SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Languages of the Near & Middle East at SOAS: Sumerian

It was in the ancient Near East more than five thousand years ago that mankind first learned to live in cities, invented writing and developed the first high civilisations. The origins of modern man's spiritual and intellectual adventure were once sought in the Bible and in Greece but the fascinating discoveries of Near Eastern archaeologists have revealed the crucial roles played in forming our common heritage by the peoples of the ancient Near East. Sumerian is one of the major ancient Near Eastern language, attested in cuneiform inscriptions from the third to the late first millennium BC. Originally spoken in the area of modern southern Iraq, Sumerian probably was the language for which the cuneiform script was first developed in the late 4th millennium. It ceased to be used as a spoken language in the late 3rd millennium, but remained in use as a liturgic language, and Babylonian students continued to study Sumerian as long as the cuneiform tradition survived in Babylonian. No languages related to Sumerian have been identified so far, but it shares features with other agglutinating and ergative languages.

If you would like to learn Sumerian, contact Professor Andrew R George ( in the Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East.

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