Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …

Open Linguistics

Editor-in-Chief: Ehrhart, Sabine

1 Issue per year

Covered by:
Elsevier - SCOPUS
Clarivate Analytics - Emerging Sources Citation Index

Open Access
See all formats and pricing
More options …

Some Remarks on Language Usage in Late Babylonian Letters

Martina Schmidl
Published Online: 2017-10-25 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2017-0019


This paper deals with language usage in private and institutional letters from the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid periods. It analyses the usage of terms of address, greeting formulae and direct and indirect phrasing, drawing on notions of politeness developed by Brown and Levinson. Of particular interest are questions of usage within a temple hierarchy and its implications for professional relationships. For private letters, the case for the appellation of ‘lord’ for women as previously claimed by the author is further substantiated.

Keywords: Akkadian; letters; politeness; formality; address terms; directness; bureaucracy


  • Abraham, Kathleen. 2015. Review of Hackl, Johannes, Michael Jursa, Martina Schmidl. 2014. Mit Beiträgen von Klaus Wagensonner. Spätbabylonische Privatbriefe (Spätbabylonische Briefe 1) (Alter Orient und Altes Testament 414/1). Münster: Ugarit-Verlag. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 78/2, pp. 375-377. doi: 10.1017/S0041977X15000282.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Beaulieu, Paul-Alain. 2005. Eanna’s contribution to the construction of the North Palace at Babylon. In: Baker, Heather D., Michael Jursa (eds.), Approaching the Babylonian economy: proceedings of the START project symposium held in Vienna, 1-3 July 2004 (Veröffentlichungen zur Wirtschaftsgeschichte Babyloniens im 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr. 2) (Alter Orient und Altes Testament 330). Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, pp. 45-73.Google Scholar

  • Beaulieu, Paul-Alain. 2006. Official and vernacular languages: the shifting sands of imperial and cultural identities in first-millennium B.C. Mesopotamia. In: Sanders, Seth L. (ed.), Margins of writing, origins of cultures (Oriental Institute Seminars 2). Chicago: The Oriental Institute, pp. 187-216.Google Scholar

  • Brown, Penelope, Stephen C. Levinson. 1987. Politeness. Some universals in language usage (Studies in Interactional Sociolinguistics 4). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Ebeling, Erich. 1930-34. Neubabylonische Briefe aus Uruk (Beiträge zur Keilschriftforschung und Religionsgeschichte des Vorderen Orients 1-4). Berlin: Erich Ebeling.Google Scholar

  • Frahm, Eckart, Michael Jursa. 2011. Neo-Babylonian letters and contracts from the Eanna archive (Yale Oriental Series: Babylonian Texts 21). New Haven and London: Yale University Press.Google Scholar

  • Fukada, Atsushi, Noriko Asato. 2004. Universal politeness theory: application to the use of Japanese honorifics. Journal of Pragmatics 36, pp. 1191-2002.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Hackl, Johannes. 2007. Der subordinierte Satz in den spätbabylonischen Briefen (Alter Orient und Altes Testament 341). Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.Google Scholar

  • Hackl, Johannes. 2008. Irreale Sätze in den spB Briefen, Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 98, pp. 81-94.Google Scholar

  • Hackl, Johannes. 2011. Language death and dying reconsidered: the rôle of Late Babylonian as a vernacular language. To be ublished in Wunsch, Cornelia (ed.), The Neo-Babylonian Workshop of the 53rd Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale. City Administration in Neo-Babylonian Times. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns. Available as a pre-paper (Version 01, July 2011) on: http://iowp.univie.ac.at/sites/default/files/IOWP_RAI_Hackl.pdf (accessed 27.12.2016).Google Scholar

  • Hackl, Johannes, Bojana Janković, Michael Jursa. 2011. Das Briefdossier des Šumu-ukīn, KASKAL Rivista di Storia, Ambienti e Culture del Vicino Oriente Antico 8, pp. 177-221.Google Scholar

  • Hackl, Johannes, Michael Jursa, Martina Schmidl. 2014. Mit Beiträgen von Klaus Wagensonner. Spätbabylonische Privatbriefe (Spätbabylonische Briefe 1) (Alter Orient und Altes Testament 414/1). Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.Google Scholar

  • Ide, Sachiko. 1989. Formal forms and discernment: two neglected aspects of universals of linguistic politeness. Multilingua 8 (2/3), pp. 223-248.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Irvine, Judith T. 1979. Formality and informality in communicative events. American Anthropologist, New Series 81 (4), pp. 773-790.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Jursa, Michael. 2005. Neo-Babylonian legal and administrative documents: typology, contents and archives (Guides to the Mesopotamian Textual Record 1). Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.Google Scholar

