Analysis of New Etymologies Related to Several Elamite Verbs

This paper is a study conducted within the project “Peoples of the Iranian Highlands according to Cuneiform Sources” funded by Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation of Georgia (Project N PHDF-19-1113).

To the east of the Mesopotamian civilization, in the Zagros Mountains, located in the territory of modern Iran, as far back as in the XXVII century BC, there was a powerful ancient Eastern state known in historiography as Elam. This work aims to study the language of the people living in the territory of Elam, in particular, some Elamite verbs.

Over the years, several opinions have been expressed about the origin of the Elamite language and its related languages, however, this issue has not been finally solved yet.

Unlike other ethnic groups and tribes in the Zagros Mountains, there are many texts preserved in the Elamite language, which allow us, to some extent, to restore the grammatical structure and, at the same time, gives us an idea of ​​the vocabulary of this one of the oldest languages.

It is noteworthy that the first specimens of the Elamite language must have appeared at the beginning of the IV millennium BC, however, as they used the so-called Linear Elamite and proto-Elamite script, they have not been read due to the lack of bilingual texts. The history of the texts written, read and translated in the Elamite language dates back to the middle of the III millennium BC and is intertwined with the spread of Cuneiform in the Zagros Mountains. In terms of periodization, there are three stages of the Elamite language: Proto-Elamite (unread texts written in Linear mentioned above), Middle Elamite - texts written after the spread of the Cuneiform (ca. XXV-IV centuries BC) and Achaemenid Elamite - relatively late stage [McAlpin, 1974: 90-91]. In Achaemenid Elamite, we often encounter borrowings whose etymology must be related to Indo-European languages, therefore, the most important issue for this particular research is the study of the texts written in the Middle Elamite.

To understand the Middle Elamite language, let us briefly review the morphological features. An analysis of the texts confirms that Elamite is an agglutinative language. The root and one or more suffixes are used for word formation, and the root can be both single and multi-syllable [Grillot-Susini, 1998: 332]. For word formation, Elamite also resorts to the combination and reduplication of words, in addition, quite a large number of Akkadian borrowings are confirmed in the Middle Elamite [Дьяконов, 1979]. As Elamite is an agglutinative language, great importance is attached to verb suffixes. Verbs have the following categories: number (singular and plural), person, aspect/tense, mood and voice (active and passive) [Khačikjan, 1998: 33]. The root of the verb can attach the suffixes denoting the person after the conjugation. In general, the full Elamite verb reveals three types of conjugation (I, II, III). The first type of conjugation is usually characterized by specific suffixes while the second and third types are based on periphrastic constructions and participles. As a rule, the first type of conjugation includes transitive verbs characterized by the following suffixes in the past tense [Khačikjan, 1998: 34]:

Middle Elamite                                                                       Achaemenid Elamite

I         sg.   –h           pl. –hu                                                 sg.       -ø         pl.        -u

II        sg.    –t           pl. ht                                                  sg.       -t         pl.        -t

III       sg.    š            pl. –hš                                                 sg.       -š         pl         -š

The second type of conjugation should be attributed to intransitive verbs, and the third to verbs that are not expressive of the past tense [Khačikjan, 1998: 34-35]. In the article on the Elamite language, Igor Diakonov suggests a table of verb suffixes, which must have been influenced by the Sumerian agglutinative verb: verb root + direct object + type (spatial direction of action) + gerund + predicate + mood [Дьяконов, 1979: 46).

Many well-known linguists have tried to study the mysterious Elamite language over the years. Linguists were also interested in the fact that the leading ethnos in a relatively small area in the Middle East belongs not only to a different group but also to radically different language families. In parallel with the isolated (separate) Sumerians, members of the Semitic language family (Akkadians, later the Babylonian Kingdom, and Assyrians) actively entered Mesopotamia, and the Indo-European Hittite state flourished in the west. To the north of Mesopotamia, in the vicinity of modern-day Van and Lake Urmia, representatives of the Hurrian-Urartian languages ​​ruled the kingdom of Mitanni for quite some time. Like the Hattic language in Anatolia, the origin of their language is still unknown. Against the background of such linguistic diversity, the situation was no less difficult in the mountainous region of Zagros, where Elamite, completely different from the above-mentioned languages, was spoken and written for millennia.

