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Encyclopedia > Sumerian language

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Sumerian
eme-ĝir, eme-gi
Spoken in: Formerly spoken in Sumer 
Region: Southern Mesopotamia
Language extinction: effectively extinct from about the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, but continued to be used as a classical language for two more millennia
Language family: Language isolate
Language codes
ISO 639-1: none
ISO 639-2: sux
ISO 639-3: sux
26th century BC document listing gifts to the high priestess of Adab on the occasion of her election
26th century BC document listing gifts to the high priestess of Adab on the occasion of her election


Sumerian (𒅴𒂠 EME.GIR15 "native tongue") was the language of ancient Sumer, spoken in Southern Mesopotamia since at least the 4th millennium BC. It was gradually replaced by Akkadian as a spoken language in the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, but continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary and scientific language in Mesopotamia until the first century AD. Then, it was forgotten until the 19th century, when Assyriologists began deciphering the cuneiform inscriptions and excavated tablets left by these speakers. Sumerian is a language isolate. Sumer ( Sumerian: KI-EN-GIR, Land of the Lords of Brightness[1], or land of the Sumerian tongue[2][3], Akkadian: Å umeru; possibly Biblical Shinar ), located in southern Mesopotamia, is the earliest known civilization in the world. ... Mesopotamia was a cradle of civilization geographically located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq. ... An extinct language is a language which no longer has any native speakers, in contrast to a dead language, which is is a language which has stopped changing in grammar, vocabulary, and the complete meaning of a sentence. ... The 2nd millennium BC marks the transition from the Middle to the Late Bronze Age. ... A classical language, is a language with a literature that is classical—ie, it should be ancient, it should be an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own, not as an offshoot of another tradition, and it must have a large and extremely rich body of ancient literature. ... A language family is a group of languages related by descent from a common proto-language. ... A language isolate, in the absolute sense, is a natural language with no demonstrable genealogical (or genetic) relationship with other living languages; that is, one that has not been demonstrated to descend from an ancestor common to any other language. ... ISO 639-1 is the first part of the ISO 639 international-standard language-code family. ... ISO 639-2 is the second part of the ISO 639 standard, which lists codes for the representation of the names of languages. ... ISO 639-3 is an international standard for language codes. ... The Unicode Standard, Version 5. ... Gifts from the High and Mighty of Adab to the High Priestess, on the occasion of her election to the temple MS in Sumerian language on creamy stone, Sumer, 26th century BC, 1 tablet, 9,2x9,2x1,2 cm, 6+6 columns, 120 compartments of cuneiform script by an expert... Gifts from the High and Mighty of Adab to the High Priestess, on the occasion of her election to the temple MS in Sumerian language on creamy stone, Sumer, 26th century BC, 1 tablet, 9,2x9,2x1,2 cm, 6+6 columns, 120 compartments of cuneiform script by an expert... The city of Adab (modern site Bismaya), between Telloh and Nippur (modern-day Iraq), was important in the Ur III period but declined afterwards. ... An exonym is a name for a place that is not used within that place by the local inhabitants (neither in the official language of the state nor in local languages[1]), or a name for a people or language that is not used by the people or language to... Sumer ( Sumerian: KI-EN-GIR, Land of the Lords of Brightness[1], or land of the Sumerian tongue[2][3], Akkadian: Å umeru; possibly Biblical Shinar ), located in southern Mesopotamia, is the earliest known civilization in the world. ... Mesopotamia was a cradle of civilization geographically located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq. ... Akkadian (lišānum akkadÄ«tum) was a Semitic language (part of the greater Afro-Asiatic language family) spoken in ancient Mesopotamia, particularly by the Assyrians and Babylonians. ... Assyriology is the linguistic, historical and archaeological study of ancient Mesopotamia and neighbouring cultures which used cuneiform writing. ... Look up Cuneiform in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... A language isolate, in the absolute sense, is a natural language with no demonstrable genealogical (or genetic) relationship with other living languages; that is, one that has not been demonstrated to descend from an ancestor common to any other language. ...


The Sumerian language is the earliest known written language. It first appeared as numerical records, with symbols added to represents the things counted, which then developed into a logographic script representing the whole language, not just accounting objects. The logographic symbols were then generalized using a wedge-shaped stylus to impress the shapes into wet clay, giving rise to the name cuneiform, meaning "wedge-shape". These distinctive wedge shapes were imitated even in carved inscriptions. By ca. 2600 BC, the large set of logographic signs had been simplified into a syllabary of several hundred signs, allowing texts from this point on to be deciphered by modern Assyriologists. The cuneiform syllabary would also later be used for Akkadian and Elamite, and was even adapted to Indo-European languages like Hittite. Other languages, such as Ugaritic and Old Persian, were written using different and much simpler phonetic writing systems based on cuneiform shapes. A Chinese logogram A logogram, or logograph, is a single written character which represents a word or a morpheme (a meaningful unit of language). ... Cuneiform script The Cuneiform script is one of the earliest known forms of written expression. ... A syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent (or approximate) syllables, which make up words. ... Assyriology is the linguistic, historical and archaeological study of ancient Mesopotamia and neighbouring cultures which used cuneiform writing. ... Akkadian (lišānum akkadītum) was a Semitic language (part of the greater Afro-Asiatic language family) spoken in ancient Mesopotamia, particularly by the Assyrians and Babylonians. ... Elamite is an extinct language, which was spoken by the ancient Elamites (also known as Ilamids). ... For other uses, see Indo-European. ... Hittite is the extinct language once spoken by the Hittites, a people who created an empire centered on ancient Hattusas (modern Boğazkale) in north-central Anatolia (modern Turkey). ... The Ugaritic language is only known in the form of writings found in the lost city of Ugarit in Syria since its discovery by French archaeologists in 1928. ... See Aryan Language or Old Persian For more information visit: *[Ancient Iranian Languages & Literature The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS) ...

