The aim is to find out whether or not some of these categories are relevant for subject – verb agreement in this language, and if so then in which combination and to what degree.2

Terminology and background

3As per Steele (1978: 610), “[t]he term agreement commonly refers to some systematic covariance between a semantic or formal property of one element and a formal property of another.” According to Corbett’s (2006: 4-8, 207) terminology, the element that possesses the semantic or formal property is called the Controller, while the element that features the co-varying values is referred to as the Target. In the case of the subject – verb agreement in Hittite, the number values of a common gender subject (singular/plural) determine the values of the verb (singular/plural). Differently, a neuter plural subject is followed by a verb featuring a default value (singular); cf. GrHL 238, 240.

4However, the relationship between the values of the Controller and the Target can be influenced by certain Conditions. One factor that may have an impact on the target values is the collective meaning of the subject. As defined by Joosten et al. (2007: 85), collective nouns “refer to a multiplicity that is conceptualized as a unity”, e.g., English committee, which denotes a multiplicity of individuals, but also a single, unified group. As a consequence, the mismatch arises in the Controller between semantic reference (multiplicity) and form (singular), which may also lead to a conflict in the choice of the agreement values for the Target. There are various common solutions to this kind of conflict (Corbett 2006: 147-165):

  • Morpho-syntactic agreement (constructio ad formam) is preferred, i.e. the Target has the same morphological value as the Controller (American English the committee has decided).

  • Semantic agreement (constructio ad sensum, κατα` σύνεσιν) is chosen, i.e. the Target features the morphological value that is demanded by the meaning of the Controller (British English the committee have decided).

  • A default form is used, mostly the singular.

5A look into modern languages shows us that collective nouns need not all behave the same way even within a single language with regard to the accessibility of the conceptual collection and member levels. In their study on Dutch collective nouns, Joosten et al. (2007: 89f., 111) have shown that additional factors can increase the accessibility of the member level:

  • relationality, i.e. contextual identification of the members (e.g., English a swarm of wasps)

  • properties expressed by adjectives that profile through their meaning either the conceptual member level or the collection level (e.g., English a big team vs. a young team)

  • animacy of the referent (e.g., English committee)

  • lexical differences (e.g., in Dutch, collective nouns such as trio with a small fixed number of members tend to profile the member level)

6Both relationality and properties expressed by adjectives represent features that may change the degree of individuation in the semantic reading of a given lexeme, while it is stable with regard to animacy being determined by the referent(s). Also lexical differences seem to arise depending on referential features.

7In the present context, an interesting fact about number agreement between collective subjects and verbs is that, in such constructions, there is a good deal of variation between formal and semantic agreement to be found in many languages, as exemplified by Dutch. If any category beyond number and gender play a role in Hittite agreement (i.e. animacy, agentivity, transitivity and ergativity), subject – verb agreement of collectives will probably show the effect. The same may be expected of relationality, properties expressed by adjectives, and lexical differences.

Previous scholarship

8In his seminal study of agreement in Hittite, Drohla (1934/1949: 82f.) draws the following conclusion on number agreement between subject and verb:

“Sehr viel häufiger als in anderen idg. Sprachen zeigt das Hethitische einen κατα` σύνεσιν auf singularisches Kollektivum als Subjekt bezogenen Plural des Prädikats. … Derartige Fälle sind jedoch nicht so häufig, daß man Sommer zustimmen könnte, wenn er a.a.O. von der ‘bekannten Lüderlichkeit der Hethiter in der Numerusgebung’ spricht.”

9No additional information can be drawn from HE 115-118, GrHL 238-241, and Melchert 2013. The following examples illustrate the phenomenon of semantic agreement:


KUB 11.13 v 25’


šarā tiya-nzi



The assembly rises.”


KUB 22.70 rev. 51f. (CHD Š: 48)

UN.MEŠ-tar=pat=kan kuit šaknuwanteš

anda šaliki-šk-er



“Because the above mentioned people used to intrude upon (the utensils of deity) (being) impure”


KUB 1.14 ii 8’f. (dupl. KBo 27.55 r. col. 4f.)




priest of Z.(C)


“Afterwards, the priests of (the deity) Zilipuri come.”


