University of California, Berkeley
Sumerian has the distinction of being the oldest attested language in the world. Spoken in the southern part of ancient Mesopotamia, the Iraq of today, its first texts date to about 3100 BCE. Sumerian died out as a spoken language about 2000 BCE, but it was studied in the Mesopotamian school system as a language of high culture for almost two thousand more years. A languageisolate, Sumerian has no obvious relatives.
Typologically, Sumerian is quite different from the Semitic languages which followed it in Mesopotamia. It is basically SOV, with core grammatical relationships marked by affixes on the verb, and with adverbial relationships marked by postpositions, which are crossreferenced by prefixes on the verb. It is split ergative; the perfect functions on an ergative basis, but the imperfect on a nominativeaccusative basis.
Because Sumerian is an isolate, and has been dead for thousands of years, special problems arise in trying to elucidate its grammar. There are still major challenges in understanding its morphosyntax, and very little is known about Sumerian at the discourse level. This volume will describe some of the major questions still to be resolved.
ISBN 9783929075397. Languages of the World/Materials 68. 48 pp. 1999.