Contents

Varieties of Sumerian

Stages

The history of written Sumerian can be divided into several periods.

  • Archaic Sumerian — 3100 – 2600/2500 BC
  • Old or Classical Sumerian – 2600/2500–2300/2200 BC
  • Neo-Sumerian — 2300/2200 – 2000 BC
  • Late Sumerian — 2000 – 1800/1700 BC
  • Post-Sumerian — 1800/1700 – 100 BC

Some versions of the chronology [1] may omit the Late Sumerian phase and regard all texts written after 2000 BC as Post-Sumerian. The term "Post-Sumerian" is meant to refer to the time when the language was already extinct and only preserved by Babylonians and Assyrians as a liturgical and classical language (for religious, artistic and scholarly purposes). The extinction has been traditionally and roughly dated to the fall of the Third Dynasty of Ur, the last predominantly Sumerian state in Mesopotamia, about 2000 BC; however, some scholars believe that Sumerian persisted as a spoken language in a small part of Southern Mesopotamia (Nippur and its surroundings) until as late as 1700 BC. We are fortunate to have many literary texts and bilingual Sumerian-Akkadian lexical lists from the Late Sumerian period scribal school of Nippur. This, along with the particularly intensive official and literary use of the language in Akkadian-speaking states during the same time, is the basis for the distinction between a Late Sumerian period and all subsequent time. Babylonia was an ancient state in Iraq), combining the territories of Sumer and Akkad. ... For other uses, see Assyria (disambiguation). ... A sacred language is a language, frequently a dead language, that is cultivated for religious reasons by people who speak another language in their daily life. ... A classical language, is a language with a literature that is classical—ie, it should be ancient, it should be an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own, not as an offshoot of another tradition, and it must have a large and extremely rich body of ancient literature. ... The Third Dynasty of Ur refers simultaneously to a 21st to 20th century BC (short chronology) Sumerian ruling dynasty based in the city of Ur and a short-lived territorial-political state that some historians regard as a nascent empire. ... The city of Nippur (Sumerian Nibru, Akkadian Nibbur) (now it is in Afak town,Al Qadisyah Governorate) was one of the most ancient (some historians date it back to 5262 B.C. [1][2]) of all the Babylonian cities of which we have any knowledge, the special seat of the...


Dialects

Two varieties (lects, dialects, sociolects) of Sumerian are recorded. The standard variety is called eme-ĝir. The other recorded variety is called eme-sal (𒅴𒊩 EME.SAL "fine tongue") . The name is usually translated as "women's language". Eme-sal is used exclusively by female characters in some literary texts (this may be compared to the female languages or language varieties that exist or have existed in some cultures, e.g. among the Chukchis and the Caribs, and to women's use of Prakrit as opposed to men's use of Sanskrit in the Indian classics); in addition, it is dominant in certain genres of cult songs etc.. The special features of eme-sal are mostly phonological (e.g. m is often used instead of ĝ as in me vs standard ĝe26, "I"), but words different from the standard language are also used (e.g. ga-ša-an vs standard nin, "lady"). Sumerian words adapted into Akkadian were sometimes of the eme-sal variety, so that it may have been the more colloquial variety. This page is a candidate to be moved to Wiktionary. ... For dialects of programming languages, see Programming language dialect. ... In linguistics, a sociolect is the language spoken by a social group, social class or subculture. ... The term Chukchi may refer to Chukchi people Chukchi language This is a disambiguation page—a list of articles associated with the same title. ... This article is about the Island Carib, who lived on the islands of the Caribbean. ... Prakrit (also spelt Pracrit) (Sanskrit: , original, natural, artless, normal, ordinary, usual, i. ... Sanskrit ( , for short ) is a classical language of India, a liturgical language of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, and one of the 23 official languages of India. ...


History of Sumerian's decipherment

Cuneiform syllabary

The key to translating the phonetic cuneiform syllabary came from the Behistun inscription, a trilingual cuneiform inscription written in Old Persian, Elamite and Akkadian. Cuneiform redirects here. ... A syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent (or approximate) syllables, which make up words. ... The Behistun Inscription, carved into a cliffside, gives the same text in three languages, telling the story of King Darius conquests, with the names of twenty-three provinces subject to him. ... See Aryan Language or Old Persian For more information visit: *[Ancient Iranian Languages & Literature The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS) ... Elamite is an extinct language, which was spoken in the ancient Elamite Empire. ... Akkadian (lišānum akkadītum) was a Semitic language (part of the greater Afro-Asiatic language family) spoken in ancient Mesopotamia, particularly by the Assyrians and Babylonians. ...


