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1. a member of a people who established a civilization in Sumer during the 4th millennium bc
2. the extinct language of this people, of no known relationship to any other language



the language of the Sumerians, spoken until the late third millennium B.C.

Sumerian, whose linguistic affinity has not been established, is attested in cuneiform texts written in the period beginning in the 29th or 28th century B.C. and ending between the third and first centuries B.C. The texts are classified as Archaic Sumerian (before the 25th century); Classical Sumerian (24th-22nd centuries); New Sumerian (21st century); Late Sumerian (early second millennium), which is attested mainly in literary texts but also in business documents; and Post-Sumerian, which appeared in written form when Sumerian was retained only as a second literary language, after Akkadian.

Sumerian grammar includes an ergative construction, in which the subject of a transitive verb is marked by means of a special case and the subject of a verb of state (including a state resulting from an action—that is, an object) is unmarked. Verbs of action have two aspects; there is no category of tense. Sumerian has affixes that express agreement with the subject of a verb of action or of state, as well as with all indirect objects and several adverbial expressions.

Case relationships are marked by suffixes that are added sequentially to the noun; these suffixes, which may reach approximately ten in number, also serve as subordinating elements in nominalized constructions that replace subordinate clauses. There are markers for several types of plural, including, in addition to the collective and definite plurals, a plural that expresses all the objects in a given class. All nominal grammatical markers appear at the end of such syntagms as “headword—modifier” or “noun-subordinate clause” in inverse order with respect to the words they refer to. Certain words and phonemes were taboo for women.


D’iakonov, I. M. lazyki drevnei Perednei Azii. Moscow, 1967.
Falkenstein, A. Das Sumerische. (Handbuch der Orientalistik.) Leiden, 1959.