Hurrian Meter and Phonology in the Boğazköy Parables

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Chelsea Sanker



This article addresses meter in the Hurrian parables from Boğazköy (KBo 32.14). Bachvarova (2011) has characterized this text as having four stressed syllables per line; others have suggested that the pattern of unstressed syllables may also contribute to the meter (e.g., Haas and Wegner 2007, Neu 1988), although the widely variable line lengths pose a problem for an isosyllabic meter. I offer evidence for a meter consisting of four stressed syllables per line, with one to three unstressed syllables between stressed syllables. I further reconcile a syllable-counting meter with the observed variability in line length by positing that lines are in groups of two to three, forming semantic units. Within these groups, the average difference in syllable count between lines is significantly lower than it is between non-grouped lines.

The similarity within groups of lines suggests that, despite apparent differences based on the orthography, lines within groups may have matched exactly in number of syllables. Postulating this exact match, I offer three phonetic interpretations of the orthography that build on phonological characteristics discussed by Wilhelm (2008) and Wegner (2007): 1) an underlying glottal stop producing disyllabicity of <Ca-a-i> sequences and potentially other plene vowel sequences as well; 2) elision at word boundaries where the first word ended with a vowel and the following word began with a vowel; 3) a monosyllabic realization of a word-internal sequence of a high vowel followed by another vowel.

Such a syllable-counting meter provides a new line of evidence for the phonology of Hurrian as well as contributing to the metrical characteristics that can be found in poetry of the ancient Near East.

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