In Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform, the Akkadian word gunû "colored, decorated" is used to describe signs hatched across with little diagonal strokes. For example, the sign GAŠAN "lady" (𒃽) is the sign U "ten" (𒌋) gunû.

Images, for those without cuneiform fonts:


However, according to the ePSD, GAŠAN can actually be read as UGUNU₂—that is, actually pronounced as ugunu!

Was this really the case? Or did a sign name get misinterpreted somewhere along the line? I could imagine this sign arising as a pun—to write the word ugunu, write the word u, then make it gunû (decorated)—but I can also imagine a clerical error mistaking a sign description for a sign reading.

  • Good question. The ePSD entry for ugunu [DECORATION] features a variety of phonetic spellings strongly suggesting that a Sumerian word ugunu at least existed. However, I haven't yet managed to locate any attested usages of the GAŠAN / UGUNU₂ sign that clearly should be read in context as ugunu (in either sense) rather than as gašan. If they exist, I suspect they're probably somewhere in some ancient word list. Nov 9, 2023 at 13:50
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    Update: CAD (under bēltu) cites a lexical entry "u-gu-nu GAŠAN = be-el-tum A II/4:221." AFAICT "A" here refers to the "lexical series á A = nâqu", of which I have so far been unable to locate a copy online. Still, it at least suggests a likely origin for this reading. Of course, whether the lexical entry accurately reflects a genuine Sumerian pronunciation is another matter entirely… Nov 9, 2023 at 14:35


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