At the end of the 19th century, scholars began to look for new ways to connect Elamite with other languages. One of the first steps in this direction was the work by Robert Caldwell in 1856, in which the researcher highlighted the morphological similarities that existed between Elamite and Dravidian languages ​​[Caldwell, 1856]. This theory was later extended by the famous Dravidologist David McAlpin [McAlpin, 1974]. The same theory was followed by the Russian Assyriologist Igor Diakonov [Дьяконов, 1979]. Vaclav Blazek worked on the lexical part and tried to connect Elamite with the family of Semitic and Afroasiatic languages ​​in general, based on which he puts forward more than a hundred lexical correspondences [Blazek, 1992]. Also interesting is the information provided by Giorgi Starostin, who uses the nostras theory of Elamite vocabulary studied by Blazek and McAlfin to suggest some similarities with Indo-European, Uralic, Altaic, and Caucasian languages ​​[Starostin, 2002].

Very little scientific material is available on the similarities between the Elamite and Kartvelian languages. Except for a few specific examples, no serious research in this area has ever been practically conducted. However, it is worth mentioning the fact that several works have been created on the similarities between the Kartvelian and Dravidian roots. Heinz Fähnrich's studies stand out in this respect. In one of his articles, he has collected about 130 Dravidian roots, which, in his opinion, bear some resemblance to the words in the Kartvelian languages ​​[Fähnrich, 1991]. 

In the process of working on the vocabulary, a dictionary of the Elamite language compiled by Hinz and Koch was developed [Hinz ... 1987]. In addition to the fact that most of the lexical items are distinguished, we find important references and excerpts directly from the sources, which allow us to study the Elamite texts in more detail. Comparative research required the use of such works as the etymological dictionary of Dravidian languages ​​[Burrow ... 1984]. In the case of Kartvelian languages, Heinz Fähnrich and Zurab Sarjveladze [Fähnrich ... 2000], as well as Giorgi Klimov's etymological dictionaries of Kartvelian languages ​​were employed [Klimov, 1998].

Due to the specifics of the Elamite language, in many cases the meaning of this or that word is doubtful and the translation largely depends on the context. In the process of working on the paper, several Elamite texts were studied in which the verbs under consideration are represented with different semantics. As a result of the research, the roots of several Elamite verbs were revealed, which are similar to the words in the Kartvelian languages. In addition, some new parallels with Dravidian languages ​​will be listed below.

As mentioned above, at the lexical level, Elamite roots bear a resemblance to words in the languages ​​of virtually all neighboring peoples. Early Elamite texts contain quite a number of borrowings from both Sumerian and Akkadian languages. Roots that are found in virtually all languages ​​are also common. For example, we can cite the Elamite verb kura which is found with the meaning of burning, frying [Hinz ... 1987: 519]. Starostin compares both the Indo-European root- * gʷher- "hot, burn" and several identical semantics in Proto-Ural languages ​​[Starostin, 2002: 9]. Blazek restores * Kawr as a common Semitic root symbol of burning [Blazek, 1992]. Interestingly, in the Akkadian language, a lexical unit denoting fire can also be related to the given root. In Akkadian, the word gīru is used to denote fire [Black ... 2000: 93]. We find a similar root in the Sumerian language, where the verb KUR carries the meaning of burning. Here we can mention the word Kura (furnace) in the Georgian language, which must be borrowed from another Semitic language, namely Arabic [Chikobava, 1986: 458]. The same semantics can be connected to the Dravidian root * kar. According to the etymological dictionary of the Dravidian language, one of the meanings of this root is to burn, to prepare food on fire [Burrow ... 1984: 118].

As mentioned above, the Indo-European influence on the Elamite language becomes particularly evident in the Achaemenid period, which is manifested in a number of borrowings, of which we will not dwell in this paper. However, it is important to draw a few parallels with the Indo-European languages ​​revealed by the Middle Elamite vocabulary, where it is physically impossible to have Achaemenid borrowings. In Matthew Stolper's work, which discusses Elamite administrative texts, we encounter an excerpt from a text made in the Middle Elamite: a]-ni du-ru-un - where the verb Durun is translated in the sense of talk, speak, compared to other text [Stolper, 1974: 142]. Contrary to Stolper's opinion, it is unlikely that the verb denoting “talk, speak” was written with a cuneiform du-, instead of the sign tu4 - which is quite often found in Elamite texts. This view is also supported by Hinz and Koch in the Elamite Dictionary [Hinz ... 1987: 375]. It is most likely that in the Elamite language, the root of the verb denoting talk, speak was turu, which is more commonly found in Achaemenid Elamite texts. For example, tu4-ru-uk-ni - let it be said! [Konig, 1965: 166]. This specific root reveals obvious similarities with the Indo-European vocabulary. The most obvious example is found in the Hittite language. tar-, te- (Hitt.) - to speak, say, name, announce, confess [Tatishvili, 2012: 32]. From a common Proto-Indo-European root must have been be derived the Hittite tar and the verb tär in Tocharic B [Adams, 1999: 293]. Given the above examples, it may be maintained that the etymology of this widely used verb in Achaemenid Elamite must be Indo-European.

