Ergative/Absolute and Other Noun Suffixes/Prefixes

Yes, it's a little unfair that I didn't include mention of these in the noun introduction page. It's because of two reasons. Either they are only attested very rarely and are not well understood, or (for the Ergative/Absolutive) only effect one's understanding of the verb and don't "mean" anything concrete in English.


Case Written
Ergative -e
Absolutive -ø (nothing)

Both of these go behind "All other cases" (mentioned previously), cannot be together on one noun, and I can't think of any example in which an enclitic copula would be used on a noun with either of these, since it only really makes sense if the noun is involved in a verb/action. It's not necessary in a lone copula (to be). You may also be wondering what "-ø" is. It's nothing. You can not pronounce it, and it has no cuneiform sign. It isn't written. It's simply the default "not ergative" case.

In English, we use "nominative" and "accusative" instead. For example:

I [Nominative] hit him [Accusative].

He [Nominative] hit me [Accusative].

He [Nominative] swam [Note, no accusative].

So, the difference bewteen "he" and "him", "I" and "me", etc... is the Nominative/Accusative. In Sumerian, things are divided a little differently. Here's an example:

I [Ergative] hit him [Absolutive].

He [Ergative] hit me [Absolutive].

He [Absolutive] swam [Note, no ergative].

Do you see the difference? In Nominative/Accusative languages, there are subjects and objects. In Ergative/Absolutive languages, there are Agents and Patients. When you do something alone in English (this is called an intransitive verb) such as swim, you say "I swim", not "me swim". That is, you use the Nominative, which is also used when you do something to someone else "I hit him". In Sumerian, the Ergative is used when you do something to someone "I hit him", HOWEVER, the Absolutive is used when you do something alone "me swim". When the subject of the sentence is NOT an agent, it takes the absolutive instead. Here's a table:

Agent/Subject Patient/Subject Patient/Object
Ergative Absolutive Absolutive
Nominative Nominative Accusative

Since I believe that the verb should be taught only after one understands the noun fully, I will show an example but cheat a bit with English.

lugal.e ĝiri.ø "used" = The king(ergative) used the dagger(absolutive)

lugal.ø "died" = The king(absolutive) died

.hia = -hi-a- = various/assorted X

This case is very rare, so many of the grammatical ins and outs are not totally known. Where does it go in the noun chain? I don't know. It's a suffix that goes at the end, but being uncommon, it hasn't been seen with every noun element so one can't know for sure its exact spot. I like to think that it goes right beside the root noun, sort of becoming a new root (X-hi-a = assorted X, a new noun), but again, that's a guess on my part. In nothing I've read have I seen anyone concretely say anything more than that it is a suffix with the meaning "assorted/various". The examples from the book I read were:

anše-hi-a = various donkeys

u8 udu-hi-a = assorted rams and sheep (lit. ram sheep assorted)

nam- (craft of the X / X-ship / X-hood)

This one's a prefix, it goes in front of the noun root. Here's some examples:

nam.lugal = nam-lugal = kingship

nam.abba = nam-ab-ba = age/fatherhood

nam.sipad = nam-sipad = craft of the shepherd/shepherdship

Indefinite Adjective (a suffix) -na-me-

This one attaches to the root noun, becoming its own, new root (i.e. it ignores the noun chain rule, since X-na-me is a noun root in its own right, different from plain old X). It's english equivalent is the "some" in "something" or "someone" as well as the "no" in "nothing" and "noone". It is the verb, not the noun, that causes there to be a difference between "something" and "nothing". An example, like above, will have me cheat to avoid spoiling the verb before I've had a chance to teach it.

lu-na-me = someone (lit. man-some)

niĝ-na-me = something (lit. thing-some)

niĝ-na-me "I eat" = I eat something

niĝ-na-me "I don't eat" = I ate nothing (lit. "I didn't eat something")

As you can see, when the verb is negative, "something" and "someone" become "nothing" and "noone". The nouns themselves remain identical.