About This Early-Sign Sumerian Lexicon

By David D. Olmsted (December 2022)

(from slide show by Heather Morris at https://slideplayer.com/slide/5908362/)

General References

Halloran, John Allen (2006) Sumerian Lexicon, version 4. Logogram Publishing, Los Angles. - Based upon a variety of sources representing the state of art in Sumerian at the time.

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(Jan 2, 2022)  The Druid people and Northern Mesopotamian people spoke Akkadian while the Sumerian people spoke Sumerian. The Sumerians invented these signs and assigned them sounds based upon their own language. Their Akkadian speaking neighbors to the north then adopted these signs and sounds for their own language and used it as an aid to trade and empire.

Sumerian is not well understood as a language. No Sumerian text has been translated properly up to the Scholars Standard. What is known derives from occasional Sumerian words used in  later cuneiform Akkadian. This is the "top down" approach. Yet this leaves many Sumerian cuneiform signs with uncertain meanings. Because of this uncertainty, often the same sounds have assigned to multiple sounds (hence numbers after sounds) and many earlier signs have which can't be correlated with later ones have no sound assignments at all (the X labels in this lexicon). 

Consequently, future advances have to come from the "Bottom Up" approach used in this lexicon. This lexicon starts with the core information from the "Top Down" approach and adds information from Sumerian texts having images to help refine the meanings of the signs. Also helping this approach is the observation that early cuneiform signs are still very pictographic allowing their meaning to often be discerned from their images. By contrast, Assyrian empire era (1000 BCE) cuneiform signs are very abstract.

This lexicon started with the cuneiform sign list compiled in 1950 by I.J Gelb from  the University of Chicago. The signs were drawn by J. Lessoe. The original non-alphabetized version is now online at the Cuneiform Digital Initiative under the heading of Old Akkadian Period. This initiative is an ongoing project of Oxford University and can be found at:


The initial sign meanings derive from version 4 of the Sumerian Lexicon by John Holloran. These meanings are then refined by as they applied to picture bearing texts. Halloran has put the earlier version 3 online at: