Flat Earth: Babylon rocks

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The Independent Online
ELVIS lives - even in the long-dead languages of the world. Don't step on my esir kus za-gin, says Jukka Ammondt, a Finnish professor who plans to record some of Elvis Presley's songs in Sumerian, writes Fiona Bell

Ammondt declared last week that the first track he aims to lay down is "Blue Suede Shoes". As the Sumerians had neither suede nor shoes, as such, the title translates into "Esir Kus Za-gin"- literally "sandals of leather of the colour of a blue gem." Unlike many rockers who don't care if their singing is comprehensible, Prof Ammondt, however, is concerned about enunciation.

"But they say Finnish is well-suited to pronouncing Sumerian because it's such a phonetic language," says Dr Ammondt, a professor of literature at the Uni- versity of Jyvaskyla, 160 miles north of Helsinki.

Not that there will be anyone around qualified to criticise if he mispronounces a few words. Sumerian, used in the lower Euphrates river valley in what is now Iraq, died out as a spoken language in about 2000 BC.

Prof Ammondt's recordings reflect the climate in Finland where almost everyone is at least trilingual - its own tongue being regarded as fiendishly difficult to outsiders. National radio even has regular programming in Latin.