In 1838, building on the 1802 work of Georg Friedrich Grotefend, Henry Rawlinson (1810–1895) was able to decipher the Old Persian section of the Behistun inscriptions, using his knowledge of modern Persian. When he recovered the rest of the text in 1843, he and others were gradually able to translate the Elamite and Akkadian sections of it, starting with the 37 signs he had deciphered for the Old Persian. Meanwhile, many more cuneiform texts were coming to light from archaeological excavations, mostly in the Semitic Akkadian language, which were duely deciphered. Georg Friedrich Grotefend (June 9, 1775 - December 15, 1853), German epigraphist, was born at Munden in Hanover. ... Henry Rawlinson Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, 1st Baronet (April 11, 1810 – March 5, 1895) was an English soldier, diplomat and orientalist. ... The Behistun Inscription, carved into a cliffside, gives the same text in three languages, telling the story of King Darius conquests. ... Archaeology or sometimes in American English archeology (from the Greek words αρχαίος = ancient and λόγος = word/speech) is the study of human cultures through the recovery, documentation and analysis of material remains, including architecture, artefacts, biofacts, human remains, and landscapes. ... 14th century BC diplomatic letter in Akkadian, found in Tell Amarna. ... Akkadian (lišānum akkadÄ«tum) was a Semitic language (part of the greater Afro-Asiatic language family) spoken in ancient Mesopotamia, particularly by the Assyrians and Babylonians. ...


By 1850, however, Edward Hincks (1792–1866) came to suspect a non-Semitic origin for cuneiform. Semitic languages are structured according to consonantal forms, whereas cuneiform was a syllabary, binding consonants to particular vowels. Furthermore, no Semitic words could be found to explain the syllabic values given to particular signs. Edward Hincks Edward Hincks (August 19, 1792 - December 3, 1866), Irish Assyriologist and one of the decipherers of Mesopotamian cuneiform. ... Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... A syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent (or approximate) syllables, which make up words. ...


Sumerian

In 1855 Rawlinson announced the discovery of non-Semitic inscriptions at the southern Babylonian sites of Nippur, Larsa, and Uruk. Julius Oppert suggested that a non-Semitic, "Turanian" language had preceded Akkadian in Mesopotamia, and that this language had evolved the cuneiform script. The city of Nippur (Sumerian Nibru, Akkadian Nibbur) (now it is in Afak town,Al Qadisyah Governorate) was one of the most ancient (some historians date it back to 5262 B.C. [1][2]) of all the Babylonian cities of which we have any knowledge, the special seat of the... Larsa (the Biblical Ellasar, Genesis 14:1), was an important city of ancient Babylonia, the site of the worship of the sun-god, Shamash, represented by the ancient ruin mound of Senkereh (Senkera). ... Uruk (Sumerian Unug, Biblical Erech, Greek Orchoë and Arabic وركاء Warka), was an ancient city of Sumer and later Babylonia, situated east of the present bed of the Euphrates, on the line of the ancient Nil canal, in a region of marshes, about 140 miles (230 km) SSE from Baghdad. ... Julius Oppert (July 9, 1825 - August 21, 1905), German Assyriologist, was born at Hamburg, of Jewish parents. ... The Ural-Altaic language family is a grouping of languages which was once widely accepted by linguists, but has since been largely rejected. ...


In 1856, Hincks argued that the untranslated language was agglutinative in character. The language was called "Scythic" by some, and wasn't differentiated from Akkadian by others. In 1869, Oppert proposed the name "Sumerian", based on the known title "King of Sumer and Akkad". If Akkad signified the Semitic portion of the kingdom, Sumer might describe the non-Semitic annex. It has been suggested that Agglutination be merged into this article or section. ... Year 1869 (MDCCCLXIX) is a common year starting on Friday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Wednesday of the 12-day slower Julian calendar). ... For the Egyptian writer, see Abbas Al-Akkad. ... Sumer ( Sumerian: KI-EN-GIR, Land of the Lords of Brightness[1], or land of the Sumerian tongue[2][3], Akkadian: Å umeru; possibly Biblical Shinar ), located in southern Mesopotamia, is the earliest known civilization in the world. ...


Credit for being first to scientifically treat a bilingual Sumerian-Akkadian text belongs to Paul Haupt (1858-1926), who published Die sumerischen Familiengesetze (The Sumerian family laws) in 1879.[2] Paul Haupt (1858- ? ) was a Semitic scholar, one of the pioneers of Assyriology in America, born at Görlitz, Germany, November 25, 1858. ...


Ernest de Sarzec (1832-1901) began excavating the Sumerian site of Tello (ancient Ngirsu, capital of the state of Lagash) in 1877, and published the first part of Découvertes en Chaldée with transcriptions of Sumerian tablets in 1884. The University of Pennsylvania began excavating Sumerian Nippur in 1888. Ernest Choquin de Sarzec (1832-1901) was a French archaeologist, to whom is attributed the discovery of the civilization of ancient Sumeria. ... Ngirsu (also also written G̃irsu, Äœirsu, and sometimes transcribed as Girsu, Jirsu; modern Tell Telloh/Tello, Dhi Qar Governorate, Iraq) is a city of ancient Sumer, situated some 25 km northwest of Lagash. ... At the time of Hammurabi, Lagash was much closer to the gulf. ... This article is about the private Ivy League university in Philadelphia. ... The city of Nippur (Sumerian Nibru, Akkadian Nibbur) (now it is in Afak town,Al Qadisyah Governorate) was one of the most ancient (some historians date it back to 5262 B.C. [1][2]) of all the Babylonian cities of which we have any knowledge, the special seat of the...