KUB 19.10 i 6’ (HW2 A: 120)

[n(u=za a)]ntuḫšann-anza URU.ḪI.A-ŠUNU

EGIR-pa ēpp-er


“[And the p]eople took back their cities.”


KBo 3.4 iv 36’f. (Drohla 1934/1949: 82)


KUR-e-anza ḫūmanza URU.DIDLI.ḪI.A BÀD

EGIR-pa ēpp-er


“The whole country took back the fortified cities.”


KUB 40.95 ii 5-8 (cf. CHD P: 200f.)














The parwala-men of the king gave one talent of copper (and) three animal-shaped vessels of beads (containing) one-half BÁN of beads. In addition, the parwala-men of the king gave three talents of copper, x talents of tin, two copper pipes, six copper sickles, five copper wakšur-vessels, and two ox- shaped vessels of beads (containing) one-half BÁN of beads.”

Hittite data

  • 3 I am grateful to Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Gernot Wilhelm and Dr. Francesco Fuscagni for the opportunity o (...)

10For purposes of the present study, lexemes with collective meaning have been collected from the dictionaries and their attestations were checked in the Arbeitsstelle “Hethitische Forschungen” of the Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, Mainz.3 As a result, 29 examples of collective subjects in the singular (Controller) followed by plural predicate verbs (Target) have been found:

KUB 21.1 i 63’ (hist.)

KUB 46.22 i 7’f. (inv.)

KUB 6.41 i 25 (hist.)

KBo 2.13 obv. 10 (inv.)

KBo 5.6 i 15f. (hist.)

KBo 2.13 obv. 11 (inv.)

KUB 1.1 i 30 (hist.)

KBo 2.13 obv. 19 (inv.)

KUB 19.10 i 6’ (hist.)

KBo 2.13 rev. 3f. (inv.)

KBo 3.4 iv 36’f. (hist.)

KBo 2.7 obv. 26’ (inv.)

KUB 11.13 v 25’ (rit.)

KUB 17.35 i 5’ (inv.)

KUB 1.14 ii 8’f. (rit.)

KUB 17.35 i 33’ (inv.)

KUB 46.27 i 13’ (rit.)

KUB 17.35 ii 27’f. (inv.)

KUB 39.4+ rev. 27f. (rit.)

KUB 17.35 iv 13 (inv.)

KUB 22.70 rev. 51f. (or.)

KUB 17.35 iv 24’ (inv.)

KUB 22.70 rev. 54f. (or.)

KUB 17.35 iv 25’ (inv.)

KUB 16.16 obv. 13’ (or.)

KUB 41.34 i 6’f. (inv.)

KUB 40.95 ii 5f. (inv.)

KBo 2.8 ii 2 (inv.)

KUB 40.95 ii 6-8 (inv.)

11The distribution of the above data within the Hittite corpus is significant. The phenomenon of semantic agreement is rare and occurs only in New Hittite (including Late New Hittite) texts.

12Six attestations come from historical texts, five from ritual descriptions, three from oracle texts about the cult, and the rest from cult inventories. The two latter genres (containing 19 out of 29 examples) consist of ephemeral texts not meant to be preserved over time. Within these, the examples tend to cluster in some of the texts. On account of this distribution, we may tentatively conclude that the construction was not well accepted and tended to be avoided by the scribes. In the process of passing down the texts, examples of semantic agreement were mostly “corrected”. This could not happen in the ephemeral texts and therefore “mistakes” of individual scribes reflecting their sub-standard Hittite have been preserved.

13In the following sections, these examples will be analyzed with reference to the semantic and syntactic categories listed in section 2 (animacy, agentivity, transitivity, and ergativity), as well as relationality, properties expressed by adjectives, and lexical differences.

Individuation through animacy

  • 4 Ilya Yakubovich kindly reminds me of the possibility that the common gender nominative forms in -aš (...)

