How to Translate Alphabetic Akkadian Texts

Alphabetic Akkadian texts are the working mans writing used for trade, temple, and army. They do not belong to any scribal tradition. Instead they are a simplified, underconstrained form of scribal phonetic writing being used more like a memory aid device where the reader already has some idea of the contents. This is why their proper translation requires full knowledge of their cultural context and strict adherence to the Scholar's Standard.

Archaeological Field Standards
Archaeology has standards and so should Ancient Linguistics. While more relaxed translation standards do have their place for introducing the general public to certain texts due to their use of analogy, translations done to the scholar’s standard must come first in order to get inside the worldview of the ancients.

The Scholars Standard

(July 31, 2022) Translations for historical study and reference need to be done according to the scholar’s standard. Unfortunately the need for standards in linguists is a very recent development and is being resisted by the old guard who do not want to see their traditions disrupted. The result is that a lot of academically accepted fake translations are floating around. The standard is:

  1. The goal of translation is to transmit the intent of the writer, not to spin the text for any other purpose.

  2. Letter assignments must be consistent and cannot be deliberately mis-assigned to make a word.

  3. No letters can be added, subtracted, or shifted in the text to make a word.

  4. Each ancient word is assigned one and only one English word or phrase for its translation. The only exception may be to adapt the word to its grammatical context. Semantic context (sentence meaning) is no reason to change word definition. If the ancients used one word then so should we.

  5. Proper names are the last resort because they can represent any letter pattern and so are a wild card. Names do not represent a translation.

  6. The lexicon providing word meanings must be based upon numerous independent texts with many being long texts.

Translation accuracy

How to Translate Alphabetic Akkadian Texts

(July 31, 2022) The rules are:

  1. Alphabetic Akkadian words do not have inner vowels. This means vowels begin words and so indicate where words begin. This is important because words are not separated by spaces in ancient texts.

  2. Translate by clauses, that is, separate the text into a string of words glued together with one verb. The clearest verification of this approach is the Phaistos Disk which uses vertical lines to separate each clause. Other texts use vertical lines optionally for reading clarity.

  3. The letter “A” is your friend! It either begins a word or means the word “this,” or “that.”

  4. Dual use letters are those letters which are vowels when they begin a word and consonants otherwise. They begin a word 90% of the time. The dual use letters are Vav (W and U), He (H or E), and Yod (I or Y). This is why the “Y” even in English can sometimes be a vowel.

  5. Using vowels as grammatical word endings is extremely rare and when that happens a vertical line is also used delimit the clause. Consequently, the partial grammar of the alphabetic form is provided by relative word position. Remember the alphabetic form started out as a memory aid device so it did not have much grammar at its beginning.

  6. A verb at the end of a clause defines a general statement form like “dogs eat food.” A verb in the middle of the clause or sentence defines the ongoing form like “dog is eating the food” or a conditional form like “a dog can eat the food.” A verb at the start of a clause defines the imperative form like “eat the food.”

  7. The negative word “no” at the end of a sentence defines a question like “Is the dog eating? No.”

  8. An adjective always comes after the noun.

  9. Two nouns together form either a possessive relationship like “Joe’s dog” or a prepositional phrase “the dog from Joe”

  10. Proper names are the last resort because such names can represent any letter pattern. Lots of names in a text is often a clue it is a failed translation.