A Classified List of Sumerian Ideographs by R. Brünnow appeared in 1889.


The bewildering number and variety of phonetic values that signs could have in Sumerian led to an unfortunate detour in understanding the language — a Paris-based orientalist, Joseph Halévy, argued from 1874 onward that Sumerian was not a natural language, but rather a secret code (a cryptolect), and for over a decade the leading Assyriologists battled over this issue. For a dozen years, starting in 1885, even the great Friedrich Delitzsch accepted Halévy's arguments, not renouncing Halévy until 1897. This article is about the capital of France. ... Orientalism is the study of Near and Far Eastern societies and cultures, by Westerners. ... Joseph Halévy (born December 15, 1827 in Adrianople; died 1917) was a French Orientalist and traveller. ... The German Lorenz cipher machine, used in World War II for encryption of very high-level general staff messages Cryptography (or cryptology; derived from Greek κρυπτός kryptós hidden, and γράφειν gráfein to write) is the study of message secrecy. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with cant (language). ... Friedrich Delitzsch (September 3, 1850 - December 19, 1922) was a German Assyriologist who was a native of Erlangen. ...


It should be mentioned that François Thureau-Dangin working at the Louvre in Paris was a reliable scholar who made significant contributions to deciphering Sumerian with publications from 1898 to 1938, such as his 1905 publication of Les inscriptions de Sumer et d’Akkad.


In 1908, Stephen Langdon summarized the rapid expansion in knowledge of Sumerian and Akkadian vocabulary in the pages of Babyloniaca, a journal edited by Charles Virolleaud, in an article 'Sumerian-Assyrian Vocabularies', which reviewed a valuable new book on rare logograms by Bruno Meissner. Subsequent scholars have found Langdon's work, including his tablet transcriptions, to be not entirely reliable. In 1944, a more careful Sumerologist, Samuel Noah Kramer, provided a detailed and readable summary of the decipherment of Sumerian in his Sumerian Mythology, accessible on the Internet. Samuel Noah Kramer (1897 - 1990) was one of the worlds leading Assyriologists and a world renowned expert in Sumerian history and Sumerian language. ...


Friedrich Delitzsch published a learned Sumerian dictionary and grammar in the form of his Sumerisches Glossar and Grundzüge der sumerischen Grammatik, both appearing in 1914. Delitzsch's student, Arno Poebel, published a grammar with the same title, Grundzüge der sumerischen Grammatik, in 1923, and for 50 years it would be the standard for students studying Sumerian. Poebel's grammar was finally superseded in 1984 on the publication of The Sumerian Language, An Introduction to its History and Grammatical Structure, by Marie-Louise Thomsen.


The difficulty in translating Sumerian can be illustrated by a quote from Miguel Civil of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, regarding a tablet for making beer: Miguel Civil is an assyriologist and a scholar of Sumerology. ... The Oriental Institute (OI) is the University of Chicagos archeology museum and research center for ancient Near Eastern studies. ...

"Two previous attempts, by J.D. Prince in 1919 and M. Witzel in 1938, had produced less than satisfactory results. A line that now even a first year Sumerian student will translate "you are the one who spreads the roasted malt on a large mat (to cool)," was translated "thou real producer of the lightning, exalted functionary, mighty one!" by the first author, and "stärkest du mit dem Gugbulug(-Tranke) den Gross-Sukkal" ["strengthen thou with the Gugbulug (drink) the large Sukkal"] by the second." Malted barley Malting is a process applied to cereal grains, in which the grains are made to germinate and then are quickly dried before the plant develops. ...

"Two developments during the fifties made possible a better understanding of Sumerian literature. In Chicago, Benno Landsberger was editing the Materials for the Sumerian Lexicon. In Philadelphia, where I had been working before 1963, Samuel Noah Kramer was busy making available to scholars as many literary tablets as possible from the collections in Philadelphia, Istanbul, and Jena." Benno Landsberger (born 21 April 1890, died 26 April 1968) was one of the most important German Assyriologists He was born in Friedek (Schleswig) and from 1908 studied Oriental Studies at Liepzig. ... For other uses, see Philadelphia (disambiguation) and Philly. ... Location of Istanbul on the Bosphorus Strait, Turkey Coordinates: , Country Turkey Region Province Istanbul Founded 667 BC as Byzantium Roman/Byzantine period AD 330 as Nova Roma (original name given in 330 and used during Constantines reign) and later Constantinople (following Constantines death in 337) Ottoman period 1453... , For other uses, see Jena (disambiguation). ...

Landsberger worked to publish important bilingual Sumerian-Akkadian lexical tablets from the Old Babylonian period, which have greatly helped our knowledge of Sumerian vocabulary. Kramer and Thorkild Jacobsen both increased our understanding of Sumerian by publishing and translating Sumerian literary texts. Thorkild Jacobsen (Danish pronunciation: [yahkobsen]) was a renowned historian specializing in Assyriology and Sumerian literature. ...


Logographs

The earlier logographic script and logographic cuneiform signs remain undeciphered to this day. A Chinese logogram A logogram, or logograph, is a single written character which represents a word or a morpheme (a meaningful unit of language). ...


Definitions

Transcription, in the context of cuneiform, is the process in which an epigraphist makes a line art drawing to show the signs on a clay tablet or stone inscription in a graphic form suitable for modern publication. Not all epigraphists are equally reliable, and before a scholar publishes an important treatment of a text, the scholar will often arrange to collate the published transcription against the actual tablet, to see if any signs, especially broken or damaged signs, should be represented differently.


