Organized Panel Session
The appearance and rise of vernacular elements in ancient Western Asia, or the Ancient Near East (ANE), has been an object of fascination for Near Eastern philologists since the foundation of the disciplines. The discussion over what constitutes “literary,” “spoken,” or “peripheral” registers of the languages (Sumerian, Akkadian, Aramaic, Hittite, etc.) has been robust and produced considerable variation in the interpretation of scribal cultures and the role of text and literature in society. Many of the differences in modern political histories of Mesopotamia can be attributed to these variations. More recently Sheldon Pollock’s work has encouraged new and critical attention be paid to the categories that ANE scholars are using to analyze relationships between “big” and “little” languages as well as important concepts such as “official,” “vernacular,” or “documentary” languages. This paper surveys some important results from ANE vernacular research with suggestive parallels for the broader study of Asian vernacular languages. It offers, in particular, patterns of text reception in different linguistic communities across a single, long history, well attested political implications for the rise of vernaculars, and some comments on transcription and genre. For all topics, the Bronze Age and Iron Age linguistic environments will be contrasted in order to emphasize the relevance of distinctions between phonographic and logographic writing systems since both were used in ancient Western Asia.