In one of the administrative texts, the following extract is found: 5. si-ra-ka4 6. ma-si-i-ka4 PI+PIR  7. dMaš-ti-ak-šir8  [Stolper, 1974: 55]. "He weighed it, sent the deity to the Mashtiakshir."

The verb ma-si is translated in administrative texts with the meaning of “to get rid of, to send money”, although, in another context, the mentioned Elamite verb must carry the meaning of “cutting, division” [Hinz ... 1987: 891]. Interestingly, a similar root with identical semantics is found in both Dravidian and Altaic languages. According to the Etymological Dictionary of the Dravidian Languages, in the Malto language, which belongs to the North Dravidian group, the verb mōce is still used to denote cutting, as well as in the North Dravidian language of Kurukh, where mōc is found to mean cut into small pieces [Burrow ... 1984: 464]. Interestingly, in Proto-Japanese, the root *màsà is restored with various meanings associated with a cutting or chopping tool, a sword, an ax [Martin, 1987: 472]. The Dravidologist McAlpin cites the example of the above-mentioned Elamite root when he speaks of the Dravidian verb vacc - captivity, robbery [McAlpin, 1974: 98], although in this case, we find that the parallel is more obvious concerning the mōc root.

Speaking of the etymology of Elamite verbs, I would like to consider the verb kuti - to take, to kidnap [Hinz ... 1987: 546]. McAlpin connects the mentioned lexical unit with the verb kuti in the Tamil language, meaning "jump, escape, shake" [McAlpin, 1974: 98]. Obviously, even in this case, there may be some semantic connections, although we would like to focus on another theory. The etymology of the Elamite verb may be related to the ethnonym of the Gutian tribe living in and around the Zagros Mountains. Numerous military campaigns over the lands of Mesopotamian civilizations over the centuries have given the Gutians some sort of antagonistic status, leading to the fact that Sumerian, Babylonian, and relatively late sources often refer to these peoples. At the same time, it should be noted that most of the information preserved in the cuneiform texts about them is portrayed in a negative context by the Gothic tribal associations, and rather by downplaying them and praising the local rulers, the obvious aim must be the unequivocal propaganda. The nomadic tribe was characterized by mostly raiding expeditions, during which they did not shy away from kidnapping, robbing, and looting. The people mentioned in Sumerian sources are also compared to the wrath of God: “Enlil brought down from the mountains people who are not like others, who are not considered part of the land (do not belong to the land)” [Black ... 2004: 121-122]. Sumerian texts vividly paint a picture of the invaders plundering the goods and mercilessly beating the locals [Black ... 2004: 121-122]. Their habitat is referred to as Gu-ti-umki (ki-land, a post-determinant denoting a country), hence they ethnically restore the words Guti and Kuti. In view of the above, it should not be unreasonable to assume that the words denoting the ethnonym of the Gutians and the abduction have a common etymology. From the analysis of historical sources, we can conclude that the Gutians were nomads in the area between the city-states of Elam and Sumer, therefore, we should not rule out that they were named after the Elamite verb. We can also suppose that under a particular ethnonym, they meant all the nomadic tribes that plundered the lands of Elam, and thus there is no mention of one particular ethnos at all. This view is supported by another detail observed by William McAlpin, namely the fact that in Tamil languages ​​the noun kutiray is preserved, which today refers to a horse [McAlpin, 1974: 98]. Given that the nomads used horses or donkeys to move, one should not rule out the fact that the lexical unit denoting the said animal is in some semantic connection with the Gutian ethnonym. The problem of horse domestication is an independent issue, and we cannot say with certainty whether the Gutians were familiar with a horse culture. However, as it is known, in the early stages of the development of the Mesopotamian civilization, cavalry was composed of donkeys, and later the word "horse" was used to denote the noun meaning "donkey".

As for the similarities with the Kartvelian languages. In the process of research, several Elamite and Dravidian verbs were revealed, which at the basic level reveal commonalities with the lexical units in the Kartvelian languages.

