Mixing the Sumerian and Akkadian Languages and Logograms



I always found languages to be interesting. As I was reading tonight, I came across the same thing to be true in ancient Mesopotamia, especially among the Sumerians and Akkadians.

For the most part, the early history of ancient Mesopotamia was one of several city-states existing more or less independently. Archaeologists and historians generally refer to this time as the Early Dynastic Period and generally date it as being from the years 2900 – 2350 BCE.
However, it is with the appearance of the Akkadian kings, at least in the records written down by the peoples of Mesopotamia themselves, that marks a break with Mesopotamia’s Early Dynastic Period as well as describes the area as being under one political leadership. This was due to the efforts of an individual who in later years would be viewed as less than a man and more like a god. I’m referring here Sargon of Akkad and the empire that he founded, the Akkadian Empire. His was a model of leadership and rule that the succeeding kings of Mesopotamia would strive to emulate.

The Akkadians though did more than just politically unify Mesopotamia. With their authority also came their language, Akkadian. Thus, over time, the previously and widely-spoken Sumerian language, a tongue whose origins are still not completely understood, gradually became replaced with a Semitic one, in this case Akkadian.

In the Early Dynastic Period, it is difficult to distinguish Sumerians from Akkadians. For centuries, they were in close contact with each other often borrowed words into each other’s vernacular. This is why Akkadian words and phrases can be recognized in early Sumerian texts. In fact, the Akkadians in Northern Mesopotamia adopted the Sumerian script, especially to use as logograms, which is a written character used to represent a word or phrase. Due to the brevity of such logogram writing, it can be difficult to tell in short inscriptions which language is actually being used. Sometimes only a suffix added to a particular logogram lets the reader know which language is actually being used. For example, a particular Akkadian suffix before a short text using a logogram, such as ones found on inscriptions from the ancient city of Mari, indicate that the text was read aloud in Akkadian. In southern Mesopotamia, Sumerian names were more common.

Sumerian logograms (a.k.a. pictograms) that were also used by the Akkadians

When you think about, the mixing of words and languages makes a lot of sense. The same thing is also true of the lands of Mesopotamia today. Now mostly the state of Iraq, the modern Mesopotamian region also uses a hodgepodge of languages and fuses them together. In Baghdad, you’ll hear Arabic mixed with a lot of words of Persian origin. The further north you go, you’ll hear Kurdish and Arabic, both borrowing words from each other’s languages. Just like today, many people of ancient Sumer were also bilingual. This of course was also the case in Ancient Babylonia, Assyria, and really any empire, from Sargon up until the present day.


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