The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Reading late Akkadian cuneiform

Cuneiform is a syllabary for the Sumerian language, secondarily adapted for other languages - none of which were like Sumerian in the least little bit. The commonest such secondary language was Akkadian (pdf), which is old East Semitic albeit under strong Sumerian influence. Later on other languages exerted some force on Akkadian: Aramaic pulling from the Semites, Hurrian from yet another non-Sumerian family. Cuneiform never did suit Akkadian very well. (As for Kneshian "Hittite", good luck with that.)

Cuneiform made up for that by adding ideograms wherever it could - rebus-symbols, basically Bronze Age emojis. Let's look at this example from Nabunaid's deserta-arabia province, which author Arnulf Hausleiter has helpfully uploaded. Start with "meš (mesh)" - this is the marker for a Sumerian plural. Often that would be attached to another Sumerian word, like "lugal" or "en" for overlord ("lugal" literally means "strongman" that is, tyrant, but nuance shifts over millennia). So "enmeš" would actually mean "kings" and would be read as, I dunno, maybe "bēlān" in Akkadian. Certainly ba'lūn in old unbroken Arabic. Assyriologists (well, Babylologists in this case) write it with roman for the concept and an uppercase superscript for the marker: "enMEŠ".

The Sumerian concept is often written uppercase too, especially in languages like Hittite which mix in Akkadograms with the Sumerograms. Ideally Hittologists want to preserve lowercase roman for the, um, Hittite. Here if there were any Arabic (more likely the related Taymanitic) in this inscription I'm sure Hausleiter would have uppercased the Sumerograms.

Later in this have a sequence "šàbi eri enútiya". This means nothing in anything - if sounded out phonetically. But it can be divided up, with italic for Akkadian and roman for Sumerian: šà-bi eri en-útiya. So it's actually libbi āl bēlūtiya, "in (or, into) the city of my palace".

The fun part comes in formulae like "lugal diĝirmeš en diĝirmeš" (ĝ = ng), "strongman of the gods, lord of the gods". Every character here is Sumerian. Hausleiter assumes this still to be read as Akkadian: šar ilānī, bēl ilānī. Or did our king just totally switch to Sumerian to deliver a prayer - like a priest switching to Latin ("pax vobiscum") or even to Aramaic ("maranatha")? Hausleiter doesn't give his reasoning here, so I'll hazard an argument on his behalf.

Now, I don't know how Sumerian grammar works. I also don't know Akkadian ... as such. But the overall inscription is Semitic and here being used among North Arabians at that. I can say that these Sumerioid words "lugal diĝirmeš" are laid out - coincidentally or not - in idafa, Semitic construct-state. I'll go for "not coincidental". Whoever cooked up the "Sumerian" phrase was a native Semite; the phrase is, at best, a calque of Semitic terms translated "back" into Sumerian.

UPDATE 4:10 PM - yep, this isn't Sumerian. Sumerian would be lugal diĝirmešak.


posted by Zimri on 09:24 | link | 0 comments

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