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By Bram Jagersma

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In a general situation of widespread bilingualism and language 4 Chapter One shift, the two languages greatly influenced each other in their phonology, grammar, and lexicon. Under Sumerian influence, Akkadian, for instance, acquired a ventive, lost several typically Semitic consonants, shifted to a verb-final word order, and borrowed many words from Sumerian. Sumerian likewise converged with Akkadian in a number of ways. Its phoneme inventory, for example, was reduced at the expense of phonemes unknown to Akkadian.

Phonographic values could also be derived from existing phonographic values. Thus, a sound sign could acquire an additional value if the new sound sequence was sufficiently similar in pronunciation to a sound sequence which that sign could already represent. Thus, the sound sign for an (a value derived from its usage as the word sign for an ‘heaven’) also came to be used for am6. The sign for mu (from mu ‘year’ and mu ‘name’) also represented ĝu10. The sign for ĝi6 (from ĝi6 ‘night’) also stood for mi.

Yet, in the earlier periods, when political unification was still the exception, local scribal traditions were stronger and those usually reflected traits of the local dialects. Legal and illegal excavations have yielded texts from a limited number of larger towns. Many regions are poorly documented. On the available evidence we can identify two main dialects during the second half of the third millennium BCE. In this grammar we will call them Northern and Southern Sumerian, following an old tradition to call the downstream area closer to the Arabian Gulf ‘South’ and the upstream area ‘North’.

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A descriptive grammar of Sumerian by Bram Jagersma


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