Transliteration is the process in which a Sumerologist decides how to represent the cuneiform signs in Roman script. Depending on the context, a cuneiform sign can be read either as one of several possible logograms, each of which corresponds to a word in the Sumerian spoken language, as a phonetic syllable (V, VC, CV, or CVC), or as a determinative (a marker of semantic category, such as occupation or place). See the article Transliterating cuneiform languages. Some Sumerian logograms were written with multiple cuneiform signs. These logograms are called diri-spellings, after the logogram 'diri' which is written with the signs SI and A. The text transliteration of a tablet will show just the logogram, such as the word 'diri', not the separate component signs. A Chinese logogram A logogram, or logograph, is a single written character which represents a word or a morpheme (a meaningful unit of language). ... In the study of languages written in cuneiform, transliteration is the process of representing the sounds of written cuneiform signs in a lossless way, as opposed to transcription, which is a lossy method of representing the spoken language. ...


Classification

Sumerian is an agglutinative language, meaning that words could consist of a chain of more or less clearly distinguishable and separable suffixes and/or morphemes. It has been suggested that Agglutination be merged into this article or section. ... Look up Suffix in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... In morpheme-based morphology, a morpheme is the smallest lingual unit that carries a semantic interpretation. ...


Sumerian is a split ergative language. It behaves as a nominative-accusative language in the 1st and 2nd person of present-future tense/incompletive aspect (a.k.a. maruu-conjugation), but as ergative-absolutive in most other instances. In Sumerian the ergative case is marked by the suffix -e and the absolutive case (as in most ergative languages) by no suffix at all (the so-called "zero suffix"). Example: lugal-e e2 mu-du3 "the king built the house"; lugal ba-gen "the king went". Further example: i3-du-un (< *i3-du-en) = I shall go; e2 i3-du3-un (< *i3-du3-en) = I shall build the house (in contrast with the three person past tense forms, see above). Similar patterns are found in a large number of unrelated split ergative languages (see more examples at split ergativity). Split ergativity is shown by languages that have a partly ergative behaviour, but employ another syntax or morphology (usually accusative) in some contexts. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... In linguistics, the grammatical aspect of a verb defines the temporal flow (or lack thereof) in the described event or state. ... An ergative-absolutive language (or simply ergative) is one that treats the agent of transitive verbs distinctly from the subject of intransitive verbs and the object of transitive verbs. ... Split ergativity is shown by languages that have a partly ergative behaviour, but employ another syntax or morphology (usually accusative) in some contexts. ...


Sumerian distinguishes the grammatical genders animate/inanimate (personal/impersonal), but it does not have separate male/female gender pronouns. Sumerian has also been claimed to have two tenses (past and present-future), but these are currently described as completive and incompletive aspects instead. There are a large number of cases - nominative, ergative, genitive, dative, locative, comitative, equative ("as, like"), terminative ("to"), ablative ("from"), etc (the exact list varies somewhat in different grammars). In linguistics, grammatical genders, also called noun classes, are classes of nouns reflected in the behavior of associated words; every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be very few which belong to several classes at once. ... Animate Ikebukuro main store Animate (株式会社アニメイト) is the retailing arm of MOVIC and is the largest retailer of anime, games, and manga in Japan. ... Look up animate, inanimate in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... In linguistics, the grammatical aspect of a verb defines the temporal flow (or lack thereof) in the described event or state. ... In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns and adjectives to indicate such features as number (typically singular vs. ... The nominative case is a grammatical case for a noun. ... The term ergative is used in grammar in two different meanings: ergative case, ergative language ergative verb This is a disambiguation page — a navigational aid which lists other pages that might otherwise share the same title. ... The genitive case is a grammatical case that indicates a relationship, primarily one of possession, between the noun in the genitive case and another noun. ... Dative has several meanings. ... Locative is a case which indicates a location. ... The Comitative case is used where English would use in company with or together with. It, and many other cases, are found in the Finnish language, the Hungarian language, and the Estonian language. ... Equative is a case with the meaning of comparison, or likening. ... In morphology, the terminative case is a case that indicates to what point; where something ends. ... In linguistics, the ablative case is a noun case found in several languages, including Latin, Sanskrit and in the Finno_Ugric languages. ...


Another characteristic feature of Sumerian is the large number of homophones (words with the same sound structure but different meanings), which are perhaps pseudo-homophones, as there might have been differences in pronunciation (such as tone) that are unknown. The different homophones (or, more precisely, the different cuneiform signs that denote them) are marked with different numbers by convention, "2" and "3" being replaced by acute accent and grave accent diacritics respectively. For example: du = "go", du3 = = "build". This article is about the term in linguistics. ... Some web browsers may not be able to view this correctly; you may see transcriptions in parentheses after the character, like this: () instead of on top of the character as intended. ... The acute accent (   ) is a diacritic mark used in many modern written languages with alphabets based on the Latin and Greek scripts. ... The grave accent ( ` ) is a diacritic mark used in written Greek until 1982 (polytonic orthography), French, Catalan, Welsh, Italian, Vietnamese, Scottish Gaelic, Norwegian, Portuguese and other languages. ... Example of a letter with a diacritic A diacritic or diacritical mark, also called an accent, is a small sign added to a letter to alter pronunciation or to distinguish between similar words. ...


