In the past few months, I’ve taken an interest in early Semitic languages, mentioned in the post below. One of the most interesting aspects of studying languages like Babylonian is the concept of normalization. What this means is that after you get done transliterating the phonetic syllables, you start figuring out how the transliteration corresponds to a standardized reading of the language. Take the word “nertam,” the accusative of “nertum” (murder). In the first law from the Code of Hammurabi, it is written ne-er-ut, with ut having an alternative reading “tam.” So a polished transliteration is ne-er-tam. You still have to run this together, though, to get “nertam,” which is the way you write the form in a normalized transcription.
I find a peculiar relationship between normalizing Babylonian and writing computer code. In both cases, you’re taking an imperfect human notation and converting it to something standardized. It’s just that with normalization, you’re making something more readable for people, starting with you so that you can do the translation!
Incidentally, the post title mentions listening to the dead. Pretty spooky, I know! Actually, though, there’s a site where you can listen to and follow along with a selection of hymns, excerpts from Gilgamesh and more, read by Assyriologists taking their best shot at what the language sounded like. I recommend Doris Prechel’s reading of the Hymn to Ishtar. Here is a link for the recordings.