Monday, August 07, 2006

Sumerian grammatical texts

Sumerian Grammatical Texts available online! The title is a misnomer - most of the texts given are early Sumerian-Akkadian lexica arranged by topic, or just plain Sumerian texts - but there are other interesting things, such as a phonetically organised syllabary (vowel order: u-a-i), and a series called "ana ittišu" (p. 30) with some rather paradigm-looking stuff, such as:

SumerianAkkadian, English
ùrsûnu, lap, bosom
ùr-bisûn-šu, his bosom
ùr-bi-šúana sûni-šu, upon his bosom
ùr-bi-šú in-garana sûni-šu iškun, he placed upon his bosom

which I guess offer a clue about the teaching methods used. These tablets were used to teach young Akkadian-speaking would-be scribes Sumerian, long after Sumerian itself had become extinct.


Dave said...

Refresh my aging memory: what language family is Akkadian? Semitic?

Does this "ur" have something to do with the city of Ur (wasn't that Sumerian?)--it'd be nice and poetic if it does; the "lap" or "bosom" of civilization (at least as it was then known)!

Ian Myles Slater said...

Yes, Akkadian is the collective name for the ancient East-Semitic language group, represented in cuneiform texts by Old Akkadian, Old, Middle, New, Late, and Standard Babylonian and Old Middle, New Assyrian; plus regional adaptations (e.g., Hurrian, Hittite and Amarna archives, plus texts from sites where other Semitic languages were spoken).

Late Babylonian is generally thought to have died out in Hellenistic times; certainly by the first century CE. It was replaced mainly by a Northwestern Semitic language, Aramaic.

The name is derived from the ancient city of Akkad (Agade), which rose to prominence under Sargon (ca. 2334 BC - 2279 BC), founder of the first clearly non-Sumerian hegemony in Mesopotamia. A. Leo Oppenheim, whose work on the "Chicago Assyrian Dictionary" made him a considerable authority on the evidence, was not happy with this classification, and offered a different nomenclature for the early period, reflecting a more precise classification by region. He presented it to the general reader and student in his widely-read "Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization," but "Akkadian" remains the standard term.

I doubt that the "ur" with a diacritical mark is the same as the "urim" found in the city name; but a 1917 text edition is not a good ground for an amateur to argue from.

For a look at modern transcriptions of Sumerian, see The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, at

Lameen Souag said...

Great answer! Unfortunately, the ETCSL site seems to be down at the moment...

Yaser said...

Although not related, but something we realized in our study of Aramaic (Modern Assyrian), the common and widespread word for store (دكان) Dukkaan, is originally akkadian. Its a very widespread word, and I'm not sure how exactly. It is found in Farsi, Pashto, Urdu, Gujrati, (not sure about hindi). The reason I amn't sure is because although spreading through Islam's spread makes sense, its is also very plausble contact through Persia as well, since those cultures have been in contact for centuries.

Anonymous said...

In Tamazight - Kabyle - you find the word 'taddukant' meaning storage compartment in a traditional house.