Sumerian has been the subject of controversial proposals purportedly identifying it as genetically related with almost every known agglutinative language. As the most ancient written language, it has a peculiar prestige, and such proposals sometimes have a nationalistic background and generally enjoy little popularity in the linguistic community because of their inverifiability. Many of the proposed connections belong to the realm of pseudoscientific language comparison rather than scientific comparative linguistics. Examples of suggested related languages include: It has been suggested that Agglutination be merged into this article or section. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... Comparative linguistics (originally comparative philology) is a branch of historical linguistics that is concerned with comparing languages in order to establish their historical relatedness. ...

Burushaski is a language isolate spoken by some 87,000 (as of 2000) Burusho people in the Hunza, Nagar, Yasin, and parts of the Gilgit valleys in northern Pakistan and Kashmir. ... For other uses, see Dravidian (disambiguation). ... The Elamo-Dravidian languages are a hypothesised language family which includes the living Dravidian languages of India and Pakistan, in addition to the extinct Elamite language of ancient Elam, in what is now southwestern Iran. ... The Hurro-Urartian languages are an extinct language family of the Ancient Near East, which comprises only two languages, Hurrian and Urartian (Asia Minor and the Caucasus). ... Subarian is the term used by certain scholars (such as I. J. Gelb & E. A. Speiser) to describe the aboriginal language and inhabitants of Subar-Tu an ancient kingdom in Ararat mentioned in Sumerian records. ... The Alarodian languages are a proposed language family that encompasses two language families of the Caucasus: Northeast or Dagestan (sometimes called Avar or Lezgian which are also the names of its most major members) and North-central or Vaynakh (which includes Chechen and Ingush), as well as the extinct Hurro_Urartian... Munda Languages are spoken in north east India. ... Igor Mikhailovich Diakonov (Игорь Михайлович Дьяконов in Russian) (born December 30, 1914 in Petrograd) is a Russian historian who should be ranked among the greatest authorities on Ancient East and its languages. ...

Phonology and grammar

Finding a place for the Sumerian language in modern analytic linguistics has proven to be a formidable challenge since the first steps of decipherment. Contributing to this dilemma are, first and foremost, the lack of any native speakers (a problem with all ancient tongues); second, the sparseness of linguistic data (unlike some other extinct languages such as Ancient Greek); third, the apparent lack of a closely related tongue (in contrast to Akkadian, a Semitic language); and finally, the comparatively small amount of research dedicated to the task so far. The Greek language (Greek Ελληνικά, IPA // – Hellenic) is an Indo-European language with a documented history of some 3,000 years. ... Akkadian (lišānum akkadÄ«tum) was a Semitic language (part of the greater Afro-Asiatic language family) spoken in ancient Mesopotamia, particularly by the Assyrians and Babylonians. ... The Semitic languages are the northeastern subfamily of the Afro-Asiatic languages, and the only family of this group spoken in Asia. ...


These issues notwithstanding, researchers have generally agreed on a few broad typological classifications for the language, as seen above. Sumerian is an agglutinative language, in which many small affixes may be attached to a word, gradually building up refinements in meaning and specificity to the typically abstract lexical root. Furthermore, we see strong indications of at least partial ergativity, where we have the morphological marker for intransitive subjects identical to that of transitive direct objects. Linguistic typology is the typology that classifies languages by their features. ... It has been suggested that Agglutination be merged into this article or section. ... Look up affix in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... An ergative-absolutive language (or simply ergative) is one that treats the agent of transitive verbs distinctly from the subject of intransitive verbs and the object of transitive verbs. ... For other uses, see Morphology. ... “Intransitive” redirects here. ... According to a tradition that can be tracked back to Aristotle, every sentence can be divided in two main constituents, one being the subject of the sentence and the other being its predicate. ... A transitive verb is a verb that requires both a subject and one or more objects. ... The accusative case (abbreviated ACC) of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. ...


Leaving aside the problems of classification and typology, however, linguists have pieced together what might be termed a "framework" descriptive grammar of the language, aided by bilingual lists of Sumerian words with their Akkadian counterparts, left to us by ancient scribes. (These lists were necessary as Sumerian was, apparently, the "official language" of Mesopotamia for some time after the language ceased to be spoken by the local population, just as Latin long survived among officialdom in the Middle Ages after it ceased to be a popular tongue.)


It is this grammar, albeit incomplete and often frequently revised and updated, that we can use to read the basic meanings from a wide variety of the extant texts found throughout Mesopotamia and the surrounding lands, and it is this grammar that is presented below.


Phonemic inventory

We have no first-hand description of the Sumerian phonology and there is no first language speaker we could ask or listen to. But the original inscriptions and the Sumerian-Akkadian bilingual texts give us some hints what the phonemic inventory of the Sumerian language could have looked like.


Sumerian probably had at least the following sounds:

Many scholars believe that in the older stages of Sumerian the distinction of the two series of stop consonants was not voicing, but another feature like aspiration or glottalization. A stop, plosive, or occlusive is a consonant sound produced by stopping the airflow in the vocal tract. ... Places of articulation (passive & active): 1. ... A voiced consonant is a sound made as the vocal cords vibrate, as opposed to a voiceless consonant, where the vocal cords are relaxed. ... The voiceless bilabial plosive is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages. ... The voiced bilabial plosive is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. ... The voiceless alveolar plosive is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages. ... The voiced alveolar plosive is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. ... The voiceless velar plosive is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages. ... The voiced velar plosive is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. ... In phonetics, aspiration is the strong burst of air that accompanies the release of some obstruents. ... Ejective consonants are a class of consonants which may contrast with aspirated or tenuis consonants in a language. ...

