Alternative name(s): Soemerisch (nl)
Language family: Isolated language
Geographical use: South Iraq, Assyria and Asia Minor
Information: Sumerian was spoken up into the second millennium BC and after that continued to function for another 2000 years as official language. The oldest writings (written in cuneiform script) date back to 3100 BC and which makes it the oldest written language.
The evolution of the Sumerian language can be split into 4 periods: Archaic Sumerian (3100 to 2500 BC), Old or Classical Sumerian (2500 to 2300 BC), New Sumerian (2300 to 2000 BC) and Post Sumerian.
The existence of Sumerian and of the Sumerian culture had been forgotten until the deciphering of the cuneiform script in the 19th century.
Sumerian had little or no cases. The grammatical unities
consisted of combinations of words and not of individual words.This grammatical
structure coincided with other languages like Turkish,
Hungarian and some Caucasian languages.
All words written without spaces between them.
Sumerian had three open vowels (a, e, ô), three closed vowels (a, e, ü) and 15 consonants (b, p, t, d, a hard g, k, z, s, sh, ch, ng). Most words consisted of a syllable that could be compounded with an other syllable tone. The plural was made by repeating the stem of the word. Sumerian did not distinguish genders, but the nouns were divided into two categories: living and non-living. Animals belonged to the non-living category.
A Sumerian sentence consisted of a predicate and accompanying substantives that refers to the predicate as subject, object, or location. The predicate consists of a verb stem, and a series of grammatical elements that are connected with it. These elements pointed to the relation between the predicate en the accompanying substantives. These substantives consisted of nouns with connected adjuncts like adjectives, genitives, relative clauses and possessive nouns. These adjuncts were always placed after the noun.
Sumerian knew few adjectives because of the frequent use of genitives. Relative pronouns did not exist because this kind of relationship was expressed by using a nominalized particle at the end. Often a passive construction was used to replace the relative clause.
Sumerian is a agglutinative language. This means that the words are put unchanged next to one another, and that there are no declension nor conjugation.
Sumerian also has various dialects. The most important was Emegir. Other dialects were spoken by women and eunuchs.
In November 2010 Dutchman Bram Jagersma succeeded in writing a Sumerian grammar book, a feat due to the limitations of this script and because the language is not only no longer spoken but also isolated.