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*Really* dead languages, anyone?

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*Really* dead languages, anyone?

Postby annis » Thu Aug 14, 2008 11:05 pm

So is anyone studying, or intending to study, the really dead languages, like Sumerian, Akkadian or Ancient Egyptian?

I've recently spent a little time amusing myself getting my Mac to speak in cuneiform — there's nothing more likely to cause eye-strain than a cuneiform font at 9pt. Alas, Emacs can't cope with Unicode code points up in the 0x12000s yet.

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Postby euripides » Thu Aug 14, 2008 11:12 pm

I can hack my way through some Ugaritic and this coming semester I'll be taking a course on Middle Egyptian. If you want to have a go at an ancient Near Eastern language, go with Old Persian: Only 30 or so cuneiform signs and rather simple grammar, though, your choices for readings would be rather limited. Ugaritic is another decent starting point; The only thing is most of the grammars I've come across for Ugaritic presuppose knowledge of either Hebrew or Akkadian.

Languages like Hittite or Akkadian scare me; I think Hittite has well over 200 cuneiform signs. It's not the grammar so much as the scripts that terrify me.
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Postby Kasper » Thu Aug 14, 2008 11:15 pm

that's what concerns about learning such languages, is there anything to read? and where would you get it?
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Postby annis » Thu Aug 14, 2008 11:23 pm

euripides wrote:I can hack my way through some Ugaritic and this coming semester I'll be taking a course on Middle Egyptian.


Cool!

If you want to have a go at an ancient Near Eastern language, go with Old Persian:


Old Persian?! That's practically modern. ;) I already have the Akkadian material — acquired quite a while ago — tempting me from time to time.

Languages like Hittite or Akkadian scare me; I think Hittite has well over 200 cuneiform signs. It's not the grammar so much as the scripts that terrify me.


Look up Sumerian some time. That's a grammar to twist the mind (to the degree we actually know what the Ereshkigal is going on with it).

Edit: a very nice Introduction to Sumerian Grammar (PDF), very cautious with the completely deranged oligosynthetic dementia that all too often overcomes Sumeriologists.
Last edited by annis on Thu Aug 14, 2008 11:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby euripides » Thu Aug 14, 2008 11:23 pm

Kasper wrote:that's what concerns about learning such languages, is there anything to read? and where would you get it?


There's TONS to read in the ancient Near Eastern languages; there are literary epic poems dealing with mythological subjects from almost every society out there, Hittite, Akkadian, Sumerian, Babylonian. You could read Gilgamesh in the original, you could read treaties between states, letters between officials and kings of states, letters between kings and kings, oracular material, the list goes on and on, and this is just the stuff that is interesting to read.

As to where to find it, that is a bit more tricky. I just sift through my University's library collections. You'd probably have to order grammars and texts from somewhere, though exactly where that somwhere is, I am not sure.
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Postby annis » Thu Aug 14, 2008 11:27 pm

Kasper wrote:that's what concerns about learning such languages, is there anything to read? and where would you get it?


Well —

Database of Neo-Sumerian Texts
iClay
ABZU, my first clue the internet would be interesting

The usual online book places (GoogleBorg, Archive.org) have quite a few books of interest.
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Postby Kasper » Thu Aug 14, 2008 11:40 pm

... wow... :lol:
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Postby thesaurus » Fri Aug 15, 2008 4:03 am

Not to hijack the thread, but are there any people studying languages that are about to die? Very bitter-sweet. There are a lot of interesting native american languages out there, but there are seldom good tools for learning such endangered languages.
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Postby mingshey » Fri Aug 15, 2008 8:05 am

euripides wrote:
Kasper wrote:that's what concerns about learning such languages, is there anything to read? and where would you get it?


There's TONS to read in the ancient Near Eastern languages;...


Tons measured for clay tablets, of course, right? :D
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Postby euripides » Fri Aug 15, 2008 1:16 pm

annis wrote: Old Persian?! That's practically modern. ;) I already have the Akkadian material — acquired quite a while ago — tempting me from time to time.

Look up Sumerian some time. That's a grammar to twist the mind (to the degree we actually know what the Ereshkigal is going on with it).

Edit: a very nice Introduction to Sumerian Grammar (PDF), very cautious with the completely deranged oligosynthetic dementia that all too often overcomes Sumeriologists.


Haha. It's only 1500 years after the fact.

:wink:


I'll check out that Sumerian grammar. There's nothing quite like insanity.

