May 2

Brush up on Your Ancient Akkadian With New Online Dictionary

Hattie Tucker
Core Spirit member since Dec 24, 2020
Reading time less than 1 minute

In the latter half of the third millenium B.C., the Akkadian Empire stretched across vast swaths of Mesopotamia, helmed by Sargon of Akkad and his descendants. The speech of this dynasty, aptly called Akkadian, became the dominant tongue in the area. Should you fancy cleanup on the now-extinct speech, the University of Chicago has published an electronic version of its 21-volume Akkadian dictionary, as Open Culture reports.

Scholars invested 90 years producing the dictionary, that was completed in 2010. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the dictionary includes some 28,000 phrases which were utilized between 2500 B.C. and 100 A.D. Hard copies of 21 volumes sell for a hefty $2,000, however the PDFs are offered at no cost. As the Akkad dynasty proliferated, Akkadian substituted Sumerian, the planet’s oldest-known written speech, as the spoken tongue of southern Mesopotamia. Simultaneously, Akkadian splintered off to Babylonian and Assyrian dialects, with Babylonian becoming the lingua franca of the Middle East around the ninth century B.C.

But from the seventh century B.C., the Babylonian dialect started to be supplanted by Aramaic as the area’s main spoken and written speech. It took several more centuries to get the Aramaic language to totally conquer Assyria and Babylonia, based on historian H. W. F. Saggs, but come 100 A.D., Akkadian had entirely vanished from usage.

The dead language left behind a rich record of cuneiform script, but preserved on clay tablets and stone inscriptions. That enabled scholars revisiting the language to decode the once-common tongue from the mid-19th century. Approximately 100 years later, in the early 1920s, the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago began work on its own Assyrian Dictionary. The effort was “conceived to provide more than lexical information alone,” the publication clarifies, “presenting each word in a meaningful context, usually with a full and idiomatic translation… the cultural milieu.”

Now, the institute’s recently digitized version of its own dictionary makes it easier than ever to research this ancient language. So, in case you have ever felt inclined to browse the Epic of Gilgamesh in its own original Akkadian, here is your chance.

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