Mythos 11 – Sumerian Linguistics

 

Ubaid Era Pictographs

Ubaid Era Pictographs Circa 5,200 Years Ago

The earliest translated cuneiform tablets are from the early Sumerian period, circa 5,100 years ago. The Sumerian period of Mesopotamian history begins on the top of a sterile deposit of soil indicating the Sumerian civilization started in the aftermath of a major flood. Assyriologists are divided on whether the Sumerians were the indigenous people of the Ubaid period, or colonists that arrived from somewhere else. The Sumerians used the cuneiform script which appears to be based on the pictographic script of the Ubaid civilization. The changes were however, quite significant. The Sumerians altered the pictographs massively changing the direction of the script to left to right in horizontal rows, in the process rotating the pictographs 90° counter-clockwise, and adding a new wedge-tipped stylus which produced wedge-shaped signs, converting it to true cuneiform from the earlier pictographic proto-cuneiform.

Early Sumerian Cuneiform

Early Sumerian Proto-Cuneiform Circa 5,100 Years Ago

Given that the cuneiform script is unknown in other parts of the world, it would seem that the Sumerians were indigenous, however their history recorded that they had colonized Mesopotamia after a great flood. According to Sumerian records, they had migrated into Mesopotamia from a land they called Dilmun. The exact location of Dilmun is unknown however there are two primary theories: South Asia, or the southern Persian Gulf Region. The southern Persian Gulf did have Ubaid settlements however these settlements seemed to have abandoned by 5,800 years ago, long before the beginning of the Sumerian civilization circa 5,100 years ago.(1)Adrian G. Parker et al. (2006) “A record of Holocene climate change from lake geochemical analyses in southeastern Arabia” Quaternary Research, Volume 66, Number 3, Pages 465–476

The alternate theory that Dilmun was the Indus civilization, from modern Pakistan and northwest India was well documented by the eminent Assyriologists Samuel Noah Kramer around 50 years ago, in his work The Sumerians.(2)Samuel N. Kramer (1963) The Sumerians, Chapter 8 There is significant literary and archaeological evidence of trade between ancient Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley civilization. Impressions of clay seals from the Indus Valley city of Harappa were evidently used to seal bundles of merchandise, as clay seal impressions with cord or sack marks on the reverse side testify. A number of these Indus Valley seals have turned up at Ur and other Mesopotamian sites.

The idea that the Sumerians were Indian colonists does require an explanation of why they would adopt cuneiform. The logical reason for colonists to adopt the script of the land they were colonizing it that there was already a literate population there, and the colonists were attempting to gain control of the region. Many conquerors and colonists have adopted the language and script of the local population throughout history, including:

  • The Kushite use of Egyptian during their rule of Egypt(3)Charles Bonnet (2006) The Nubian Pharaohs, Pages 142–154

  • The Achaemenid use of Aramaic during their rule of Mesopotamia(4)Josef Wiesehöfer (2007) Ancient Persia, Pages 119

  • The Greek use of Demotic Egyptian during their rule of Egypt (5)A. Delattre and P. Heilporn (Editors) (2008) “Et maintenant ce ne sont plus que des villages…” Papyrologica Bruxellensia, Volume 34, Pages 73–86

  • The Roman use of Koine Greek throughout the Eastern half of their Empire(6)Bruno Rochette (2011) Language Policies in the Roman Republic and Empire, Pages 550–552

  • The Mongol use of Chinese throughout the Eastern half of their Empire(7)Herbert Franke (1994) Alien Regimes and Border States, Pages 907-1368, in Denis Twitchett et al. editors The Cambridge History of China, Volume 6

  • The Dutch use of Malay in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia)(8)Jean Gelman Taylor (2003) Indonesia: Peoples and Histories

  • The British use of Persian Script in the British Raj (South Asia), inherited from the Mughal Empire(9)Suresh Chandra Ghosh (1995) “Bentinck, Macaulay and the introduction of English education in India” History of Education, Volume 24, Number 1, Pages 17–24

  • The German use of Swahili in German East Africa (Tanzania)(10)Charles Miller (1974) Battle for the Bundu, The First World War in East Africa

  • The British use of Dutch during their rule of South Africa(11)Constitution of Republic of South Africa, Constitution Act 110 of 1983

  • The British use of Arabic and Hebrew during their rule of Palestine (Israel, West Bank, and Gaza Strip) and Transjordan (Jordan)(12)League of Nations, Permanent Mandate Commission, Minutes of the Ninth Session (Arab Grievances), Held at Geneva from 8 to 25 June 1926

Sumerian Cuneiform Circa 4,500 Years Ago

Sumerian Cuneiform Circa 4,500 Years Ago

Similarities between Sumerian and several other language groups have been documented over the past decades, however since the Sumerian language has been dead as a spoken language for over 3000 years, and dead as a written language for 2000 years, while other languages continued to evolve, the task has proved difficult.(13)Piotr Michalowski (2004) “Sumerian” in Roger D. Woodard (Editor) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World’s Ancient Languages, Pages 19-59 Sumerian was not closely related to either the neighboring Semitic or Indo-European languages. Over the decades several attempts have been made to show links between Sumerian and the Dravidian, or the theoretical Elamo-Dravidian language group. By 4,800 years ago the eastern neighbors of the Sumerians in the north Persian Gulf area were known as the Elamites, and their language has been linked reasonably well with the Dravidian languages of South Asia.(14)Franklin Southworth (2011) Rice in Dravidian Recent work by Benon Zbigniew Szałek, the Professor of Economic Sciences at the University of Szczecin and well published linguist, has documented links between not only Proto-Dravidian and Elamite, but also Sumerian and Ancient Egyptian.(15)Benon Zbigniew Szałek (2011) The Egyptian, Sumerian, Elamite and Dravidian Languages, in the Light of Heuristics and Cryptology

References   [ + ]

1. Adrian G. Parker et al. (2006) “A record of Holocene climate change from lake geochemical analyses in southeastern Arabia” Quaternary Research, Volume 66, Number 3, Pages 465–476
2. Samuel N. Kramer (1963) The Sumerians, Chapter 8
3. Charles Bonnet (2006) The Nubian Pharaohs, Pages 142–154
4. Josef Wiesehöfer (2007) Ancient Persia, Pages 119
5. A. Delattre and P. Heilporn (Editors) (2008) “Et maintenant ce ne sont plus que des villages…” Papyrologica Bruxellensia, Volume 34, Pages 73–86
6. Bruno Rochette (2011) Language Policies in the Roman Republic and Empire, Pages 550–552
7. Herbert Franke (1994) Alien Regimes and Border States, Pages 907-1368, in Denis Twitchett et al. editors The Cambridge History of China, Volume 6
8. Jean Gelman Taylor (2003) Indonesia: Peoples and Histories
9. Suresh Chandra Ghosh (1995) “Bentinck, Macaulay and the introduction of English education in India” History of Education, Volume 24, Number 1, Pages 17–24
10. Charles Miller (1974) Battle for the Bundu, The First World War in East Africa
11. Constitution of Republic of South Africa, Constitution Act 110 of 1983
12. League of Nations, Permanent Mandate Commission, Minutes of the Ninth Session (Arab Grievances), Held at Geneva from 8 to 25 June 1926
13. Piotr Michalowski (2004) “Sumerian” in Roger D. Woodard (Editor) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World’s Ancient Languages, Pages 19-59
14. Franklin Southworth (2011) Rice in Dravidian
15. Benon Zbigniew Szałek (2011) The Egyptian, Sumerian, Elamite and Dravidian Languages, in the Light of Heuristics and Cryptology