14The examples include neuters, common gender nouns, and forms with the ergative morpheme (either -ant- or -anza/-anteš, depending on whether the morpheme is classified as derivative suffix or ending; see fn.1). The lexemes are listed below:4

  • UN.MEŠ-tar, antuhšatar n. ‘mankind, people’ and its ergative form UN.ME.EŠ-anna(n)za, antušannanza, ˘

  • KUR-eanza (= utneanza) ‘population’, the ergative for of utne n. ‘country, population’

  • ašeššar n. ‘assembly’,

  • LÚ.MEŠzilipuriyatallaš c. (a group of priests of dZilipuri),

  • LÚ.MEŠparwalaš c. (a group of male functionaries),

  • MUNUS.MEŠdammaraš c. (a group of female functionaries),

  • MUNUS.MEŠtapdaraš c. (a group of female functionaries),

  • MUNUS.MEŠ]haz<ka>ra n. (a group of female functionaries) and its ergative form MUNUS.MEŠhaz(z)(i)kara(iya)(n)za.

15The initial hypothesis that animacy plays an important role in member level accessibility in Hittite is confirmed by the data. Each of the 29 examples contains an animate subject with the referential feature [+ human] relatively high up in the animacy hierarchy reproduced in (7) (cf. Silverstein 1976; modified by Bickel 2011: 410 with further references):


Individuation through relationality and adjectival modifiers

16While there is not a single example out of 29 that features an adjectival modification denoting a property of the collective subject, five examples refer to either body parts of the members of a group (8), display division into subgroups (9), or contain an imperfective verb shifting the focus to the repeated actions of different subgroups (10):


KUB 1.14 ii 8’-12’ (dupl. KBo 27.55 r. col. 4f.)




priest of Z.(c)


(nu=za 6-ŠU walḫanzi 1-aš=za=kan [Š]U-SÚ ḫatta 1-aš=ma=za=kan [G]ÌR-ŠU ḫatta)

“Afterwards, the priests of (the deity) Zilipuri come. (They beat themselves six times, each one pierces his own hand, and each one pierces his own foot.)”


KUB 19.10 i 4’-6’ (HW2 A: 120)

(… a]ntuḫšatar kuinna [apē]l ANA U[RU-L]IM-ŠU EGIR-pa pēḫutet)


a)]ntuḫšann-anza URU.ḪI.A-ŠUNU

EGIR-pa ēpp-er


“([ … ] he (scil. my father) brought the population, each one, back into his city.) [A(nd the p)]eople took back their cities.”


KUB 22.70 rev. 51f. (CHD Š: 48); cf. also ibid. rev. 54f.

UN.MEŠ-tar=pat=kan kuit


anda šaliki-šk-er



“Because the above mentioned people used to intrude upon (the utensils of deity) (being) impure”

17On account of the lack of examples for modifying adjectives and the low numbers of positive examples for contextual individuation, it can be assumed that neither factor has a significant impact on the grammar of agreement.


18Agents are willful, controlling, instigating participants in states of affairs. Therefore, agentivity strongly correlates with animacy.

19According to Dowty (1991: 572), Proto-Agents are characterized by the following uncontroversial properties:

  • 11 a. volitional involvement in the event or state

  • b. sentience (and/or perception)

  • c. causing an event or change of state in another participant

  • d. movement (relative to the position of another participant) (e. exists independently of the event named by the verb)


Fig. 1 : Continuum from verb-specific semantic roles to grammatical relations, taken from van Valin 2005, 53

Fig. 1 : Continuum from verb-specific semantic roles to grammatical relations, taken from van Valin 2005, 53

20Out of the 29 Hittite examples of collective nouns that trigger plural agreement on the verb, 28 represent subjects of verbs that have a slot for an argument with typical agent properties:

  • give (2x), place, bring (peda-) (8x), bring (uda-), seize (3x), hold: AGENT (like Giver)

  • create: AGENT (like Killer)

  • sing, mourn: AGENT (like Speaker)

  • stand up, intrude upon (2x), come, make an uprising (2x): AGENT (like Runner)

  • gladden (4x): AGENT

  • 5 For a different syntactic and semantic analysis of the verb frame, see Cammarosano 2014.

21Hittite duškiške/a- ‘gladden’5 doesn’t have a closely related semantic equivalent in van Valin’s list, but there is no doubt about the fact that gladdening a deity in ritual amounts to causing a change of state in another participant (cf. c. in Dowty’s list) and, therefore, the verb in question describes the action of a prototypical agent. An apparent exception is example (11) with the verb au- ‘see’ calling for an EXPERIENCER subject:


KUB 1.1 i 30-32 (Otten 1981: 6f.)

nu=mu=kan GIM-an

UN.ME.EŠ-ann-aza ŠA dIŠTAR GAŠAN-YA kaniššūwar


ŠA ŠEŠ-YA-ya []šulan

au-ēr nu=mu :aršaniyēr

“But when the people saw the acknowledgment of Ištar, my lady, and the benevolence of my brother towards me, they envied me.”

