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Return to Lexical texts
Types of lists
The format of the list proved a useful tool for organizing large amounts of data. Already the earliest examples of lexical texts from Uruk dating to the last centuries of the 4th millennium are lists of items. From a rather basic point of perspective two major types of lists can be distinguished: (1) word lists and (2) sign lists. Due to the polyvalence of Sumerian every list belongs by definition to the first category, although a few exceptions exist throughout the long history of lexical texts in Mesopotamia (e.g., Tu-ta-ti). Word lists concern frequently (a range of) semantic topics. Already among the earliest lists are such thematic texts, whereas most of them usually deal with a rather restricted semantic field (e.g., wood and wooden objects, fish). The exact boundaries of these categories are often rather fuzzy, which is also owed to our still meagre understanding of the earliest texts. Thematic lists undergo a development in the course of the third millennium. At sites such as Fara, Tell Abu Salabikh and Kish a corpus of large compendia emerge, which share a common idea. These so-called Practical Vocabularies combine a range of topics and usually only contain words regarding Mesopotamian material culture. These lists needs to be contrasted from the situation at the beginning of the 2nd millennium onwards, which witnesses the emergence of a large compendium dealing with a wide range of topics. This list and its later successors known after its incipit as Ura stays in the Mesopotamian textual record until the end of cuneiform script in the first centuries AD.
The second type of lexical texts, usually called sign lists, concern lists, whose entries are (predominantly) organized according to the form and appearance of signs. As mentioned earlier, this interpretation does not exclude them from being a word list. On the contrary. Many thematic lists as well as other sub-categories of word lists use the acrographic principle for arranging entries, i.e., listing entries according to the first sign in each entry. At various sites in the course of the 3rd millennium a genre of lists emerged, which appear to share a common ancestor or - similar to the afore-mentioned Practical Vocabularies - a common idea. They organize entries according to a selection of signs (or groups of signs) in subsequent sections. Except for one example (SF 7) the boundaries between the sections are not marked.
In the early second millennium a list emerges, whose importance for the scribal education is evident based on its content. This list called Tu-ta-ti according to its incipit deals with variations of syllables based on the vocalic schema u - a - i. The last-mentioned list is strictly speaking a sign exercise and stands rather at the beginning of the scribal education.
There are quite a few further types of texts that belong to the genre of lexical lists. One among these is a phrasebook known already in the first half of the 2nd millennium under the heading ki-ulutin-bi-še3 or Ana ittišu. Some features of this list can be paired with grammatical texts dealing with extensive, but partial inventories of grammatical forms, most notably paradigms of the Sumerian verb. Ana ittišu contains a wide range of legal terminology.