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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Bilingual Education and Innovations in Scholarship

  • Author(s): Crisostomo, Christian
  • Advisor(s): Veldhuis, Niek
  • Rochberg, Francesca
  • et al.

The present study demonstrates the close connection in scribal practice between language and scholarship. During the Old Babylonian period (c. 1800 B.C.E) in the city of Nippur in southern Mesopotamia, scribal apprentices learned to write cuneiform by copying lists of words and cuneiform signs. At that time, most copies of these lexical compositions reflected a linguistic ideology valorizing the language of Sumerian and were, accordingly, unilingual. Exceptionally, some exemplars from the curricular stage Advanced Lexical Education (ALE)--particularly the word list Izi--exhibit explicit Sumerian-Akkadian bilingualism. I argue that such examples of explicit bilingualism in scribal education represent an innovative form of knowledge, a mode of scholarly interpretation I term analogical hermeneutics. The present study thus explores the intersection of language and scholarship in a period in which these subjects have not yet been extensively explored together.

The word list Izi, a two-chapter list comprising approximately 1,025 entries, provides the core dataset for the study. The list was previously edited in the series Materials for the Sumerian Lexicon 13 (Civil, 1971). I provide a new introduction, synopsis edition, translation, and commentary. The present edition is based on collation of all known Izi exemplars, including over forty previously unpublished manuscripts. Izi characterizes the compositions of ALE, the curricular stage during which scribes internalized analogical hermeneutics as scribal practice and began applying such habits interlingually.

Analogical hermeneutics is a form of analogical reasoning that is well recognized in later periods of cuneiform culture as a technique for determining relationships between epistemic objects. Analogical hermeneutics juxtaposes the particular to the particular--phonology, graphic shape, semantic referent, among others. The practice of analogical hermeneutics produces possibility. A scribe may base scholarly interpretations on similarity in seemingly dissimilar, even spurious, objects.

My analysis contextualizes the study of Izi in its linguistic and educational setting. I first provide conceptual tools from semiotics in order to frame the relationship between a sign and its referent and between a Sumerian lemma and its Akkadian counterpart. Moreover, I adopt the sociological language of P. Bourdieu's practice theory to establish how scribal practices were inscribed in student scribes as habitus. Scribal apprentices copying texts during ALE reproduced ideologies regarding Sumerian language and traditions, the possibilities of polyvalency and polysemy embedded in the cuneiform writing system, and analogical hermeneutics. The scribes established their scholarly credentials through their aptitude in writing Sumerian and in producing analogies, taking positions within the field of scholarship and, thereby, reproducing the field.

I show that tokens of Akkadian found in unilingual compositions reflect analogical hermeneutics, allowing interlingual correspondences based on perspectives other than semantic correlation. Thus, many Sumerian-Akkadian correspondences lack semantic commensurability. Explicit bilingualism is thus an extension of the practices scribes employed throughout ALE. The possibility of interlingual analogical hermeneutics is grounded in the polyvalency and polysemy of the writing system, allowing scribes to demonstrate their aptitude with the writing system in the interlingual space. The emergence of analogical hermeneutics during ALE marks a transition in ancient scholarly practice, wherein analogical hermeneutics, rather than Sumerian language use, became the primary characteristic of cuneiform scholarship until the end of cuneiform culture. I show that the manipulation of the writing system and language and similar unconventionalities in written text should not be understood as idiosyncratic scribal play, but as knowledge production, an important facet of scholarly practice.

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