1: G. Buccellati, February 2003

The sound of the spoken languages

     Taking advantage of the multi-media dimension of the website, it is worth trying to render the sound of a sample ancient text for each of the languages represented at ancient Urkesh.

     How close can we claim the approximation to be to what was actually uttered by the respective speakers? Here is a simple answer. If an ancient Hurrian, or, for that matter, an ancient Sumerian, Akkadian or Amorite, could click on our link and hear our voice – he or she might not, as a matter of fact, understand us immediately. But the operative word here is “immediately.” The ancients might not understand us because we would have, we might say, a very thick accent.

     However, the substance of the phonological rendering – we have reason to believe – would be correct. In other words, given enough time during which our pronunciation and their ears might become attuned, we would indeed understand each other.

     In technical terms, this means that while the phonetic realization is arguable, the phonemic reality is not (in our estimation, of course...). Since phonemics is what carries meaning, we feel confident in the eventual ability to understand each other.

     Besides the actual phonetic realization of individual phonemes, there are other aspects like intonation and inflection that totally escape us, and to a more limited extent also stress. But in spite of all this, we feel that the scholarly effort has been sufficiently successful to guarantee valid access to such a wondrous dimension of ancient life as the sound of their speech.

     In each of the pertinent sections a different scholar reads aloud one of the key texts of ancient Urkesh – in Hurrian, Sumerian and Akkadian. We leave Amorite aside, because we have no connected text in this language, but only personal names.

     Even more wondrous is the sound of Hurrian melodies – preserved through a written code that we can still translate into music.