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Sumerian Language in Ancient Mesopotamia: the Beginning and Development

Chosen Language: Sumerian

Formed Research Question: How did the Sumerian language develop and what events caused it to be extinct?

Ancient Mesopotamia [now modern Iraq] was divided by the Akkadians in the north and the Sumerians in the south (Dlott). Their government was made up of cities and states and both parties had similar cultures but spoke different languages (“Ancient Mes: Akkadian Empire”). But even though the two languages were different in Mesopotamia, they were still very similar to each other. Sumer, was the southern part of Mesopotamia and is generally referred to as the “cradle of civilization” (Mark). This is because the Sumerians are actually the oldest civilization recorded in history. The Sumerian period was approximately from 5000 B.C to 1750 B.C, a reign of more than 3000 years (Mark). The Sumerian language went through a great deal of changes as the civilization itself changed and developed throughout its years.

Research Paper

Ancient Mesopotamia [now modern Iraq] was divided by the Akkadians in the north and the Sumerians in the south (Dlott, et al.). Their government was made up of cities and states and both parties had similar cultures but spoke different languages (“Ancient Mes: Akkadian Empire”). But even though the two languages were different in Mesopotamia, they were still very similar to each other. Sumer, was the southern part of Mesopotamia and is generally referred to as the “cradle of civilization” (Mark). This is because the Sumerians are actually the oldest civilization recorded in history. The Sumerian period was approximately from 5000 B.C to 1750 B.C, a reign of more than 3000 years (Mark). The Sumerian language went through a great deal of changes as the civilization itself changed and developed throughout its years.

According to the article “Sumer”, the first settlers of Sumer established themselves in the land anywhere in between 4500 and 4000 B.C. These settlers were non-semitic and known as the Ubaidians, this was in reference to the village of Al-Ubaid which is where the remains of these people were first found. The Ubaidians were the first civilized force in Sumer with industries established that included weaving, masonry, pottery, and much more. They also managed to develop a system of trade. After the Ubaidians immigrated to the southern part of Mesopotamia, there were many semitic people who infiltrated their land and mixed there cultures in with theirs. The results were a Pre-Sumerian civilization (“Mark”).

“By the 3rd millennium B.C the country was the site of at least 12 separate city-states: Kish, Erech, Ur, Sippar, Akshak, Larak, Nippur, Adab, Umma, Lagash, Bad-tibira, and Larsa”, (“Sumer”). “ Sumer” also says that each of these city-states were independent with their own rules and own form of society. It states that they worshipped their own separate Gods and Goddesses and the political power belonged to the people. But as time went on, tensions and rivalries began to intensify between the states and the system of kingship was then adopted (“Sumer”). The article declares that there are records showing that 8 kings ruled Sumer before the great flood.

The 3rd millennium of the Sumerian period was the dynasty of Ur. The first King of this era was Ur-Nammu and he established the first law code ever in the history of Mesopotamia (“Sumer”). This 3rd dynasty seemed to be a vital period for the Sumerians. Not only did they expand their territory in the southern parts of Mesopotamia and developed a form of government, but this was also when their language was first attested (“Sumerian Language”). “When the Sumerian towns started to grow into cities and their civilization started building, the people needed ways to keep track of their government records, business transactions, and ownership rights” (“Ancient Mes: Writing”). Communication was needed in order for all these things to happen and for a government to be successful.

In 3300 B.C, the Sumerians began to develop a solution to all their records and track keeping problems. “Around this time is when the Sumerians began to use picture symbols marked into clay tablets to keep record tracks. The way they would do this was by taking a stick that was made from a reed [otherwise known as a stylus] and press down their symbols into a soft moist clay. Once the clay would harden, they would then have a permanent record” (“Ancient Mesopotamia: Writing”). Their symbols were very simple and easy to understand. Supposedly a picture of somebodies head, literally meant head. Over time, they started to add sounds and meanings to the scribes on the clay by adding wedge marks. This form of writing was known as wedge writing (“Ancient Mes: Writing”).

“Ancient Mesopotamia: Writing” also talks about the understanding of the Sumerian tablets and why the language is so difficult to translate. It said that there are over 700 symbols and symbol meanings that it makes it hard to get a clear idea. As if that is not enough, all these symbols and meanings also change between cities and regions and also with time. However, most of the tablets to this day have been deciphered and that is how experts know so much about the Sumerian’s government, culture, and overall way of life.

After the great flood that had occurred in southern ancient Mesopotamia, king’s temporarily would gain power over each other. They fought for hundreds of years and that left them vulnerable to attacks and the risk of being conquered (“Sumer”). As a result, around 2300 B.C, they would be conquered by the Akkadians and leading the way was there king known as Sargon. “Although Sargon’s dynasty lasted only about 100 years, it united the city-states and created a model of government that influenced all of Middle Eastern civilization” (“Sumer”). The Akkadians saw many positives in bringing together their cities and states. They conquered all of Sumer and expanded their empire as far out as to the Mediterranean Sea. They had a reign from 2300 B.C to 2100 B.C when the Sumerian city Ur conquered Akkad. And even though it was ruled by a Sumerian king, the nation’s still remained united (“Ancient Mes: Akkadian Empire”).

During this time, the article “Sumerian Language” says that the spoken Sumerian language was replaced by the Semitic Akkadian language, but was still used in written form almost until the end of the Akkadian language. This was a huge setback in the development of the language because it was only spoken in a small area of the city of Sumer while Akkadian was spoken though out all of the Akkadian empire. “…the New Sumerian period came to an end about 2000 B.C, when new inroads of the Semitic peoples from the desert succeeded in destroying the 3rd dynasty of Ur and in establishing the Semitic dynasties of Isin, Larsa, and Babylon” (“Sumerian Language”). The period for these dynasties is known today as the “Old Babylonian period” (“Sumerian Language”) .

“Sumerian Language” talks about the period of Old Babylonian and explains how the Sumerian language was damaged. According to the article, during this time period the Sumerians lost all their power. They did not have a political identity and their language slowly started disappearing. However, it was still used in legal and administrative documents.

Akkadian was still the main language that was spoken in the period of the Babylonian. It was similar to the Sumerian language because the Akkadian language was actually developed from the Sumerian language itself. It was “written in a cuneiform script developed from that of the Sumerians, contained about 600 word and syllable signs. The sound system of the language had 20 consonants and 8 vowels (both long and short a, i, e, and u)” (“Akkadian Language”). The Sumerian Language completely died out around the Christian era (“Sumerian language”) when the Akkadian language began breaking into a collection of dialects and evolving until both languages ceased to exist (“Akkadian Language”).

Now in time, the Sumerian language is known as the oldest written language to exist thus far. It was a language that was developed by a smart civilization that went through some very hard times. The language had a lot of potential to keep on growing and expanding but due to the unfortunate events that happened during the Sumerians time period that never came to be. Even though they were the same group of people, they had to many internal conflicts amongst themselves. If they would have found a way for each city/state to make peace with each other and live in harmony, then they would have had a better chance of surviving instead of being conquered. They fought with themselves and weakened each other, which made them an easy target. If the Akkadians would have never been able to conquer them, then they could have kept their system and kept on improving their language. But instead, they made their own coffin and laid in it.

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