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Pronouncing Sumerian and Akkadian

The language you use is an essential component for establishing a conducive atmosphere in which to work. Pronouncing an ancient language with sensitivity and rhythm is itself a subtle charge of magick, and combined with intent, imagination, solitude and ceremony can become the key to transformative state of mind, the condition of wonder. Besides English, Babylonian magickal work uses two languages, Sumerian (and its dialect Emesal) and Akkadian (Assyrian and Babylonian).


Like all ancient languages, we do not know how Akkadian and Sumerian were spoken. Scribes in Babylon were trained for over two years to become competent in Sumerian, the basis of the cuneiform writing system. The Sumero-Babylonian cuneiform writing system consists of around 700 signs, which could represent both words and syllables. The scribes already spoke one of the languages, they had only to learn how to transcribe it. Our task is more difficult: we must learn the language as well as the way it was written. Cuneiform is full of mysteries; it became increasingly complex over the three thousand years of its development, and its adepts utilized these complexities for esoteric teaching and speculation. While we cannot hope to duplicate the training or the native knowledge of the Babylonian scribes, we must try in some way to make their teaching our own. We must begin by saying what they said, pronouncing what they pronounced. Although we cannot be certain how the languages were spoken, there are three ways to reconstruct pronunciation:

  1. Comparing contemporary descended or related languages
  2. Ancient transliterations or phonological discussions from the unknown to a known language
  3. Borrowings from the unknown to a known language
Since the Akkadian languages are in the semitic family, its relatives Arabic, Aramaic and Hebrew provide good comparisons. Sumerian, on the other hand, has no known descendants or relatives, so we must rely entirely on point number 2. Sumerian and Akkadian are written with the same set of characters, and for 2000 years after Sumerian's demise as a spoken language scribes learned the Sumerian equivalents of Babylonian and Assyrian signs. We may therefore work from the pronunciation of Akkadian back to the Sumerian. Finally, we scholars are fairly confident of the quality of Sumerian vowels - whether it is an a, e, i, u (even perhaps o) - we have very little idea of the quantity - long or short, high or low, etc.
The following guide to Sumerian (less so the Akkadian) is therefore purely practical, as I sing and say it, with no scholarly pretensions.

a short as in "bat," or long as in "father"Same
â long as in "father"Same
b as in "babble"Same
d as in EnglishSame
e short as in "bet"Same
e sometimes long as in "day"Same
g hard as in English "gag"Same
g(tilde) not in AkkadianNasal "ng" as in "thing"
h rough "h", no English equivalentSame
i short as in "sit"Same
i sometimes long as in "ski"Same
k always hard as in "kick"Same
l as in EnglishSame
m same as EnglishSame
n same as EnglishSame
p same as EnglishSame
q hard "k" but deeper in the throat(not in Sumerian)
r same as English, can be flat or rolledSame
s same as EnglishSame
s(emphatic) no English equivalent(not in Sumerian)
š like "sh" in "ship"Same
t as in EnglishSame
t(emphatic) no English equivalent(not in Sumerian)
u short as in "cut"Same
u sometimes long as in "ruby"Same
w same as English(not in Sumerian)
y same as English(not in Sumerian)
z as in EnglishSame

There are two diphthongs

If any other two vowels come together, pronounce them like they are both the first vowel.

Next Section:
Pronouncing Numbers in the Spells
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