The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia
04 February 2009
More on dictionaries; some good news
I'm still chugging away on my first draft of Like Mayflies in a Stream, my novel about ancient Sumer. I had hoped to be done with the first draft by now, but some of the early chapters came hard. Now that I'm approaching the finish line, my fingers are typing faster and faster.
The Sumerian dictionary I mentioned having in last week's post is not just a novelty item. I find myself using it many times a day. Were there leopards in those days, or chairs, or mattresses? The quickest way to find out is to check the dictionary and see whether they had a word for it.
I've also found the dictionary a valuable glimpse into how the Sumerians categorized their world and what distinctions they found important to make.
•There were many words for beer and many for bread. Beer and bread were the staples of their diet, and they made many kinds of each.
•Some words mean "dung" in general, but "sheep dung" is a distinct word.
•I believe we have four words for sheep in English: sheep, ram, ewe, lamb. The Sumerians had at least eighteen, including words for a wild ram, a domesticated ram, a fattened sheep, a female lamb, a male lamb, a suckling lamb, a perfect sheep (which was the only kind suitable to feed to a god), and a slaughtered sheep. (Sumerian was a concatenating language like German, so although some of these were distinct, unique words, others were constructed by adding an adjective to the word "sheep.") The Sumerians also many words for shepherd, some of which identified what kind of sheep were cared for.
I had some great news yesterday. My story "The Hunt" (previously published in Continuum Science Fiction) has been picked up for republication by Jim Baen's Universe. It is currently slated for the April 2010 (yes, 2010) issue and should get much wider exposure than it did the first time around.