Re: Sumerian Lexicon
|From:||Kevin Athey <kevindeanathey@...>|
|Date:||Sunday, March 20, 2005, 18:06|
>From: Rob Haden <magwich78@...>
>Many of the 'V-only' words actually have longer 'variants', which are
>probably their true forms. However, I find it unrealistic that a word of
>the form /a/ can have such diverse meanings as 'water', 'tears',
>and 'father'; and that a word of the form /u/ can have such diverse
>meanings as 'sleep', 'cock', and 'plant'. Even if such meanings were
>distinguished by tone, I find it hard to believe that rather complex
>concepts were expressed monophonemically in Sumerian.
If there were another phonetic feature involved, I doubt they could be
called monophonemic. Nevertheless, the following are represented as "e" in
pinyin in Mandarin: hunger, evil, moth, palate, goose, and forehead.
That's with only two of the four tones. If you consider the initial glide
to be part of the same phoneme phonologically, "yi" is more impressive:
doctor, medicine, one, clothing, according to, maternal aunt, move, doubt,
rite, lose, by, chair, lean on, already, supress, easy, overflow, discuss,
justice, idea, art, one hundred million, translate, and foreign. All of
these words can stand alone, by the way. They aren't simply bound
characters. In Old Norse, long "a" was a preposition, a form of to have,
and the word for river, and the short vowel was an enclitic for not. Let's
also not forget I, eye, and aye, all of which are arguably monophonemic in
English. The Chinese is the most impressive, though.
Of course, it's generally easier for a language to bear homophones with very
different--and generally rarely contrasting--meanings. How often would
water and father be confused in speech? It is much more rare to have words
with parallel meanings, such as mother and father. (Of course, grandfather
and uncle differ only in vowel length in Japanese...)
In any case, I find the longer variants most likely to be earlier forms.
Sumerian, like Latin, is a language over a span--rather than at a point--of
time. I'm not a Sumerologist, though. I may well be wrong.
>As I understand it, by the time Sumerian was represented syllabically, it
>was no longer really a living tongue. Also, there are inconsistencies in
>its representation by various Akkadian scribes. Finally, since Sumerian
>and Akkadian (i.e. Semitic) were such different languages, it's definitely
>likely that some (if not many) things were 'lost in translation'.
I don't doubt.
Actually, it's more accurate, I believe, to say that "by the time Sumerian
was represented" _consistantly_ "syllabically, it was not longer really a
living tongue." As I understand it, the syllabary existed earlier. There
was a slow trend toward its use over the ideographs and radicals (which, I
believe, remained in heavy use, even in the Akkadian period).
I still don't think that Akkadian transcription was exclusively to blame for
ambiguity in Sumerian, however.
>It is an interesting exercise to try to connect Sumerian with existing
>language groups. From what I understand, the Sumerians migrated to
>southern Mesopotamia from the north, either from the Caucasus region or
>from the Zagros Mountains south of the Caspian Sea. Based on this,
>Sumerian could have been related to the following language families:
>1. North-West Caucasian
>2. North-East Caucasian
>3. North-Central Caucasian
>Of course, it could very well have no living relatives.
It probably doesn't. I've also heard a loony proposal for a
Sumerian-Finno-Ugric link. Props for not going with the obvious, and the
time depth could work, but it's still very unlikely.
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