The University of London’s Akkadian Recordings

Aug. 20

Have you ever wondered what the language of the ancient Assyrians would have sounded like? You are not alone. Scholars have been trying to determine what it sounded like for decades. Fortunately, the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies has made a public archive of Ancient Near Eastern academics reading Mesopotamian texts out loud in the original Akkadian language. By listening to these recordings, you can get a general idea of how the language may have sounded. Click here to listen to scholars reading the original texts of such works as the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Code of Hammurabi, etc.

Ancient Mesopotamians spoke Akkadian from the third to first millennium B.C. The ancient Assyrians and Babylonians both spoke different but similar forms of Akkadian; many scholars view them as two different dialects. During the sixth and seventh centuries B.C., Aramaic began to supplant Akkadian as the primary language spoken in Mesopotamia, which is why Assyrians still speak a form of Aramaic today. Both Akkadian and Aramaic are Semitic languages, meaning that they are from the same language family, which explains why it was easy for Aramaic to eventually replace Akkadian. Similarly, Arabic is also a Semitic language, explaining why it later so easily replaced Aramaic in the region.

Scholars have been working on deciphering the Akkadian language for nearly two-hundred years. One primary way that they guess how the Akkadian may have sounded is by comparing it to other Semitic languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, and different Ethiopic languages. Therefore, if you listen to the recordings, you will notice their similarities to these languages as well as to modern Assyrian (modern Aramaic). While you are listening, be sure to also check out a 20-minute film that Cambridge University’s Ancient Near Eastern students created in the Babylonian dialect of Akkadian, based on a clay tablet from 701 B.C. called The Poor Man of Nippur. It is probably the first film ever made in the Akkadian language!

Written by Esther Lang

Bibliography

“Babylonian and Assyrian Poetry and Literature: FAQs.” SOAS University of London. https://www.soas.ac.uk/baplar/faqs/ (accessed March 9, 2021).

“Babylonian and Assyrian Poetry and Literature: The Recordings.” SOAS University of London. https://www.soas.ac.uk/baplar/recordings/ (accessed March 9, 2021).

Encyclopaedia Britannica, s.v. “Akkadian.” Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Akkadian-language (accessed March 9, 2021).