Babylonians speak to us now

Let’s help the buzz spread:

A team from University of Cambridge put online a collection of Babylonian and Assyrian texts with recordings. Nerdcore!

Of course, neither the UoC team nor the rest of us (apart from the occasional necromancer perhaps – step up, folks I know you’re reading) can be sure how did the Babylonian language really sound like. So the recordings – a reconstuction based on modern Semitic languages – are probably quite far off. Still, a nice little thing to read and listen to.

I’ve seen this first on omniglot and later on languagehat. Both are really worth reading (LH better suits my tastes).

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Rémy  On October 18, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    Pretty cool! On the subject of dead languages, I had to do a double-take when I saw this book in Gibert Jeune when I went to Paris:

    Complete with recordings! It must have been interesting/hilarious to construct every-day dialogues in Egyptian that fit the Assimil method. ;)

  • peterlin  On October 18, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    I was going to say that I’d like to see a similar thing for Old Persian, but then I thought they would have had to invent the language almost from scratch, because of the small size of the OP corpus and its formulaic and repetitive character.

    With Egyptian we have at hand a very wide range of texts belonging to different speech registers. But having said that… Egyptian vowels can’t be reconstructed, can they? When reading they’re just inserting an ‘e’-like sound wherever it fits, or something like that, right?

  • Rémy  On October 19, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    I can’t say I really know anything about Egyptian, but from looking flicking through the book (, it seems like with the transliteration in the book, they are only transliterating consonants and semi-consonants (i, j and w, apparently), and then giving an approximation in brackets of what it should sound like, including vowels, in French orthography. Some extracts on the subject from the intro read:

    L’équivalence donnée entre les cinq premières lettres du tableau précedent et des voyelles est purement conventionnelle. En effet, ces lettres correspondent dans la langue égyptienne à des sons consonatiques, c’est-à-dire soit à des semi-consonnes, soit à des consonnes sans équivalent en français (occlusive glottale ou laryngale). Par convention, les égyptologues ont assimilé ces cinq signes (?, i, j, ? et w) [? meaning I have no idea what the sign they’ve used is!] à des voyelles à part entière pour faciliter la prononciation. Mas les sons ‘a’, ‘e’, et ‘?’ [cut off by scan] qui résultent ne suffisent pas à lire commodément ces “squelettes” consonantiques. Lorsque plusieurs consonnes se suivent, on intercede à l’oral les sons [é] ou [è].

    I’m not sure what the ‘conventional pronunciation’ is for Egyptian, but it does sound a lot like it involves inserting ‘e’-like sounds wherever they seem to fit. A bit later it also says:

    Nous n’avons pas cherché à restituer une prononciation historique. En effet, à l’inverse du grec ancien et du latin, il est hélas impossible de reconstituer la prononciation du moyen égyptien, puisque nous ne connaissons pas sa vocalisation (système des voyelles). La prononciation utilisée dans les enregistrements est basée sur la prononciation conventionelle qui, n’étant pas complètement unifiée, connaît ça et là des variantes.

    So it’s not exactly gonna sound historically accurate, but at least it will sound something like other Egyptologists will recognise! ;)

    • peterlin  On October 19, 2010 at 9:46 pm

      More or less what I thought… Avestan and Sanskrit are probably the only ones with modern pronunciation not being that off wrt the real thing.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: