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sumerianwotd

KI - place

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Apr. 7th, 2004 | 11:38 pm
posted by: shar_gaz in sumerianwotd

Today's word is "ki", which means "place." It can also mean, "ground" or "earth", and is a term for the netherworld. Ki is also used as a determinative indicating something is the name of a place, but instead of being put before the place name (as is usual for determinatives), it's put after the place name (Lagash-KI, for example, to talk about the city of Lagash).

"Ki" is pronounced like the English word "key", and looks like this:

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Comments {23}

nivcharayahel

Another query from my class

from: nivcharayahel
date: Apr. 7th, 2004 08:48 pm (UTC)
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So today one of my students wanted to know how we know the meaning of Sumerian words--was there a key discovered, like the Rosetta Stone? Or are people just guessing? How is meaning determined by contemporary scholars?

Okay . . . I'm translating into academese a little bit there. But he really did mention the Rosetta Stone. These kids are scary smart!

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shar_gaz

Re: Another query from my class

from: shar_gaz
date: Apr. 7th, 2004 08:58 pm (UTC)
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Sumerian was a lot harder to decipher than Egyptian because there wasn't a document that was as helpful as the Rosetta Stone. And Sumerian is really still in the process of being figured out - there are a lot of things we don't quite understand. A very major part of the grammar and structure of the language was just figured out in 1978, for instance!

Nearly everything of what we know about Sumerian is through the other Mesopotamian language, Akkadian, which is Semitic and so related to a lot of other languages. There are a ton of bilingual Sumerian and Akkadian texts, plus lexical lists which can basically be like Akkadian/Sumerian dictionaries. Of course, Akkadian itself had to be deciphered, which was a bit of a job, but since it's at least related to other languages, that helped.

The closest thing to a "Rosetta Stone" for Akkadian was a major inscription (on a cliff rock face!) that was written in 3 languages, none of which were known at the time (Old Persian, Elamite and Akkadian.) But Old Persian and Elamite were a little easier to get at.

Obviously, the deciphering of cuneiform was a HUGE job - it took a lot of years of very determined work on the part of a couple of people in the 1840s and 1850s.

These days, now that we've made those major breakthroughs, we have a lot of sources for meaning. Those lexical lists are a huge source, as are the amount of texts we have. Meaning's always determined by context, though - any ancient dictionary will list EVERY attestation of a word and its context, so you get a full scope of how it's used and the span of its meanings.

That's a long answer, but hopefully it covers his question!

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nivcharayahel

Re: Another query from my class

from: nivcharayahel
date: Apr. 7th, 2004 09:16 pm (UTC)
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Oh, it totally does answer it. He's gonna like this. Thanks!

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Respice finem

Re: Another query from my class

from: malsperanza
date: Apr. 8th, 2004 10:53 am (UTC)
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Wonderful answer. <333 the Sumerian! So who was it in 1978 who broke the grammar code? The last couple of decades have been good for ancient languages:

Linear B, 1965(?)
Etruscan, 1980s (I think)

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Re: Another query from my class

from: atacuivel
date: Apr. 8th, 2004 02:43 pm (UTC)
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Unrelatedly, I LOVE YOUR ICON!!

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Respice finem

Re: Another query from my class

from: malsperanza
date: Apr. 8th, 2004 06:24 pm (UTC)
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Mm. Hadrian/Antinous: OTP.

Made for me by the ever-fabulous chresimos

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shar_gaz

Re: Another query from my class

from: shar_gaz
date: Apr. 8th, 2004 09:11 pm (UTC)
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I'm actually not sure who it was and am too lazy to look it up right now. :-)

Sumerian was deciphered in the 1850s, though - the 1978 thing was just the discovery that it was an ergative language, which tells how it uses transitive and intransitive verbs. And there's actually still debate raging over whether it uses split ergativity or pure ergativity, so things are not altogether wrapped up by any means.

Oy. :-)

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S

(no subject)

from: greensword
date: Apr. 7th, 2004 10:26 pm (UTC)
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Don't have anything really interesting to say, but just wanted to drop you a line and thank you for doing this. It's fun to read and (crazily enough) educational. :) I was wondering what exactly you do for a living, that you've got this kind of expertise?

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shar_gaz

(no subject)

from: shar_gaz
date: Apr. 8th, 2004 10:02 am (UTC)
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You're very welcome!