22Although au- ‘see’ is generally categorized as a perception verb that is neutral regarding the notion of control, it can also express a volitional action (‘observe, take notice of’), which would fit the context of example (11) even better than ‘see’.

23Considering the complete lack of counter-examples, we may conclude that agentivity, together with the animacy of the subject referent, represents a highly relevant factor for the agreement of plural verbs with collective subjects.

Transitivity (and ergativity)

24Following Haspelmath (2015: 136, with references),

“[a] verb is considered transitive if it contains an A[gent] and a P[atient] argument. A and P are defined as the arguments of a verb with at least two arguments that are coded like the ‘breaker’ and the ‘broken thing’ micro-roles of the ‘break’ verb.”

25In Hittite, as in most other Indo-European languages, this prototypical transitive construction consists of a verb with a nominative subject and a direct object in the accusative case.

2621 of the above examples contain transitive verbs (cf. section 4.3) against nine examples with intransitive verbs. While these numbers certainly indicate that transitivity has an impact on the agreement of the verbal target, the evidence of the sentences with subject MUNUS.MEŠḫazkara(iya)-/ MUNUS.MEŠḫazkara(n)za is considerably more suggestive (see Hoffner 1998, on the analysis of the ergative morpheme in this word, and Soysal 2010, for attestations). With few exceptions (KBo 2.8 ii 2, KUB 17.35 ii 24’f.), all sentences with non-ergative neuter plural MUNUS.MEŠḫazkara(iya)- have the expected intransitive verbs in the singular; cf. example (13). By contrast, the exam ples of ergative MUNUS.MEŠḫazkara(n)za tend to trigger plural forms of the targeted transitive verbs; cf. example (14).


KUB 20.25 + KUB 10.78(+) i 18’ (Hoffner 1998: 38)







“The ḫazqara-women stand behind.”


KBo 2.7 ro. 26’ (Carter 1962: 92, 98)

lukat=ma=kan NINDA.GUR4.RA DU[Gḫaršiaš






“In the morning, the ḫazkarāya-women bring the thick bread of the [ḫarši-]vessel up to the temple.”

27The strong correlation of transitivity and plural agreement of the verbal target after the ergative form MUNUS.MEŠḫazkara(n)za and the opposite correlation of intransitivity and singular agreement after the neuter nominative plural MUNUS.MEŠḫazkara(iya) implies that although the syntactic condition of transitivity and, as a consequence, of ergativity is no prerequisite of plural agreement in the case of neuters, it represents a significant factor favouring such agreement.

IV.4. Lexical differences

28The examples of singular collective nouns that can trigger plural agreement on the verb cluster around two semantic fields, according to their genres. The historical texts feature ‘mankind, people’ and ‘country, population’, while ‘assembly’ and groups of cult functionaries occur in the religious texts (including the records of cult administration). Although all of them qualify as [+human] animates and willful agents, the difference in the percentage of examples of plural verb agreement is obvious.

29While UN.MEŠ-anza, antuḫšannanz(a) ‘people’ is attested three times in complete contexts and followed by a plural verb twice, ÉRIN.MEŠ ‘soldiers, troops’, a singulare tantum with an animate referent which could theoretically belong here, is frequently attested (also as an agentive subject of transitive sentences), but never triggers plural agreement.

30The word for ‘assembly’ ašeššar plays an important role in many Hittite ritual descriptions (mostly in intransitive sentences), but occurs only once with a plural verb (also intransitive). However, for the names of certain functionary groups, especially the ḫazkara(iya)-women, the degree of member level accessibility is very high and, apparently, strongly correlating with transitivity (and ergativity). Other words for cult functionaries behave differently. For instance, in addition to its collective use in the nominative singular as seen in example (3), LÚ(.MEŠ)zilipuriyatalla- zilipuri-man’ is attested also in the plural nominative triggering the expected plural verb agreement (KBo 23.92 ii 9’f., KUB 46.1 iii 6’, KUB 43.29 iii 5’).

