As promised, our voyage into this subject is far from over! This post is a continuation of a previous post I wrote over the summer. Consider reading Part I before you proceed with my blatherings below.
I recently found a credible resource that contains a cohesive list of Sumerian pictograms. It lists [figure 3a.] under E2 (scroll down to the letter ‘E’; “E2″ is the third entry). In this link, E2 is defined as ‘household’ (if you don’t feel like scrolling, searching, and clicking, you can find the definition directly [here]). Although both pages in the links I provided are found in The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL), I am still relieved to see consistency in both pages, and the database is easy for me to understand. I was beginning to doubt the pages of text by Budge, but the ETCSL confirms (to me) his rendition to be valid and gives me a more thorough insight that the sign is indeed closer to late Sumerian rather than to the Akkadian — scroll to E2.
What boggles me is, how do we vocalise E2? How is it even pronounced?!
Is it: “Eh, subscript 2”?, or: “EEEE!”?!. I need a scholar of Sumerian literature to clarify this for me — I’m surprised that “e” means ‘house’ in Sumerian.
Ok, enough with Sumerian for now. Let’s move on to Akkadian!
In this page, one can find a rich resource of Akkadian (including both Babylonian and Assyrian phases of the language) scriptures and linguistics. Scroll down to segment 5.3 on Phonetic Complements, and we are fortunate to see that [figure 4] is used in an example, and is defined as ‘house’. We are even given more detail of the Sumerian variant which is pronounced as “e”, and not “bitum”. Furthermore, it lightly explains the evolution to the logogram (then, the phonogram) features of the later Akkadian (Old Babylonian), from the former pictographic elements of the same reference (i.e., ‘house’) in the older Sumero-Akkadian. It’s confusing and gets more confusing as you read into it, but in the end, everything begins making sense.
Let us now see a third source: the Assyrian dictionary (also claims to be late Akkadian). The same sign and the same pronunciation for the reference ‘house’ is given.
There are numerous resources for learning the Babylonian syllabary. Here is one reference by the Universität Hamburg (Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures). Here is another one by the University of Helsinki’s “Introduction to the Babylonian Language” course. The charts organise chunks of syllables that exist in the language, either by consonant + vowel or vowel + consonant. Find “bi” and “tu” on the chart, and you’ve got two syllables that together denote ‘house’, as demonstrated on [figure 5]. I often find that once I have learned a Neo-Babylonian word and its definition, I break it up into syllables (C+V or V+C), and I match it up to the chart. I write it down, and I check as many sources as possible to verify whether the written form I have is the correct written form of the word.
Now we can be certain of the signs I have illustrated in the second image. When I find more time, I will try to see the connection between figures 3a, 4, and 5. How did [figure 4] result in ? The “bi” syllable in [figure 5] looks like it could have been borrowed from the front end of the logogram for “bitum” in [figure 4] (yes, Cuneiform is written left to right!), but I am sure if we found another Old-Assyrian word that begins with “bi”, the logogram wouldn’t necessarily have the same front end (those double arrows).
For example, if an Assyrian scribe from 1500 BCE were to have separated the double arrows of the logogram “bitum” from the four standing wedges, the double arrows would not be read as “bi” — when the two forms separated, the logogram is meaningless. The phonogram writing method of the Neo-Babylonians is closer to most modern Western alphabets, regardless of script. It relies on combinations of sounds, which makes learning it easier, and more practical for newer words into a phonetic language to be introduced and have a written phonetic form.
Once I learn more about the evolution between Old-Assyrian logograms to Neo-Babylonian phonograms, and if there is a connection we can see, I will dedicate a few posts to that. I’ll try to make it an interesting read! Since I am now familiar with enough online/printed resources and these specific Cuneiform signs, I will soon have to flee this nest (*cough*house*cough*) of safety I’ve constructed, and onto more challenging Cuneiform signs. Wish me luck.
Leave a Reply