Introductory Sumerian (Masters)

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of History

Module overview

An introduction to the Sumerian script and grammar, to include readings from elementary texts such as Early Dynastic royal inscriptions, the inscriptions of Gudea and Ur III kings, etc.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  1. demonstrate knowledge and understanding of basic Sumerian grammar, mastery of essential Sumerian vocabulary and competence in the reading of easy cuneiform texts in Sumerian
  2. demonstrate competence in the translation and interpretation of cuneiform texts in the genres studied
  3. demonstrate a fundamental understanding of the written legacy of Sumer
  4. demonstrate appropriate knowledge of the philological and methodological issues with which Sumerologists engage.


This course will be taught over 22 weeks with 2 hours classroom contact per week in language classes.

Scope and syllabus

  • Term 1 to Reading Week: grammar, vocabulary and script
  • Term 1 after Reading Week: longer royal inscriptions
  • Term 2: longer royal inscriptions; historical-literary text, e.g. Utuhengal and the Gutians; narrative poetry, e.g. Gilgamesh and Akka

Method of assessment

One three-hour written examination taken in May/June (70%); a language learning portfolio to be submitted on Friday week 1, term 3 (30%).

Recommended Reading

  • Falkenstein, A.: Grammatik der Sprache Gudeas von Lagas. Analecta Orientalia, 28-9. Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1949-50
  • Thomsen, M.-L.: The Sumerian Language. Mesopotamia, 10. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, 1984 (good and easily accessable state of the art of the 1980s)
  • Attinger, P.: Eléments de linguistique sumérienne. La construction de du11/e/di <dire>. Freiburg/Göttingen, 1993
  • Edzard, D. O.: Sumerian Grammar. Handbuch der Orientalistik 71. Leiden: Brill 2003
  • Volk, Konrad: A Sumerian Chrestomathy. Subsidia et Instrumenta Linguarum Orientis (SILO) 5, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2012. ISBN: 978-3-447-06782-9 (recommended for purchase)
  • Zólyomi, G.: An Introduction to the Grammar of Sumerian. Budapest, 2016. PDF for download: (textbook with exercises)
  • Jagersma, A. H.: A Descriptive Grammar of Sumerian. Leiden, 2010. PDF for download: (most recent grammar of 3rd millennium Sumerian)

Further tools:

  • Landsberger, B., M. Civil and others: Materialien zum sumerischen Lexikon, later Materials for the Sumerian Lexicon. Rome: PIB, 1937- (vols. 1-17 so far)
  • Sjoberg, Ake W. (ed.): The Sumerian Dictionary of the University Museum of the University of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University Museum, 1984- (vols. A/I-III, B only) (abbr. PSD = Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary)
  • Mittermayer, C. Unter Mitarbeit von Pascal Attinger: Altbabylonische Zeichenliste der sumerisch-literarischen Texte. Fribourg/Göttingen, 2006 (Old Babylonian signs list with most up-to-date Sumerian sign values
  • Online-glossary for want of a complete dictionary (ePSD = Electronic Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary):
  • Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL): (Sumerian texts and English translations)
  • Browse through the different projects hosted at ORACC (Open Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus): (see, e.g., Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, the Digital Corpus of Cuneiform Lexical Texts, or the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Royal Inscriptions)
  • Cuneiform Digital Library initiative (CDLI): photos of cuneiform tablets and much more)


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