  • Jursa, Michael. 2010. With contributions by J. Hackl, B. Janković, K. Kleber, E.E. Payne, C. Waerzeggers and M. Weszeli. Aspects of the economic history of Babylonia in the first millennium BC. Economic geography, economic mentalities, agriculture, the use of money and the problem of economic growth Veröffentlichungen zur Wirtschaftsgeschichte Babyloniens im 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr. 4) (Alter Orient und Altes Testament 377). Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.Google Scholar

  • Jursa, Michael. 2011. Patronage in Babylonien im sechsten Jahrhundert v. Chr. Arta 2011.001. (http://www.achemenet.com/pdf/arta/2011.001-Jursa.pdf, accessed 10.07.2017).Google Scholar

  • Jursa, Michael. 2012. Ein Beamter flucht auf Aramäisch: Alphabetschreiber in der spätbabylonischen Epistolographie und dieRolle des Aramäischen in der babylonischen Verwaltung des sechsten Jahrhunderts v. Chr. In: Lanfranchi, Giovanni B., Daniele Morandi Bonacossi, Cinzia Pappi, Simonetta Ponchia (eds.), Leggo! Studies presented to Frederick Mario Fales on the occation of his 65th birthday (Leipziger Altorientalistische Studien 2). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, pp. 379-397.Google Scholar

  • Jursa, Michael. 2014. Der Inhalt der Briefe. In: Hackl, Johannes, Michael Jursa, Martina Schmidl. Mit Beiträgen von Klaus Wagensonner. Spätbabylonische Privatbriefe (Spätbabylonische Briefe 1) (Alter Orient und Altes Testament 414/1). Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, pp. 76-105.Google Scholar

  • Jursa, Michael, Johannes Hackl. 2015. Rhetorics, politeness, persuasion and argumentation in Late Babylonian epistolography. In: Procházka, Stephan, Lucian Reinfandt, Sven Tost (eds.), Official epistolography and the language(s) of power: proceedings of the First International Conference of the Research Network Imperium & Officium: comparative studies in ancient bureaucracy and officialdom: University of Vienna, 10-12 November 2010 (Papyrologica Vindobonensia 8). Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, pp. 101-115.Google Scholar

  • Kiyama, Sachiko, Katsuo Tamaoka, Masato Takiura. 2012. Applicability of Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory to a non-Western culture: evidence from Japanese facework behaviors. SAGE Open 2 (4) (October-December), pp. 1-15. DOI: 10.1177/2158244012470116.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Kleber, Kristin. 2008. Tempel und Palast. Die Beziehungen zwischen dem König und dem Eanna-Tempel im spätbabylonischen Uruk (Veröffentlichungen zur Wirtschaftsgeschichte Babyloniens im 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr. 3) (Alter Orient und Altes Testament 358). Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.Google Scholar

  • Kleber, Kristin. 2012a. Famine in Babylonia. A microhistorical approach to an agricultural crisis in 528-526 BC. Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 102, 219-244.Google Scholar

  • Kleber, Kristin. 2012b. Rhetorical strategies in letters of Babylonian officials. Zeitschrift für Altorientalische und BiblischeRechtsgeschichte 18, pp. 221-237. Google Scholar

  • Levavi, Yuval. 2016. Administrative epistolography in the formative phase of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Vienna: University of Vienna dissertation.Google Scholar

  • Levavi, Yuval, Martina Schmidl. 2016. Diplomatics of Neo-Babylonian and Early Achaemenid Letters. Paper presented at the conference “Towards a Diplomatics of Archival Cuneiform Documents,“ University of Vienna, 6-7 October (to be published in a pertaining conference volume edited by Michael Jursa and Reinhard Pirngruber).Google Scholar

  • Macgregor, Sherry Lou. 2012. Beyond hearth and home: women in the public sphere in Neo-Assyrian society (Publications of the Foundation for Finnish Assyriological Research 5) (State Archives of Assyria Studies 21). Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.Google Scholar

  • Matsumoto, Yoshiko. 1988. Reexamination of the universality of face: Politeness phenomena in Japanese. Journal ofPragmatics 12, pp. 403-426. Google Scholar

  • Melville, Sarah C. 1999. The role of Naqia/Zakutu in Sargonid politics (State Archives of Assyria Studies 9). Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.Google Scholar

