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Sumerian grammar is fun!
If you're reading this, you probably already have some reason to study the languages. But in case you need a little convincing, let me elaborate.
Sumerian grammar is a complicated topic. Whenever you have a language that has absolutely no native speakers, not a whole lot of source material, and a long tradition of being written by people who didn't even speak it as a first language, you're going to have issues. All that being said, a few brave grammarians have put together a reasonably consistent and sensible grammar of this long forgotten language, and that's really all we can hope to do in this grammar. This idea of having to mix detective work with linguistics is definitely an enjoyable challenge to any student.
Studying Sumerian is also made more complicated because the writing system, being the first written language in the world, has only a slow progression from scratches and pictures to a real writing system. This is part of the FUN though! There's a lot of room for people to help build up our picture of Sumerian, both grammar and orthography (writing system). You could be one of them!
Technically speaking, this grammar is intended to introduce the reader to the fundamentals of the Sumerian language from the perspective of a student, new to the field. This is not intended to be a reference grammar. As our understanding of the language is always in flux, due to the paucity of available data, and the ongoing research of countless linguists and grammarians around the globe, take everything (and I mean everything) herein with a grain of salt.
The Sumerian language was used from at least 5000 years ago until at least 2500 years ago. Needless to say, the language underwent a lot of changes during that period, and even after its active life it was used as a literary and official language by other cultures.
What this means is that there isn't just one "Sumerian" language -- just the opposite, there are a heck of a lot of them! The language was used over a pretty large geographic area, as well, so on top of huge temporal changes, there are regional changes as well.
You quickly find that there are quite a few ways to make a "definitive" Sumerian grammar. As one Sumerologist once put it, tongue in cheek, "there are as many Sumerian grammars as there are Sumerian grammarians."
The most important thing to remember, though, is that the Sumerians weren't trying to confuse us. In fact, they were attempting to be as obvious as possible! They wanted the things they were writing to be found by later generations, as testaments to their achievements, in politics as well as literature.
So when you read a Sumerian tablet the next time you're at a museum, remember: they want to be read. All it takes is a little effort, and you'll be hearing the voices of people just like us, with all the hopes and dreams and ambitions that accompany the human spirit wherever it goes.
Reading Sumerian is, first and foremost, a human endeavour.
Click the link below! The lessons are an introduction to Sumerian for people who've never been introduced to the language.
Suggestions for future chapters are welcome on the Talk pages.
→ The Lessons ←
Here is a glossary of many of the technical terms used in this text.
Here is a list of Sumerian Cuneiform. It contains a list of all Sumerian Cuneiform added to Unicode, as well as combinations of characters and diverse transliterations, as they appear in the texts.
And here is a short list of only the Simple Sumerian Cuneiform signs.
Here is a list of contributors to this text.