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(əkā`dēən), extinct language belonging to the East Semitic subdivision of the Semitic subfamily of the Afroasiatic family of languages (see Afroasiatic languagesAfroasiatic languages
, formerly Hamito-Semitic languages
, family of languages spoken by more than 250 million people in N Africa; much of the Sahara; parts of E, central, and W Africa; and W Asia (especially the Arabian peninsula, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and
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). Also called Assyro-Babylonian, Akkadian (or Accadian) was current in ancient Mesopotamia (now Iraq) from about 3000 B.C. until the time of Jesus. The earliest surviving inscriptions in the language go back to about 2500 B.C. and are the oldest known written records in a Semitic tongue.

Old Akkadian is the earliest period of the language and can be dated from its appearance in Mesopotamia c.3000 B.C. to c.1950 B.C., when the 3d dynasty of UrUr
, ancient city of Sumer, S Mesopotamia. The city is also known as Ur of the Chaldees. It was an important center of Sumerian culture (see Sumer) and is identified in the Bible as the home of Abraham. The site was discovered in the 19th cent.
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 fell. Thereafter, Akkadian evolved into two dialects, Assyrian, the tongue of ancient AssyriaAssyria
, ancient empire of W Asia. It developed around the city of Ashur, or Assur, on the upper Tigris River and south of the later capital, Nineveh. Assyria's Rise

The nucleus of a Semitic state was forming by the beginning of the 3d millennium B.C.
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, and Babylonian, the language of ancient BabyloniaBabylonia
, ancient empire of Mesopotamia. The name is sometimes given to the whole civilization of S Mesopotamia, including the states established by the city rulers of Lagash, Akkad (or Agade), Uruk, and Ur in the 3d millennium B.C.
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. The history of both Assyrian and Babylonian can be roughly divided into three successive periods designated as Old (beginning c.1950 B.C.), Middle (c.1500–c.1000 B.C.), and New or Late (after c.1000 B.C.). Around 1500 B.C., Babylonian began to be widely used, both in the Middle East and in international diplomacy. As time went on, Babylonian even replaced Assyrian to a large extent in the written records and literature of the Assyrian civilization. By the beginning of the Christian era, however, Babylonian had died out, and it remained a lost language until modern times, when it was deciphered during the first half of the 19th cent.

Unlike the other Semitic languages, which employed an alphabetic writing system, Akkadian and its later forms, Assyrian and Babylonian, were written in cuneiformcuneiform
[Lat.,=wedge-shaped], system of writing developed before the last centuries of the 4th millennium B.C. in the lower Tigris and Euphrates valley, probably by the Sumerians (see Sumer).
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. The Akkadians adopted cuneiform c.2500 B.C. from the Sumerians, a non-Semitic people who are believed to have invented it.

See also AkkadAkkad
, ancient region of Mesopotamia, occupying the northern part of later Babylonia. The southern part was Sumer. In both regions city-states had begun to appear in the 4th millennium B.C. In Akkad a Semitic language, Akkadian, was spoken.
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See I. J. Gelb, Old Akkadian Writing and Grammar (2d ed. 1961); E. Reiner, A Linguistic Analysis of Akkadian (1966); D. Marcus, A Manual of Addadian (1978).