Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

Yet Another Suggestion about the Origins of the Sumerian Language

Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

Yet Another Suggestion about the Origins of the Sumerian Language

Article excerpt


The Sumerian language still keeps the prestigious position of being the first ever written language. In this paper there are some presented linguistic data and examples, suggesting that the Sumerian is not a language isolate, as it is regarded so far, but that it may be classified as an r-Altaic language of the Bolgar branch. A proposed methodology for deducing such an inference is also presented, along with the outcomes of its application in the form of thirty-nine phonological rules.

Keywords: Sumerian, Chuvash, Bolgar, r-Altaic

1. Introduction.

Although at least three non-deciphered sets of symbols predate by far the writing system of the Sumerian language (it is not known yet whether these symbols represent letters of unknown languages or signs of non-linguistic nature, see Appendix 1), the latter is still the oldest known written language (henceforth Sumerian). Accordingly, the earliest form of written Sumerian is the Archaic, dating from the 31st to the 26th century BC. It is also estimated that there is a proto-literate period dating back since the 35th century BC. From the 20th century BC to the 1st century AD, post-Sumerian is suspected to be used only as a classical language by non-native speakers of it (Assyrians and Babylonians) for scholarly purposes (equivalently to the Latin of Renaissance). Detailed descriptions of the Sumerian are easily available from various sources, especially through internet (see Appendix 2). Thus, such a detailed description is beyond the scopes of this paper, as being unnecessary. Yet, just a very brief summary of the Sumerian grammar and dialects can be useful for referential purposes relevant to our scope.

2. The Sumerian

Sumerian is a split ergative agglutinative language. It consists of two dialects, the Emegir (the so-called masculine sociolect) and the Emesal (the feminine equivalent). The most distinct differentiating feature of the two sociolects is that wherever there is a {g} in Emengir, an {m} is found in Emesal. The syntax is fairly simple, having one general rule: The main noun precedes, although a reverse tendency can be occasionally observed in genitive preceding the main noun. The word order conforms strictly to the standard pattern Subject-Object-Verb (SOV), having practically no exceptions. The crucial level of study though is the phonology.

The Sumerian phonology is reconstructed, so far, through the Akkadian one (Foxvog, 2012). The Akkadian language (henceforth Akkadian) was a Semitic one, so definitely different than the Sumerian. Akkadian phonology itself is not quite clear to us today, especially because the cuneiform script is in general inaccurate in rendering sounds, thus the transmission is regarded as both inaccurate and incomplete, considering the relevant time gap too. To the best of today's mainstream science, Sumerian consists of the following consonants:

(b,d,g,p,t,k,m,n,g,l,r,h,s,z, §,(?)}

({?} not being unanimously accepted) (2.0.1).

Other suggestions have been presented as well but not widely published yet (Kenanidis, 1992).

It is generally recognized that the word-final consonants were not pronounced (unless followed by suffix vowels). The vowels in all cuneiform texts for all languages (i.e. Sumerian and Akkadian) appear to be four:

{ a , e , i, u } (2.0.2)

but Driver (1948/1976) noted with certainty, that both in Sumerian and in Akkadian there was also an {o} (in a short and a long version). The most widely accepted opinion was that Sumerian has six vowels: three open ones (a, e, o} and three corresponding closed ones (à, ê, u} (e.g. see Appendix 2: Kramer, 1963; URL10, n.d.). In the light of a phonetic change of {e}/{i} into {u} (e.g. see Appendix 2: Falkenstein, 1964), Kenanidis (1992) concludes that this {u} is in fact (y} (front rounded narrow vowel) and {oe} (front rounded wide vowel). Therefore it is suggested here that the actual vowels were eight (see also Appendix 3. …

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