Olga Olina

The Polyglots of Ancient Near East

The ancient Near East – a vast territory spanning Mesopotamia, Anatolia, ancient Egypt and the Levant – was home to many early civilizations. The wheel and the first currency systems were invented here, as well as the foundations of astronomy, physics and mathematics. Though of different descent, and each with their own language and history, the inhabitants of this region developed a mutual understanding which enabled them to flourish and trade despite the highly limited natural resources. These people were the first polyglots, in one of the cradles of modern civilization.

Due to the limited materials available to researchers for the study of multilingualism in ancient times, it is difficult to specify the exact status of the many languages spoken in the ancient Near East. Some information, however, can be inferred from bilingual attestations discovered by archeologists. Though the extant sources of many languages are very scarce, there is a number of languages – such as Sumerian, Akkadian or Hittite – with a rich surviving textual tradition.

In this talk I will introduce you to the peoples populating the ancient Near East, as well as their languages and literary tradition. I will explore when and why the first writing systems emerged, and examine the contents of the earliest written records. By setting focus on bilingual attestations I will give an account of multilingualism in the ancient Near East.

Ask the speaker a question


  • RonP says:

    I really enjoyed your presentation, thank you!

  • MsPolyglot says:

    So deeply researched, thank you!

  • hoteldephil says:

    Nice presentation. I also enjoyed your presentation on Lithuanian at the Polyglot Gathering.

  • Anonymous says:

    Nice presentation. I also enjoyed your presentation on Lithuanian at the Polyglot Gathering.

  • Thomas H Bak says:

    Absolutely wonderful, the combination of enthusiasm, professionalism and beatifull as well as informative slides is amazing! Important to show, as you have done, that the development of cities, states and empires did not automatically lead to monolingualism, as many people believe! Congratulations.

  • ElderPolyglot says:

    This is a very unusual presentation, congratulations.

  • Yana says:

    Hi Olga, your presentation was so informative and so interesting! I really enjoyed learning about the languages of the Ancient Near East. Thanks for this wonderful talk.

  • Olga Olina says:

    Hello Mus_Marian, I am very glad to hear that you enjoyed my presentation! More than ten thousand clay tablets in Hittite and Sumerian resepectively have been excavated . Very many of these are broken and have to be joined together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Then philologists have to analyse the texts. Since there are not particularly many Hittite or Sumerian experts, lots of work still has to be done. Numrous texts are yet to be translated and the old translations updated!
    And then there are many smaller languages that were spoken in the Ancient Near East which are being intensively studied. Through comparison with these our understanding of major languages can be improved.
    Most of the publications from 2020 try to explain the relationship between different languages, both smaller and larger.

  • Mus_Marian says:

    A really fascinating look into languages of the Ancient Near East! Thank you so much for your talk. What kind of interaction does someone like you have with these languages? As you’ve said they are mostly all extinct. Is there still a lot of reading or decoding to be done for these languages?

  • E.F.63 says:

    Thank you for the presentation! I enjoy learning about ancient cultures very much.

  • lisatalks says:

    It works again! Cool presentation! 😍

  • Ssc73 says:

    Hello again, now it works 🙂

  • Olga Olina says:

    Oh no, guys! I am not sure what went wrong here. I just contacted the PC team and sincerely hope that the problem will be fixed asap.

  • Francisco.Sanchez says:

    Can’t watch it

  • mhtariq says:

    I’ve emailed help about it. Hopefully sorted soon.

  • Dejla says:

    Same, unfortunately

  • PedroGuillermo says:

    Agree with Sergio.

  • Ssc73 says:


    I can,t reproduce this video but other videos I can.

    Kind Regards,


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