  • Parpola, Simo. 1983. Letters from Assyrian scholars to the kings Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal. Part II: commentary and appendices (Alter Orient und Altes Testament 5/2). Kevelaer: Butzon & Bercker, Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag.Google Scholar

  • Sallaberger, Walther. 1999. „Wenn du mein Bruder bist, …“ Interaktion und Textgestaltung in altbabylonischen Alltagsbriefen (Cuneiform Monographs 16). Groningen: Styx Publications.Google Scholar

  • Sallaberger, Walther. 2003. How to avoid misbehavior in everyday communication: aspects of politeness in Old Babylonian letters from Mesopotamia. In: Groll, Sarah, Irene Shirun-Grumach (eds.), Papers for discussion. Presented by the department of Ancient Near Eastern Studies/Egyptology, the Hebrew University. Jerusalem Volume III 2003. Jerusalem: Academon, pp. 69-86 (http://www.assyriologie.uni-muenchen.de/personen/professoren/sallaberger/publ_sallaberger/wasa_2003_politeness-letters.pdf, accessed 09.02.2017).Google Scholar

  • Salonen, Erkki. 1967. Die Gruß- und Höflichkeitsformeln in babylonisch-assyrischen Briefen (Studia Orientalia 38). Helsinki: Societas Orientalis Fennica. Google Scholar

  • Schmidl, Martina. 2014. Formelemente und ihre Funktionen. In: Hackl, Johannes, Michael Jursa, Martina Schmidl. Mit Beiträgen von Klaus Wagensonner. Spätbabylonische Privatbriefe (Spätbabylonische Briefe 1) (Alter Orient und Altes Testament 414/1). Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, pp. 4-75.Google Scholar

  • Stolper, Matthew W. 2003. “No-one has exact information except for you”: communication between Babylon and Uruk in the first Achaemenid reigns. In: Henkelman, Wouter, Amélie Kuhrt (eds.), A Persian perspective. Essays in memory of Heleen Sancisi-Weerdenburg (Achaemenid History 13). Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten, pp. 265-287.Google Scholar

  • Svärd, Saana. 2015. Women and power in Neo-Assyrian Palaces (Publications of the Foundation for Finnish Assyriological Research 11) (State Archives of Assyria Studies 23). Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.Google Scholar

  • Tolini, Gauthier. 2009. Le repas du Grand Roi en Babylonie. Cambyse et le palais d’Abanu. In: Faivre, Xavier, Brigitte Lion and Cécile Michel (eds.). Et il y eut un esprit dans l’homme. Jean Bottéro et la Mésopotamie (Travaux de la Maison René-Ginouves 6). Paris: de Boccard: 237-254.Google Scholar

  • Tolini, Gauthier. 2011a. La Babylonie et l’Iran. Les relations d’une province avec le coeur de l’empire achéménide (539-331 avant notre ère). Volume 1. Paris: Université Paris I - Panthéon-Sorbonne dissertation.Google Scholar

  • Tolini, Gauthier. 2011b. La Babylonie et l’Iran. Les relations d’une province avec le coeur de l’empire achéménide (539-331 avant notre ère). Volume 2. Paris: Université Paris I - Panthéon-Sorbonne dissertation.Google Scholar

  • Waerzeggers, Caroline. 1997. Le précatif: forme de politesse en néo-babylonien. Akkadica 101, pp. 30-35. Google Scholar

  • Waerzeggers, Caroline. 2010. The Ezida temple of Borsippa. Priesthood, cult, archives (Achaemenid History 15). Leiden: Nederlands Instituut vor het Nabije Oosten. Waerzeggers, Caroline with a contribution by Michael Jursa. 2008. On the initiation of Babylonian priests. Zeitschrift für Altorientalische und Biblische Rechtsgeschichte 14, pp. 1-38.Google Scholar

  • Weber, Max. 1980 [1922]. Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Grundriß der verstehenden Soziologie. Fünfte, revidierte Auflage, besorgt von Johannes Winckelmann. Studienausgabe. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck (5th, revised ed.n).Google Scholar

About the article

Received: 2016-12-30

Accepted: 2017-08-10

Published Online: 2017-10-25

Published in Print: 2017-10-26

Citation Information: Open Linguistics, Volume 3, Issue 1, Pages 378–395, ISSN (Online) 2300-9969, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2017-0019.

Export Citation

© 2017. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. BY-NC-ND 4.0

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in