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9th-7th centuries BCE6th-1st centuries BCE

Dead languages / Semitic /
Ancient World / Mesopotamia / Languages /
Akkadian language

Diplomatic letter written in Akkadian cuneiform

Diplomatic letter written in Akkadian cuneiform.

Semitic language, which served as the common language of peoples of the Middle East for about 300 years, from the 9th century until the 7th century BCE when Aramaic started to supplant it. The language was in use for 2,500 years in and around Mesopotamia.
The designation "Akkadian" is taken from the city of Agade, which has never been geographically located. From Agade we have the earliest examples of the language, back to ca. 2300 BCE.
In the 2nd millennium BCE, there emerged largely two dialect zones of Akkadian; Assyrian and Babylonian. The Babylonian dialect had a high status even in Assyria, where this was preferred form in literature.
Akkadian was written in a cuneiform script, with about 600 different signs for either words or syllables. The sound system used 20 consonants, and 4 short vowels (a, i, e, u) which also came in long versions. Nouns were declined into either nominative, accusative, or genitive forms. Numbers were in singular, dual, and plural. Verbs could be cast in either perfect (for past) or imperfect (for present or future).

Around 2300 BCE: The Akkadian language spreads during the reign of the Akkadian king, Sargon.
Around 2000 BCE: Akkadian has replaced Sumerian as the spoken language in southern Mesopotamia.
9th century BCE: The Babylonian dialect of Akkadian has established itself as the lingua franca of the Middle East.
7th century BCE: Aramaic gradually becomes the dominant language of the Middle East.
1st century CE: All sources indicate that Akkadian is no longer in use.
19th century: Akkadian is deciphered by scholars.

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By Tore Kjeilen