As we have already mentioned, the common features of the Kartvelian and Dravidian languages ​​have been studied by Heinz Fähnrich for years. In one of his works, the roots collected by the researcher are mentioned, which, according to Fähnrich, should be common for the Kartvelian and Dravidian languages. For example, the Dravidian root * cav - to eat, to chew, he connects with the Georgian root * ch’am - to eat, the Dravidian root * tak denoting breaking is compared to the Kartvelian * tekh, etc. [Fähnrich, 1991: 340-341]. As for the common features of Elamite and Dravidian, comprehensive studies have been offered by David McAlpin. One of the most isolated and separate of the Dravidian languages ​​is considered to be the Brahui language, which is spoken in the territory of present-day Pakistan, in the province of Balochistan. McAlpin put together hundreds of roots in one article, which he thought should have been similar or common in the case of the Dravidian language of Elamite and Brahui, and proposed a kind of theory that implies the existence of a so-called Proto-Zagros language (which later disintegrated into Elamite and Proto-Dravidian languages) [McAlpin, 2015]. McAlpin tries to separate the roots of the Brahui language according to their origin, the etymology of some of them is related by the researcher to the Elamite language, and some of them to Indo-European, in particular Achaemenid Persian. In the case of Dravidian and Elamite he often restores the so-called Proto-Zagrosian roots. The researcher actively relies on the table of phonemes developed by him and often bases his opinions on the phonology of the Dravidian language [McAlpin, 2015].

During the elaboration of the mentioned work and, in general, McAlpin's research, attention was paid to several roots, which we would like to connect with the Kartvelian languages. In particular, the restored root in Proto-Dravidian * xarr- and the verb hara in Elamite are restored by the common * xar or * qar root and gives the meaning that sounds like English “to sprout” [McAlpin, 2015: 564] -  rise, emerge [Margalitadze, 2019: 888].

In connection with the mentioned root, the word xarrun in the Brahui language is mentioned, the main meaning of which is green, as well as the adjective fertile. Given these examples, McAlpin restores * xarr as the proto-Zagros root of a particular verb [McAlpin, 2015: 564]. If we trust the mentioned reconstruction, we may see similarities with such a word in Kartvelian languages ​​as ga-khar-eba, which is often considered as a synonym for bearing fruit. There are several theories about the root and etymology of this specific verb itself. Giorgi Klimov's etymological dictionary is discussed the root * xiar - joy, rejoicing, etc., the Svan * xiad-: xid- is also mentioned [Klimov, 1998: 329]. The root of the verb mentioned in Fähnrich and Sarjveladze's dictionary is * xi and the * xiad root restored by Klimov is also mentioned [Fähnrich ... 2000: 700]. This verb is the most suspicious of the examples discussed in the article, but the fact is that * xar is rooted in the Georgian language in words with semantics related to plant flowering and may be related to the common Elamite and Dravidian roots restored by McAlpin.

We come across a parallel with the old Georgian language in the case of the Elamite verb huma. According to the Dictionary of Hinz and Koch, the said unit should be translated as take, receive [Hinz ... 1987: 692-693]. We would like to draw a parallel with the verb mokhmareba- “consumption, use” in the Georgian language, more specifically, the form observed in Old Georgian with the sound “khmeva”[1], which according to the explanatory dictionary of the Georgian language is synonymous with the verbs consumption, eat, taste. 

In Middle Elamite texts (Anshan texts) this verb is used more often in the form of get, receive, e.g.

1. 1 GU.UN 40[+x MA.NA ]  2. h.ITI.A-pi [ ] 3. hu-ma-ak[ ] 

2. 1 talant, 40 minas ( silver) Api ( proper name) got

In ancient Georgian texts, khmeva was usually used in the context of food or drink. The best example in this regard is in the life of Grigol Khandzteli:

“And many of them did not drink wine at all and who to receive, drink (ikhmev-des) a little "[Merchule, 1979: 213]

In terms of vocabulary related to drinking and fluid intake in general, it is possible to cite another Elamite verb. The form of the Elamite verb si-kaš-da - he drank [Hinz ... 1987: 1080] bears similarities in the Semitic languages, in particular with the Akkadian verb šequ / šaqu - to drink [Black ... 2000: 359]. It is possible to draw a possible parallel with the Kartvelian languages ​​in this case as well, which implies the Kartvelian root * skh, from which the verb is infused. In this case, it should be more appropriate to emphasize the similarities between Akkadian and Kartvelian roots than Elamite. In addition, we should not rule out the fact that specific similarities are related to onomatopoeia.

