The Social Lives of Sumerian


ACLS Fellowship Program


Middle East Studies


Sumerian, one of the earliest recorded languages, has been used for numerous purposes over the course of 3,000 years. Despite being one of history’s most important languages, a synthetic analysis of how the Sumerian language was used, appropriated, and conceptualized in relation to social meaning has not been considered. This project investigates the social and linguistic history of the language, demonstrating why and how certain populations adopted and adapted Sumerian in specific situations. More than 5,000 years ago, Sumerian came to life through the styli of scribes, the songs of women, the numeracy of accountants, and the invention of scholars. By considering through sociolinguistic frameworks how ancient language users employed Sumerian varieties, particularly in contrast to other linguistic options, “The Social Lives of Sumerian” brings Sumerian new life, allowing its users to impact new social worlds through the power of the language.