Akkadian (lišānum akkadītum) was a Semitic language (part of the greater Afro-Asiatic language family) spoken in ancient Mesopotamia, particularly by the Assyrians and Babylonians. The earliest attested Semitic language, it used the cuneiform writing system derived ultimately from ancient Sumerian, an unrelated, language isolate. The name of the language is derived from the city of Akkad, a major center of Mesopotamian civilization.

Akkadian is divided into several varieties based on geography and historical period:

  • Old Akkadian — 2500 – 1950 BCE
  • Old Babylonian/Old Assyrian — 1950 – 1530 BCE
  • Middle Babylonian/Middle Assyrian — 1530 – 1000 BCE
  • Neo-Babylonian/Neo-Assyrian — 1000 – 600 BCE
  • Late Babylonian — 600 BCE – 100 CEBabylonian language

Akkadian scribes wrote the language using cuneiform script, an earlier writing system devised by the Sumerians using wedge-shaped signs pressed in wet clay. As employed by Akkadian scribes the adapted cuneiform script could represent either (a) Sumerian logograms (i.e. picture-based characters representing entire words), (b) Sumerian syllables, (c) Akkadian syllables, or (d) phonetic complements. Cuneiform was in many ways unsuited to Akkadian: among its flaws was its inability to represent important phonemes in Semitic, including a glottal stop, pharyngeals, and emphatic consonants. In addition, cuneiform was a syllabary writing system — i.e. a consonant plus vowel comprised one writing unit — frequently inappropriate for a Semitic language made up of triconsonantal roots (i.e. three consonants minus any vowels).