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Cuneiform Expression: The Language Before Letters
Cuneiform Expression: The Language Before Letters
The Cuneiform script, an early form of language consisting of pictographic symbols, was first created by the Sumerians and later built on by other cultures. Written on wet clay tablets, Cuneiform symbols were drawn with a long reed crafted into a writing instrument, also known as a stylus. The stylus created wedge shapes, which is why the name cuneiform was assigned to it. Cuneiform translates to "wedge shaped". Some Languages included in the Cuneiform classification were Sumerian, Akkadian, Elamite, Hittite, Luwian, Hurrian, Hattic, and Urartian. Cuneiform was primarily used during the time period that lasted between the 30th century BC to 1st century AD.
The first symbol picture was that of the word "great". Shortly after, the second was that of the word "man". This pictorial writing then later developed into a series of wedges and hooks. The wedges representing whole Sumerian words are described as ideographic. This writing consists of using ideograms, or word symbols.
This writing system was used primarily in Mesopotamia until the century before the birth of Christ. This was a very important factor in the history of Mesopotamia because it allowed laws to be written and also made it easier to make detailed accounts of history and historical happenings. Much of what we know about this ancient culture we would not know had the people not been able to communicate.
One of the important languages written in the Cuneiform style was Sumerian. The Sumerian society was one of the earliest societies to come about in the world, and the Sumerians developed the Cuneiform system that would influence scripts in the area for the next 3000 years to come. This was the first recognized written language, and would be later used as a basis for other languages. The invention of the Sumerian writing system came about because the Mesopotamians realized they needed a way to keep track of clay tokens they used to count agricultural goods. Soon after, they stopped using the clay tokens and switched entirely to writing symbols and pictures. They also developed a separate system to stand for ideas and sounds. To express numbers, they stopped simply repeating the picture and created kinds of marks that stood for numbers. During early periods, Sumerian writing frequently changed, such as changing from top to bottom to left to right. Also, the styles and strokes of the writing changed to become more convenient and easier to read. After 3000 BCE the strokes turned into wedges and the style went from linear to cuneiform. There were about 600 sounds regularly used in the Sumerian language. The Sumerian language died as a spoken one around the 18th century BCE, but it was continued as a learned language. This can be described as similar to the Latin language, which died as spoken but continued to be read and taught. Sumerian proved to be a widely used system in history, surviving for a significantly long time period. It was eventually completely replaced by Akkadian as spoken language, but it was still used in writing and sacred language until the 1st century CE.
The Akkadian script followed, deriving from the Sumerian cuneiform in 2350 BC. It basically built right off of the Sumerian script, sharing words and adapting new ones. Often called Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform, this script was used in Mesopotamia until the 1st century AD. Akkadian was the first Semitic language, used by Babylonians and Assyrians. Very similar to Arabic, Akkadian is formatted much the same except for plurals. The rules of plurals make it very similar to the Hebrew language. Akkadian possessed thirteen separate root stems and proved itself to be a somewhat improved version of Sumerian.
Among the many varieties stemming from the Mesopotamian cuneiform came Hittite, which was named after the Hattusa kingdom in the Old Testament. The Hittites, a people centered in north-central Anatolia, developed their own customized language evolving from the ancient cuneiform. This language was used mostly for writing secular text. Hittite contained many words that were borrowed from other languages, such as the Hurrian and the Hattic, and was composed of a primarily syllabic nature. The Hittite language was used from 1600 BC to 1100 BC, and it is suspected that the language was still spoken after the Hittite empire collapsed. Hittite was the earliest Indo- European language, although some argue otherwise about its classification.
Although the cuneiform script includes other cultures and languages, these ones are significantly important because they were widely used and they all basically started a very new way for particular cultures. Communication is a very important part of our history of knowledge and culture. Along with new communication comes new ideas, thoughts, technology, ways of living, and culture. We can even see how our modern language today, much like these languages, evolved from much simpler language into a process of communication we use on a daily basis.