While comparing Elamite and Dravidian verbs, William McAlpin also suggests another verb in which the researcher connects the Elamite verb laki – to cross, to go along, and Vilaηk, the unit existing in Tamil, which has a similar semantic meaning [McAlpin, 1974: 98]. Obviously, in this case, we should not exclude the connection with Dravidian, however, considering the content and root of the Elamite verb, the semantics of solving, overcoming leads to the association with the Georgian verb - gadalakhva (overcoming). The etymology of the lakh root is the subject of controversy, however, we can speculate that a particular unit may be related to the Svan word for mountain, Lakhu. In the Georgian-Circassian-Abkhazian etymological dictionary, Merab Chukhua restores * Lakha with the meaning of mountain, as a common Kartvelian root [Chukhua, 2017: 252]. The semantics of overcoming this or that obstacle can be closely related to the mountain. In any case, against the background of this specific example, the more obvious parallel compared to the Dravidian unit seems to be the root in the Kartvelian languages.

Obviously, based on the above examples, we do not try to prove the connections of the Elamite, Dravidian and Kartvelian languages. The main goal of the research is to present the typological similarities in the mentioned languages ​​and to introduce them to the general scientific community. A review of the scientific literature on the subject has shown that a number of individual, independent studies have been conducted over the decades on this issue, however, no definitive conclusions can still be drawn. Structural elaboration of Elamite texts may answer the questions that exist regarding the origin of the Kartvelian and Dravidian languages. A comparative study of the mentioned languages ​​requires the processing of a fairly large amount of material, which indicates the need for interdisciplinary research. Given that Dravidology is not a very popular field in the Georgian academic space, we would like to emphasize the importance of future research in this area. As we have already mentioned, the similarities between the Dravidian and Kartvelian roots have been noticed before, however, some new examples from the Elamite language in the article suggest that the study of the issue from the Assyriological angle also has a future perspective.


[1]khmeva- old version of the verb use, consumption || eat, taste.


მარგალიტაძე თ.
ინგლისურ-ქართული სასწავლო ლექსიკონი. თბილისი.
მერჩულე, გ.
გრიგოლ ხანძთელის ცხოვრება. თვარაძე რ. - ძველი ქართული მოთხრობა. საბჭოთა საქართველო. თბილისი.
ტატიშვილი ი.
ხეთურ-ქართული ლექსიკონი. ნაკვეთი 7: T. თბილისი.
ფენრიხი ჰ., სარჯველაძე ზ.
ქართველურ ენათა ეტიმოლოგიური ლექსიკონი. თბილისი.
ჩიქობავა ა.
ქართული ენის განმარტებითი ლექსიკონი ((ერთტომეული). საქ. სსრ ენათმეცნიერების ინსტიტუტი. თბილისი.
ჩუხუა მ.
ქართულ-ჩერქეზულ-აფხაზური ეტიმოლოგიური ლექსიკონი. თბილისი.
Adams D.
A dictionary of Tocharian B. Leiden Studies in Indo-European 10. Amsterdam.
Black J., George A. & Postgate N.
Concise Dictionary of Akkadian - Harrassowitz Verlag. Wiesbaden.
Black J.; Cunningham G.; Robson E.; Zólyomi G.
The literature of ancient Sumer Oxford University Press, London.
Blazek V.
The new Dravidian-Afroasiatic parallels. Preliminary report. In: Nostratic, Dene-Caucasian, Aus-tric and Amerind, Bochum: Brockmeyer.
Burrow, T., Emeneau M. B.
A Dravidian etymological dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Clarendon Press.
Fähnrich H.
Kartwelisch-Drawidische Sprachparallelen - STUF - Language Typology and Universals, 44. Ber-lin.
Grillot-Susini F.
ELAM V. Elamite Language - Encyclopaedia Iranica, VIII/3
Hinz W., Koch H.
Elamisches Wörterbuch (in 2 Teilen). Berlin.
Khačikjan M.
The Elamite Language - Documenta Asiana IV, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche Istituto per gli Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici. Roma.
Klimov G.
Etymological Dictionary of the Kartvelian Languages. Berlin ; New York : Mouton de Gruyter.
König, F. W.
Die elamischen Königsinschriften. Graz.
Martin S. E.
The Japanese Language Through Time. New Haven – London.
McAlpin D. W.
Toward Proto-Elamite-Dravidian – Language, Vol. 50. No. 1. Linguistic Society of America.
McAlpin D. W.
Brahui and the Zagrosian Hypothesis - Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 135, No. 3. American Oriental Society.
Starostin G.
On the genetic affiliation of the Elamite language, Mother Tongue (ISSN: 1087-0326), vol. VII.
Stolper M.
Texts form Tall-I Malyan. Elamite Administrative Texts I. USA.
Дьяконов И. М.
Эламский язык - Языки Азии и Африки. — М.,. Т. III.