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A descriptive grammar of Sumerian by Bram Jagersma

By Bram Jagersma

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Earlier texts are written in a script which is so defective that grammatical research is all but impossible. Most (if not all) later texts have been produced by scribes for whom Sumerian was not their mother tongue but only a language which they had learned during their scribal education. The earliest texts, about 6000 in number, date to the Uruk III and Uruk IV periods (ca. 3200-3000 BCE) and are written in a somewhat rudimentary script called proto-cuneiform. They are so difficult to decipher that Englund (2004: 101; 2009: note 18) still sees no definitive evidence identifying the language of these texts.

18 Chapter Two Thus, through semantic and phonemic association, existing word signs became multivalent, being used as logograms for two or more words. Nevertheless, they still were logograms and the script was as logographic as it would have been without multivalency. Yet, the first step to the development of sound signs had been taken. The creation of new logographic values through sound association brought the pronunciation of a word into play while ignoring its meaning. A further step was taken through the introduction of sound indicators in composite signs.

In order to disambiguate spellings, some logograms and phonograms are used as auxiliary signs. They are transliterated in superscript. Auxiliary logograms are called determinatives. They identify the following or preceding word as belonging to a specific semantic class. The logogram diĝir ‘god’, for instance, is used as a determinative before the names of gods: d inanna ‘(the goddess) Inanna’, den-líl ‘(the god) Enlil’. , ummaki ‘(the city) Umma’, ĝišapin ‘plough’. Auxiliary phonograms are called phonetic complements.

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