31Thus the Hittite verb agreement can be typologically compared to the situation in Dutch. The diversity of the collective nouns with regard to the frequency of singular subject – plural verb agreement and the use of alternative constructions represents an argument in favour of variable member level accessibility of the relevant lexemes.


32The evidence adduced in this study is conducive to the conclusion that the Hittite collective subjects rarely trigger semantic plural agreement of the targeted verbs. However, when it does occur, two conditions can be regarded as pre-requisites, which are animacy and agentivity of the collective noun referent. Transitivity of the verb and, in the instance of neuters, the ergative form of the collective noun must be regarded as important factors that are highly in favour of member level accessibility and, hence, semantic agreement in the targeted verb. But the effect of these parameters is dependent upon lexical differences. While some collective nouns seem to be entirely resistant to semantic agreement, others clearly react to the impact of the factors mentioned above. Unexpectedly, contextual information (relationality, properties of adjectival modifiers) does not seem to play a role for individuation and member level accessibility of collectives.

33Thus, the Hittite texts overall display here their normative character, with formal agreement being part of the norm. The exceptions are triggered by categories that are typologically well-known for this effect. It is, however, remarkable that the lexical differences, which have been focused upon only recently, play such an important role.


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1 After Laroche, the dispute has been mainly on the putative semantic value and the question of categorizing the morpheme. There is no agreement on whether -ant- in -anza (plural -anteš) is a derivational suffix combined with the normal nominative case endings without a meaning, or -ant- is derivational with a semantic value in addition to the specific syntactic function (animatizing, individualizing, personifying), or the morphemes -anza and -anteš have to be analyzed as endings; cf. Benveniste 1962; Kronasser 1966; Neu 1989; Garrett 1990; Carruba 1992; Luraghi 1997; Oettinger 2001; Josephson 2004; Patri 2007; GrHL; Dardano 2010; Shatskov 2011; Rizza 2010; Melchert 2011. Most recently, Goedegebuure (2012) has argued that the solution to the problem of the contradictory evidence lies in the switch from an originally derivative suffix with a semantic function to a purely syntactic case ending during the Middle Hittite period.

2 The research underlying this paper is part of the project „Diachrone Entwicklung von Kongruenzsystemen in fünf flektierenden indogermanischen Sprachen“ conducted jointly by Jürg Fleischer, Paul Widmer and the author and funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft in 2011-2014 (RI 1730/3-1). – I am grateful to Ilya Yakubovich for improving my English style and providing additional bibliographic references.

3 I am grateful to Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Gernot Wilhelm and Dr. Francesco Fuscagni for the opportunity of using the collections.

4 Ilya Yakubovich kindly reminds me of the possibility that the common gender nominative forms in -aš of the words for functionaries listed here (LÚ.MEŠparwalaš MUNUS.MEŠdammaraš, MUNUS.MEŠtapdaraš) could rather be interpreted as genitives depending on the nouns behind LÚ.MEŠ and MUNUS.MEŠ (i. e. LÚ.MEŠ parwalaš, MUNUS.MEŠ dammaraš, MUNUS.MEŠ tapdaraš, respectively); cf. also Yakubovich 2006 and 2010: 351-353. However, parwalaš probably contains the suffix -ala- for agent nouns and, therefore, a genitival construction ‘man of x’ is unlikely. On account of the Luwian accusative plural form MUNUS.MEŠdammaranza, MUNUS.MEŠdammara- can be classified as a Luwian foreign word (Yakubovich 2010: 32), the a-stem denoting the cult functionary herself. Even if the tapdaraš were the ‘women of the tapdara-’ originally, then the re-interpretation as a synchronic a-stem MUNUS.MEŠtapdara- then the re-interpretation as a synchronic a-stem MUNUS.MEŠtapdara- has already taken place as shown by the abundance of inflected forms (see Pecchioli Daddi 1982: 399). For the combination of the plural determinative MUNUS.MEŠ with singular forms, cf. dat./loc. sg. MUNUS.MEŠtaptari (e.g., KBo 25.184 ii 15).

5 For a different syntactic and semantic analysis of the verb frame, see Cammarosano 2014.

Table des illustrations

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Titre Fig. 1 : Continuum from verb-specific semantic roles to grammatical relations, taken from van Valin 2005, 53
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