The Assyrian Language

This entry is taken from my old blog and was originally written in 2009.

I have bought two books about an East-Semitic language, the language of Assyria, Akkad, and Babylon. It died out about 2800 years ago and was essentially replaced first by Aramaic and 2000 years later by Arabic, presumably in part because those languages could be written more easily.

Assyrian was written in Sumerian Cuneiform, a syllabary (meaning that its characters or, rather, pictures, represent a syllable each) and picture system (some pictures stood for complete words) originally intended for an unrelated language which didn’t share with Semitic languages the consonants or, obviously, the meaning of the words.

Sumerian lacked some sounds of Assyrian, most notably the Ayin*. I understand the script uses the symbols for Het** plus vowels for Ayin plus vowels. Apparently the vowels were not as much of a problem (assuming that Assyrian is as regular as Hebrew and other Semitic languages).

*Ayin is a voiced pharyngeal fricative (roughly the fricative of a very hard “q”) or a voiced velar fricative (Dutch “g”) following a vowel.

**Het is a voiceless pharyngeal fricative (a very low in the nech pronounced sound similar to “ch” as in “loch” but more like a deep “h”) or a voiceless velar fricative (“kh” or “ch”) only in Arabic.

From what I understand so far, many words are very similar to or based on the same roots as Hebrew words I know. A common word ending appears to be the third root consonant followed by an “u” vowel.

Assyrian used to be spoken in what is now northern Iraq around, for example, the city of Arbil, which in Assyrian means “four god(s)” (“arba ilu”).

The only word I knew from Assyrian apart from the city name was the first person singular pronoun which has survived into Biblical Hebrew, giving credence to the Biblical claim that the ancestors of the Israelites came from Assyria.

Hebrew and Phoenician (aka the local languages of Canaan) for “I”: ani


Word used in Exodus in the Ten Commandments: anoki


Assyrian/Akkadian word for “I”: anaku (which I cannot spell here in Cuneiform)


This is also quite different from Arabic for “I”: ana


Or in Hebrew script:


So far I have read the first few chapters of the grammar book.

The later chapters assume that one learned the Cuneiform script.

Other blog entries on the Assyrian language

  1. The Assyrian language (this entry)
  2. Introduction to Akkadian
  3. Introduction to Akkadian - Lesson 2
 © Andrew Brehm 2016