@ mingshey: of course :D
Last edited by euripides on Fri Aug 15, 2008 9:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Twpsyn » Fri Aug 15, 2008 3:38 pm

I study Middle Egyptian on the side. Not at a very high level yet, though. Also, it's really tough to type. I use flashcards on the computer for whatever I study, so for Egyptian vocab I must needs resort to cards like ([reed][gaming board][water][loaf][quail chick][loaf][ankh][crook][pillar][flowering sedge]).
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Postby Bob Manske » Fri Aug 15, 2008 4:59 pm

I've gone through Allen's Middle Egyptian Grammar a few times. I also have Hoch's. I'm currently moderating a Middle Egyptian study group on Yahoo. It looks like we'll be starting another one later on this year. Right now I'm reading the Dream Stela, the Precepts of Ptah-Hotep, and a stela of Horemhab's praising Ptah.

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Postby euripides » Fri Aug 15, 2008 9:05 pm

Bob Manske wrote:I I also have Hoch's.
Bob


How is Hoch's? It's the grammar I'll be using in the course I'm taking.
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Re: *Really* dead languages, anyone?

Postby Lex » Sat Aug 16, 2008 12:18 am

annis wrote:So is anyone studying, or intending to study, the really dead languages, like Sumerian, Akkadian or Ancient Egyptian?


:shock:

Good Lawd A'mighty, you guys are language geeks!

Thank you, no. Ancient Greek seems more than challenging enough for me.

So how do they get even close to telling how Sumerian was pronounced? I can see Greek, since we have a modern version of the language around, it's a fairly conservative language (as compared to English), I'm assuming there are grammars from the Roman period that give pronunciation advice (?), etc. How for something like Sumerian, though? Seems it would be well nigh impenetrable. Even with a Rosetta Stone, that wouldn't give pronunciation, only semantic content.
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Re: *Really* dead languages, anyone?

Postby annis » Sat Aug 16, 2008 1:05 am

Lex wrote:So how do they get even close to telling how Sumerian was pronounced?


Rather poorly. However...

A long time after the last native speaker of Sumerian died the language was still used as a learned and liturgical language. Here's a delightful proverb from the old babylonian period: dub-sar eme-gi nu-mu-un-zu-a a-na-àm dub-sar e-ne, "a scribe who does not know Sumerian, what (kind of) a scribe is he?" — Eisenbrauns makes a t-shirt of this. We have verb chart exercises of Babylonian and Assyrian scribes trying to master Sumerian, even other sorts of grammar tables. Everything we know about Sumerian pronunciation is filtered through a Semitic language with a whopping four vowels, along with hints from internal clues from Sumerian itself. Sumerian has no living relatives, but Akkadian has several.

To the degree that Akkadian could accurately represent Sumerian, we know how it sounded.
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Re: *Really* dead languages, anyone?

Postby Lex » Sat Aug 16, 2008 1:15 am

annis wrote:Everything we know about Sumerian pronunciation is filtered through a Semitic language with a whopping four vowels, along with hints from internal clues from Sumerian itself. Sumerian has no living relatives, but Akkadian has several.

To the degree that Akkadian could accurately represent Sumerian, we know how it sounded.


Ah. So a "Sumeriologist" or whatever might have a chance in hell of making himself understood by an Akkadian priest (should one miraculously present himself), but probably not a Sumerian one. Wow.
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Postby Eurysilas » Wed Aug 20, 2008 12:40 am

Well, I've always wanted to learn a cuneiform language, but writing out the signs would be SOOOO tedious. I dunno. One day, maybe. I was thinking of learning what the Babylonians spoke, which was Akkadian, I believe.

If anyone knows any good sites for teaching you any of the cuneiform languages, it'd be nice to know....
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*Really* dead languages, anyone?

Postby Faylasoof » Thu Aug 21, 2008 3:23 am

utlub ul-'ilm min al-mahad il al-laHad
[Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave]
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Postby ThomasGR » Thu Aug 21, 2008 8:06 am

Dead languages are dead and deserve great respect for that. But that's only my (unasked) opinion. I like to know the motivation for this. At the moment, as a pass time activity I prefer to read wikipedia, often I'm editing some pages. At this time I'm on a technology tournament.
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Postby Bob Manske » Thu Aug 21, 2008 3:18 pm

euripides wrote:
How is Hoch's? It's the grammar I'll be using in the course I'm taking.


I prefer it to Allen's, at least right now. Hoch adopts a more traditional approach to Egyptian grammar than Allen. The book is much friendlier to the student. Allen's book is a cross between an introductory grammar and a reference grammar, it's hard to tell which was more important to him. Each chapter is devoted to one (usually) grammatical point, which certainly makes it more convenient for referring to related subjects. Hoch introduces material in what seems to be a more random manner, but this allows the student to read more connected exercises earlier. The print, especially the hieroglyphs, in Allen's book is small and occasionally requires a magnifying glass to make out. The print in Hoch's is much larger. Both are paper back, Allen's is better bound. Hoch's cover is very flimsy and the binding is the spiral plastic comb type, so this book will definitely not stand up to extended jostling in a book bag or back pack.

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