The Sumerian Language: An Introduction to Its History and Grammatical Structure (Mesopotamia: Copenhagen Studies in Assy

by Marie-Louise Thomsen

Paperback, 2001



Call number




Akademisk Forlag (2001), Paperback


"This volume gives an extensive description of Sumerian grammar based on texts dating from the middle of the third millenium to the end of the Old Babylonian period (about 1600 B.C.). Earlier theories, especially concerning the verbal system, the most difficult chapter of Sumerian grammar, are discussed. Further, it also deals with the history of the Sumerian language and its use in literary and religious texts in the Old Babylonian period when it was already a dead language. It is now published in a new edition with a supplementary bibliography."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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LibraryThing member keylawk
One must be curious about the earliest "civilization", and of all artifacts remaining as clues, the revenant writing has great potential -- meaningful both for what it is and for what it says.

The most important artifacts found in Sumer are the stelae and the large number of clay tablets upon which
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hieroglyphs and later, symbols representing syllables (cuneiforms), were used -- the oldest example of writing on this planet.

From these inscriptions and texts, linguists have been able to construct the language. It began as a living language in the environs of Lagas, reduced to written forms approximately 2500 BC. As a living language, it died out after a series of Semitic conquests, only to remain in its written form as their "literary" language -- used by lawyers and scientists (their "priests") -- until 1600 BC. The author looks at the written forms of this language over its 900 year span.

Besides being "dead" for most of its reign, Sumerian is agglutinating -- it consists of nominal or verbal roots with chains of affixes. It has no gender differentials.

The language is also ergative: an intransitive subject is treated in the same manner as its intransitive object. [49]
The enclitic copula [53, 273, 275], the unaccented link used in the chain, and the lack of morphological distinctions between nouns and adjectives or verbs [55], also isolate the language.

{These linguistic characteristics have made it difficult to link Sumerian to other language groups. In spite of its geographical and cultural links, for example, and abundant loan words with Akkadian (spoken in Assyria and Babylon), Sumerian is not Semitic. Nor is it Turkic, or Vedic. Of course, we have numerous groups -- even the advanced Scythians -- who left little linguistic record for comparison.}

Many examples of the sentence structure and vocabulary drawn from early inscriptions and later "texts" (tablets) are provided.

For example, the verb for TO BE is "ME". [273] The expression both as a verb and in its copulated forms, is simply "to be", with no semantic overtones like "to exist".
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Physical description

376 p.; 8.5 inches


8750036548 / 9788750036548
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