I'm a PhD student in Assyriology (study of Mesopotamia - Sumer and Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia). This whole thing started as a joke with me and a couple of friends, and has grown WAY beyond anything I might've imagined. Who knew everyone loves the Sumerian?

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Unrepentant Artfag

(no subject)

from: 00goddess
date: Apr. 8th, 2004 12:01 am (UTC)
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Curious- I've never heard of the Underworld being described simply as "ki", but rather as "Kigalla".

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shar_gaz

(no subject)

from: shar_gaz
date: Apr. 8th, 2004 10:03 am (UTC)
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Yeah, Ki-gal-la is often an epithet of the netherworld ("the great earth"), but ki by itself very often refers to it as well, especially when it's paired with "an". "an ki" should be translated "heaven and the netherworld" rather than "heaven and earth".

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Unrepentant Artfag

(no subject)

from: 00goddess
date: Apr. 8th, 2004 11:25 am (UTC)
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"an ki" should be translated "heaven and the netherworld" rather than "heaven and earth".

Now, that is really interesting, especially in light of the creation myths. It would mean that the heaven and the underworld gave birth to all that exists, rather than it being the heaven and the earth as most people translate.

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shar_gaz

(no subject)

from: shar_gaz
date: Apr. 8th, 2004 09:13 pm (UTC)
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You have to be sure to not bring in our connotations with heaven and the netherworld though - it's not a good and evil thing, it's just that those are the two places where gods live.

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Unrepentant Artfag

(no subject)

from: 00goddess
date: Apr. 11th, 2004 08:23 pm (UTC)
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Oh, absolutely! Hence my use of "the heaven" and "the underworld."

Those aren't my concepts at all, anyway- I'm a Thelemite devotee of Inanna. :)

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(Deleted comment)

The Great and Terrible Oz

(no subject)

from: ludditerobot
date: Apr. 8th, 2004 06:30 am (UTC)
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Off-topic question, inspired by this: Is there a sumerian word for "key", as combined with "lock"? Or is that a concept that comes with metalwork far more advanced than anything in Sumer?

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shar_gaz

(no subject)

from: shar_gaz
date: Apr. 8th, 2004 10:04 am (UTC)
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Heh. No, I'm pretty sure there's not. They had locks, but they were more the bar-across-the-door kind, not the kind that would open with a key.

I wonder when locks with keys were invented? In AD times, I imagine, though I've never thought about it before. Huh.

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The Great and Terrible Oz

(no subject)

from: ludditerobot
date: Apr. 8th, 2004 11:13 am (UTC)
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So, before the inventions of man, what terminology did they use to discuss the-green-glow-that-would-become-Dawn? Inquiring minds ... don't really care all that much, but are concerned.

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shar_gaz

(no subject)

from: shar_gaz
date: Apr. 8th, 2004 09:14 pm (UTC)
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Heee! That is troubling.

Hmm....

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Liza

(no subject)

from: lizamanynames
date: Apr. 8th, 2004 07:47 am (UTC)
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I've heard the term En-Lil-Ki to refer to "The Plains of En-Lil" the place sacred to the wind god where councils were held. Is this at all accurate, to your knowledge?

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shar_gaz

(no subject)

from: shar_gaz
date: Apr. 8th, 2004 10:14 am (UTC)
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En-lil-ki does literally mean, "The place of Enlil", but generally that's read as Nippur, which is Enlil's city and the center of his cult. I haven't heard "The Plains of Enlil" as a meaning, but it might've been proposed by someone at some point.

And Enlil as meaning "Lord Wind" is an older reading of his name that's now seen as a folk etymology rather than being legitimately connected to the name originally. So thinking of him as the wind god isn't quite accurate, though you'll find that in older books and in the work of people like Jacobsen, who are very important Assyriologists.

Good questions!

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Badgirl

(no subject)

from: autobadgirl
date: Apr. 8th, 2004 03:06 pm (UTC)
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Just dropping in to say my fourth and fifth grade class *loves* the Sumerian word of the day. If they catch me using the English translation of the SWOTD they get a sticker, so they are extra motivated to learn.

They copy it faifully into their agendas and write secret messages to one another that none of the other classes at our school can read--they've even started creating their own cuniform writing for words that they think needs a Sumerian word for it--like cool, dirtbike and pogos...

Thanks so much for this.

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shar_gaz

(no subject)

from: shar_gaz
date: Apr. 8th, 2004 09:15 pm (UTC)
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Wow, really? That's so cool!

I'm so impressed that you're doing it with them. That's just awesome. Thanks for telling me!

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