Cuneiform

(from) Akkadian syllabary | (to) Hebrew symbolism — part II

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.
BET-Sumerian|Semitic_01I recently found a credible resource that contains a cohesive list of Sumerian pictograms. It lists [figure 3a.] under E(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 it 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 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!

BET-Sumerian|Semitic_02
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 Neo-Babylonian syllabary. Here is one by the University of Helsinki’s “Introduction to the Babylonian Language” course. The chart organises 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 [5]? 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.

(from) Akkadian syllabary | (to) Hebrew symbolism

First, a brief history lesson:
The earliest Sumerians sailed from [wherever their origins were], and settled along the marshes of southern Mesopotamia. Their predecessors (much earlier Sumerians) scribed on papyrus and vellum (skin), but in their new settlement, they found an abundance of clay; a much more resourceful medium for the scribes! At that point, the Sumerian inscriptions still remained pictographic. What made such complex renderings of early Sumerian pictographs possible, was due to their standard usage of dry, flat, thin, and hard papyrus and vellum. (See chapter “Writing and Learning” in Babylonian Life and History by Sir Ernest Alfred Budge. I am hunting for additional supporting resources.)

Moving on to Clay:
In these marshlands, clay eventually replaced the use of papyrus and vellum; thus, the Sumerian scribes adopted the use of clay slabs as their medium of choice. As the Sumerian scribes picked up the use of clay in the region, in exchange, the non-Sumerian inhabitants of the region gradually adopted the Sumerian pictographic script, and incorporated it into their own (unrelated) language. I don’t call them “natives”, as these inhabitants—Semites—dwelled north of the marshlands in northern Mesopotamia. These inhabitants are known as Akkadians.

As these earliest Akkadians began using a non-Semitic pictographic script to express their Semitic language, they gradually reformed some existing pictographs with established references to refer to different subjects, objects, or ideas. Which is another topic for another time.BET-Evolution-01Both with their distinctive languages, the Sumerians and early Akkadians came into contact with one another…and it was Akkadian, in its spoken and written form, that began to replace Sumerian, to become lingua franca of the greater region, whilst Sumerian remained as the lishanu qudeshu (sacred tongue?). In time, Sumerian became defunct in both spoken and written forms that even Ashurbanipal’s scribes struggled to decipher some of the Sumerian tablets . Once again, another topic for another time.

Elimination of Curves:
We have maintained that both ethnic and linguistic groups adopted the use of clay for their inscriptions. The pictographs that were innovated for use on dry papyrus or vellum had to be modified for simpler application on the new medium: wet slabs of clay. Imagine yourself trying to carve complex imagery on wet clay; so very gloopy!

These modifications were slight: curves and circles on existing pictographs were straightened out into solid lines. Imagine carving solid lines onto wet clay; much more manageable!

BET-Evolution-02Wedges:
With clay, came a new stylus choice: the tapered reed. The wider edge of the reed lead to one end of these solid lines to be thicker and more wedge shaped. This is where these solid lines developed into the wedged lines known as Cuneiform. Grrrrrrrradually, these wedges assumed one of two directions: a wedge either pointed upwards or faced the left (I want to know why and how that process occurred). Even more gradually, these upward and leftward wedged symbols were simplified down to 89 syllables (Old Babylonian) and any association with pictographic references were no longer obvious.

|| Can we say they vanished? — confirmed: p. 153-155, the pictorial association of the pictographs became semi-pictorial, then with the advent of wedges, the “semi-pictorial” wedges developed independently of the pictograph…the wedges (dare I say) developed some character of their own (hehe). Here I go a third time: another topic for another time.

BET-Evolution-03
IN CONCLUSION:
Now, let us take a gander at the evolution of early Akkadian pictographs into later Akkadian cuneiform, and see if we can recognize it using our modern Semitic language skills. The Hebrew ‘B’, ב, carries the symbolic reference of “house”, or “dwelling”. I provided Syriac in the illustration below; one cannot deny the resemblance between the three! BET-Evolution-04Just as the Phoenician alphabet rotated in various degrees will evoke to mind the Greek and Old Italic alphabet (toda raba, Agent-101), and even the Runic all the way in Scandinavia — similarly, we begin to see some resemblance between proto-Semitic cuneiform all the way to our many modern-day Semitic scripts.

But I have given just one comparison that may be far-fetched from a potential theory. I must experiment a little more to justify whether the syllabic development of the earliest forms of Sumero-Akkadian may have influenced upon the symbolic development of early Phoenician and Aramaic (pssst: key words are italicised)!BET-Evolution-05Just to ensure this is not an isolated instance and I am not just hallucinating a trivial theory, I will take my pick on another character from the Phoenician or Aramaic alphabet and work my way backwards to see if I can pinpoint the Akkadian variant of the same symbol in its reference AND its appearance.

Albeit, a character’s appearance will have evolved through the centuries and millennia, we can track the way the character evolved by lining up each character by chronology and script (same script like Old Babylonian and Neo-Babylonian, Neo-Assyrian, and Achaemenian Persian, OR different scripts, like Phoenician, Akkadian, Biblical Hebrew, Nabatean, or Syriac). Then, we can examine the traits, new and/or discarded, side by side. Even the meaning can change over time, like gimel (Hebrew) / jamal (Arabic) means both ”camel” as well as “beautiful“ Arabic.

After tracing backwards with several characters, I will have enough instances to develop a theory and to analyse each of these instances even deeper, which yields to stronger evidence. I am not an expert linguist, Semanticist, or Semiticist, so my information in this post is not to be relied on.

I will return next week with my follow-up experiment.

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••