The exact sound of these sibilants is much discussed in recent works about Sumerian, without a common opinion. In human language, a phoneme is the theoretical representation of a sound. ... The alveolar tap or flap is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. ... An affricate is a consonant that begins like a stop (most often an alveovelar, such as [t] or [d]) and that doesnt have a release of its own, but opens directly into a fricative (or, in one language, into a trill). ... A nasal consonant is produced when the velum—that fleshy part of the palate near the back—is lowered, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. ... The bilabial nasal is a type of consonantal sound used in some spoken languages. ... The alveolar nasal is a type of consonantal sound used in some spoken languages. ... The velar nasal is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. ... A sibilant is a type of fricative or affricate, made by directing a jet of air through a narrow channel towards the sharp edge of the teeth. ... The voiceless alveolar fricatives are consonantal sounds. ... The voiceless alveolar affricate is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. ... The voiceless palato-alveolar fricative or domed postalveolar fricative is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. ... Akkadian (lišānum akkadītum) was a Semitic language (part of the greater Afro-Asiatic language family) spoken in ancient Mesopotamia, particularly by the Assyrians and Babylonians. ... The voiceless palato-alveolar affricate or domed postalveolar affricate is a type of consonantal sound used in some spoken languages. ... The voiceless palato-alveolar fricative or domed postalveolar fricative is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. ...

I.M. Diakonoff lists evidence for two l-sounds, two r-sounds, two h-sounds, and two g-sounds (excluding the velar nasal), and there may have been more sibilants than we are aware of. There must have been a phonemic difference between the consonants that were dropped at the end of a word and the consonants that were kept, e.g. the g may be dropped in zag > za3, but not in lag. Diakonoff writes, "when we try to find out the morphophonological structure of the Sumerian language, we must constantly bear in mind that we are not dealing with a language directly but are reconstructing it from a very imperfect mnemonic writing system which had not been basically aimed at the rendering of morphophonemics." Dorsal consonants are articulated with the back of the tongue against either the hard palate, or the flexible velum just behind it, or even against the uvula. ... Radical consonants are articulated with the root (base) of the tongue in the throat. ... Fricatives (or spirants) are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. ... transliterates Arabic Ḫāʼ Akkadian [χ] Hittite (written in Akkadian cuneiform) h ([χ] or [h]) Egyptian , see Egyptian hieroglyphs This is a disambiguation page: a list of articles associated with the same title. ... Liquid consonants, or liquids, are approximant consonants that are not classified as semivowels (glides) because they do not correspond phonetically to specific vowels (in the way that, for example, the initial in English yes corresponds to ). The class of liquids can be divided into lateral liquids and rhotics. ... Laterals are L-like consonants pronounced with an occlusion made somewhere along the axis of the tongue, while air from the lungs escapes at one side or both sides of the tongue. ... Rhotic consonants, or R-like sounds, are non-lateral liquid consonants. ... Igor Mikhailovich Diakonov (Russian: ) was a Russian historian, linguist, and translator who should be ranked among the greatest authorities on Ancient Near East and its languages. ...


The vowels that are clearly distinguished by the cuneiform script were a, e, i, and u. The mid-range vowel /o/ should accompany the mid-range vowel /e/. Although the Akkadian transliteration does not indicate it, in some Sumerian words the vowel u should probably be o.


Syllables could have any of the following structures: V, CV, VC, CVC. More complex syllable structures are hidden by our insufficient knowledge about the cuneiform script.


A complete Sumerian sentence

As an example, consider the short (and unattested) Sumerian sentence Inanna, nin.ani.r, Ur. Namma.k.e e.0 mu.na.n.du = For Inanna, his lady, Ur-Namma built the temple. We will take as given the two proper names Inanna and Ur. Namma, the names of a deity and a ruler, respectively. For the rest of the sentence, we need to do a little linguistic exploring.


Noun

The Sumerian noun is typically a one or two syllable root, occasionally more, of simple structure. Examples are igi = eye, e = temple, or nin = lady. Composites like lugal (from lu "man" and gal "big") are also common. Most frequently, a noun is seen with one or more morphological case markers, which modify the meaning of the noun or attach certain syntactic roles. For instance, the 3rd person possessive marker, -ani, might be suffixed to make lugal.ani = his/her king.


Nouns may also be placed in adjunction to form a genitive compound, or more simply, two nouns in direct succession with no other markings will often imply a "X of Y" relationship. Proper names, for instance, often take the form Ur. Namma = Man of Namma (Namma being a particular city's patron deity). The genitive case marker .k is not pronounced in this case and surfaces only due to the affixation of the ergative .e.


In our example sentence above, we see immediately that we have two noun formations, nin.ani.r = for his lady, and e.0 = temple, where we have assumed the .r morpheme to be the dative case marker and .0 to be the absolutive. We have thus translated most of our example sentence just by considering nouns and noun formations; this leaves only what must be the verbal form at the very end of the sentence.


Verb

The Sumerian verb, typically a short one or two syllable root, has two conjugations, transitive and intransitive, and two aspects, referred to as hamtu and maru (following the terms in Akkadian grammars of Sumerian).


