De Gruyter Award

crisostomoThis year’s winner of the De Gruyter Award, the Award presented for the best recent Ph.D dissertation in Assyriology , is C. Jay Crisostomo for his dissertation: ‘Bilingual Education in Scholarship: The Old Babylonian Word List Izi’.

Crisostomo is an assistant Professor of Assyriology at the University of Michigan and is specialized in language and history using third and second millennium cuneiform texts: “My research investigates Sumerian language and literature, multilingualism, ancient modes of translation, scribal and scholarly practices, lexicography, knowledge production and transfer, historiography, and social networks.”. The IAA congratulates Dr. Crisostomo with his awarded research!

Crisostomo summarizes his dissertation: “I re-edited the word list Izi, previously edited by M. Civil in MSL 13, and examined the stage of the curriculum I have termed Advanced Lexical Education (ALE), where the majority of the lists that student scribes copied are unilingual Sumerian. I found that rare examples of written bilingualism represented moments when these scribes demonstrated their scholarly credentials and knowledge of the cuneiform writing system. These examples of what I call analogical hermeneutics serve as some of the earliest examples of commentary, complicate our definitions of translation, and demonstrate the need for critical reflection in modern Assyriological lexicography.”

Crisostomo goes on: “Good ancient cuneiform scholars could use the polyvalency and polysemy of cuneiform signs to their advantage, finding additional meaning in signs and crafting new interpretations. While this practice is well-known in the first millennium scholarly material, my work finds it in the early second millennium. For example, according to one exemplar of Izi, Sumerian utu “sun” is translated by Akkadian imērum “donkey”. This interpretation is based on the near-homophony of Sumerian utu to udu “sheep” in addition to the same phonological analogy in Akkadian of imērum to immerum “sheep”. Thus utu = udu = immerum = imērum; so utu = imērum. Of the 465 viable tokens of bilingualism among the exemplars of Izi, I found only 63% conformed to our notions of semantic correspondence, thereby complicating our categories of what constitutes translation. Moreover, at least 25% of these tokens may be proven to exhibit an analogical hermeneutical strategy. Thus, what seems to us spurious or misbegotten translations is to Babylonian scribes evidence of their mastery of their craft. As I argue, analogous reasoning seems to characterize ancient cuneiform scholarly knowledge not only in lexical lists, but in cuneiform scholarship more generally. “Scribal play” is normative.”

Crisostomo never thought he would be interested in a genre “as boring as the lexical lists”. But he remembers how he grew into the subject during his graduate education under Niek Veldhuis at the University of California, Berkeley: “I developed a strong interest in multilingualism, namely the relationship between Sumerian and Akkadian and the various ways in which cuneiform writers used the languages. All language users, including those writing on clay tablets, use specific languages (and forms of language) to accomplish particular tasks in various situations and contexts. I came to realize that the Old Babylonian lexical lists provided an opportunity to observe and analyze multilingualism in a controlled setting.” [see issue 2013-2 of this newsletter for more on Berkeley through the eyes of Niek Veldhuis and C. Jay Crisostomo].

The committee installed to assess and award the De Gruyter Award consisted of E. von Dassow (chair), M. Jursa, C. Michel, and D. Schwemer. The IAA thanks De Gruyter Publications for awarding the Prize, and the committee for their assessment of all entries and their hard work.