Friday, September 16, 2016

Why Akkadian (etc.) still matters

PHILOLOGY RULES! Why Dead Languages Like Akkadian Still Matter (Aviya Kushner, The Forward).
I grew up hearing the Code of Hammurabi read out loud, in Akkadian, at the dining-room table. I did not know that my graduate-student mother was one of Akkadian’s few regular readers. The language of the ancient Akkad region, or modern-day Iraq, is considered a “dead language,” just like Ugaritic and Phoenician. All these dead tongues, however, fed into the Hebrew Bible, the most read book in history, and so they have a form of eternal life.

And so the language my mother read sounded familiar. Abum is like abba, the Hebrew word for father; imum like ima, or mother, and kalbum like kelev, or dog. For years I told myself that Akkadian, its strict legal code, and its dramatic descriptions of what would be done to losers in battle (hint: towering piles of body parts displayed for all to see) was my mother’s terrain, not mine. But the truth is that it is nearly impossible to avoid Akkadian’s influence on all of us.

Indeed. An entertaining essay that rambles from the Atrahasis Epic to the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary office to a recipe for cuneiform cookies. I also noted the latter here. Some years ago I wrote a blog post on the same theme in response to another essay in The Forward: Why we need Akkadian (and the humanities!).