Notes are taken from a beginner lesson on Sumerian (Nouns and Adjectives) found via YouTube. This lecture is the first of several from the Digital Hamnurabi channel.

Before getting into the Sumerian lessons, it should be pointed out that Sumerian evolved over time, like many languages. Since this language spanned some 3000 years, it was bound to have variations. Consider the image below as an example of changes over time:

Each distinct symbol in Sumerian (or Cuneiform) can represent:

  • A Word
  • A Syllable
  • Determinative (a class)

Word Examples

an, meaning “sky” or “heaven.”
e2, meaning “house” or “temple”
gal, meaning “big” or “chief”

Syllable Example

The word “an” which means heaven or sky, can also be used as a syllable in a word-chain, like this:

ga-an-du11

Determinative Example

A determinative is a classifier. The example in the lesson linked in the beginning of this article, is the word Inanna (which is a Sumerian goddess). However, the word an (or “dinger”) if prefixed denotes this to mean a goddess, as opposed to a name.

The lecturer writes this in Latin script using superscript denotation of a determinative prefix like so:

<sup>d</sup>Inanna

Another example is with the word “ki” which means “earth” or “ground.” However, if it follows a name, it means that name is the name of a city. Written in Latin syntax for the city of Eridu:

Eridu<sup>ki</sup>

Nouns

Unlike some languages, Sumerian has no feminine or masculine types of nouns. Instead, nouns are defined by animate or inanimate nouns.

Types of Nouns

  • Single Sign nouns (using one symbol)
  • Compound nouns (multiple symbols): Examples: dub-sar: is Scriber and e2-gal is palace.

Plurals

There isn’t always a distinguishing element for a plural noun. Nouns can be singular or plural. However, there is sometimes a suffix added that is a determinate of plural. This is the ene. So in Latin syntax: digir.ene is “gods” as opposed to god.

Reduplication also makes things plural such as lugal-lugal means kings or all the kings. lugal gal-gal would mean great kings.

Adjectives

Adjectives come after nouns, such as lugal gal is a “great king.”

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