Cuneiform script on the Kurkh Monolith depicting Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (9th century B.C.), kept at the British Museum (photo: David Castor)
After a global effort lasting nearly a century, the University of Chicago is publishing an Assyrian dictionary. We hear from one scholar at the British Museum who dedicated three years of his career to the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary Project. In the scheme of this endeavor, three years isn't especially long: the project began in in 1921. It is 21 volumes long.
Why spend so much time on a "dead" language? Because this was the world's first written language, according to most experts. The cuneiform script – used first for the Sumerian language, and then to write Assyrian and Babylonian – inspired that better-known ancient writing system, hieroglyphics.
The raw material for this dictionary was text written on Mesopotamian clay and stone tablets. There were legal and medical documents, love letters, epic poems, the lot. There is now hope that ancient history will now be rewritten, giving pride of place to Mesopotamian culture. Egpytians, Greeks, Romans: your time is up.
Also in the pod this week, Donald Keene's love affair with Japanese has culminated with his move from New York to Tokyo at the age of 89. Keene recently stopped teaching at Columbia. His retirement received far more coverage in Japan than in his native United States. He learned Japanese in the 1930s, then honed his skills interrogating captured Japanese troops during World War Two. In New York, he leaves behind him a Japanese cultural center named after him.
The pod features two other items: France prohibits broadcasters from saying Facebook or Twitter on the air. And is the word Canuck offensive? Not to most Canadians, says Vancouverite (and Vancouver Canucks fan) Andrea Crossan. However, the delighfully cheesy song Andrea dredged up to make this point may offend even if Canuck does not.
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