The prototypical verbal endings are

1st person, sg., intransitive, -en;
1st person, pl., intransitive, -en-dè-en;
2nd person, pl., intransitive, -en-zè-en.

However, the construction of a Sumerian verbal form is a bit more complex than in many modern tongues, especially English. The verb not only indicates the relationship or activities of the other syntactic players in the sentence, but will also restate many of those relationships in the verbal form itself. For instance, a common verbal form in dedicatory inscriptions (left as "cornerstones" under large building projects) is mu.na.n.du.0 = he built. We have verbal agreement expressing the 3rd person singular agent of the action in the .n. morpheme, as well as the .na. morpheme noting that there was a dative clause (or a "X did Y for Z" form) somewhere in the meaning. Further, linguists have added the .0 = <null> morpheme, indicating a non-verbalized marker for a patient (object) clause. Finally, and most cryptically, the introductory mu. marker has yet to be given a definitive, or even plausible, interpretation. It has been argued by some Sumerologists that its meaning is ventive, indicating movement or general orientation towards the speaker, but for most actual cases the claim is difficult to either prove or disprove. Others (Thomsen 1984:179) only venture to state that it is "preferred with animate and agentive subjects". The functions of other introductory prefixes that may occur instead of mu. (the whole group is sometimes referred to as "conjugation prefixes") are also poorly understood. The ventive is a grammatical category of the verb in some languages. ...


So the verbal form in our example sentence means something like he built it for her, where the it and her are references to some of the noun formations earlier in the sentence, in this case, the temple and Inanna respectively.


There is clearly much work to be done in the decipherment of the language itself. There is strong motivation to do so, however, as Sumerian is uniquely positioned as one of the few languages for which a writing system was developed without foreknowledge of other systems, and as such, a firm understanding of the connection between the Sumerian tongue and the development of the writing system would shed light on not a small number of interesting linguistic and psycholinguistic areas.


See also

Languages portal
Ancient Near East portal

Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... This is a list of languages by first written accounts which consists of the approximate dates for the first written accounts that are known for various languages. ...

References

  1. ^ http://history-world.org/sumerian_language.htm
  2. ^ in Keilschrift, Transcription und Übersetzung : nebst ausführlichem Commentar und zahlreichen Excursen : eine assyriologische Studie (Leipzig : J.C. Hinrichs, 1879)

Bibliography

  • Edzard, Dietz Otto (2003). Sumerian Grammar. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 90-04-12608-2.  (grammar treatment for the advanced student)
  • Thomsen, Marie-Louise [1984] (2001). The Sumerian Language: An Introduction to Its History and Grammatical Structure. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag. ISBN 87-500-3654-8.  (Well-organized with over 800 translated text excerpts.)
  • Diakonoff, I. M. (1976). "Ancient Writing and Ancient Written Language: Pitfalls and Peculiarities in the Study of Sumerian". Assyriological Studies 20 (Sumerological Studies in Honor of Thorkild Jakobsen): 99–121. 
  • Rubio, Gonzalo (2007). "Sumerian Morphology." In Morphologies of Asia and Africa, vol. 2, pp. 1327-1379. Edited by Alan S. Kaye.. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns. ISBN 1-57506-109-0. 
  • Attinger, Pascal (1993). Eléments de linguistique sumérienne: La construction de du11/e/di. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck&Ruprecht. ISBN 37-2780-869-1. 
  • Volk, Konrad (1997). A Sumerian Reader. Rome: Pontificio Istituto Biblico. ISBN 88-7653-610-8.  (collection of Sumerian texts)
  • Michalowski, Piotr, 'Sumerian as an Ergative Language', Journal of Cuneiform Studies 32 (1980), 86-103.

Further reading

  • Ebeling, J., & Cunningham, G. (2007). Analysing literary Sumerian : corpus-based approaches. London: Equinox. ISBN 1845532295
  • Halloran, J. A. (2007). Sumerian lexicon: a dictionary guide to the ancient Sumerian language. Los Angeles, Calif: Logogram. ISBN 0978642910

External links

  • Sumerian Language Page
  • Sumerian language article in 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
  • An overview of Sumerian provided on the page of the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian literature
  • CDLI: Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative a large corpus of Sumerian texts in transliteration, largely from the Early Dynastic and Ur III periods, accessible with images.
  • Electronic Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary (EPSD)
  • Sumerisch (An overview of Sumerian by Prof. Dr. Kausen, in German)
  • The Life and Death of the Sumerian Language in Comparative Perspective by Piotr Michalowski
  • Topicalized and external possessors in Sumerian (PDF) by Gábor Zólyomi
  • Cale Johnson
    • handout (PDF)
  • Jarle Ebeling (PDF)
  • Graham Cunningham (PDF)

“PDF” redirects here. ... “PDF” redirects here. ... “PDF” redirects here. ... “PDF” redirects here. ...


  Results from FactBites:
 
Sumerian Language & Writing (911 words)
The Sumerian language of ancient Sumer was spoken in Southern Mesopotamia from at least the 4th millennium BC.
Sumerian, the oldest known written language in human history, was spoken in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq and peripheral regions) throughout the third millennium BC and survived as an esoteric written language until the death of the cuneiform tradition around the time of Christ.
In an ergative language the subject of a sentence with a direct object is in the so-called ergative case, which in Sumerian is marked with the suffix -e.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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