Replacement for PJ schedule “Oriental languages and literatures”

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The problem: LC (Library of Congress) Classification uses “Oriental languages and literatures” to describe Middle Eastern/North African language and literatures, which is not great.

We have a good case for removing “Oriental” from the schedules based on 2016’s H.R. 4238, which removes the word (at least when referring to people?) from federal laws.

Our first task is to figure out what the better replacement is. Based on this overview of the P schedule, PJ is for “Oriental philology and literature,” including:

  • Afroasiatic languages
  • Egyptology
  • Coptic
  • Libyco-Berber languages. Berber languages
  • Cushitic languages
  • Semitic
  • Assyriology. Akkadian
  • Sumerian
  • West and North Semitic languages
  • Hebrew
  • Aramaic
  • Syriac
  • South Semitic languages
  • Arabic
  • Ethiopian languages

Our question: what language family grouping (term or terms) would be a better replacement for “Oriental languages and literatures”?

Potential answers: as people have pointed out, the schedules aren’t necessarily arranged by language family grouping (for example, subclass PL, described as “Languages and literatures of Eastern Asia, Africa, Oceania”). So it’s possible that there’s isn’t a good language family grouping, and we’d want to do something like “Languages and literatures of Northern Africa and the Middle East.”

Some have pointed out that everything on this list is one of the Afroasiatic languages, except Sumerian, which is a language isolate. So it’s possible that the best answer is “Afroasiatic and Sumerian languages and literatures.” Or just plain “Afroasiatic languages and literatures,” and those very few people who are cataloging Sumerian works can just deal with not having it in the top-level captions.

In my opinion, the “Afroasiatic” designation is a little misleading to non-linguists (like me!) who might assume that it incorporates all African and Asian languages just from the name. But I also don’t think “Oriental languages and literatures” is particularly clear to non-experts (plus it’s offensive, too!). So right now I’m leaning towards “”Afroasiatic languages and literatures.” Your input is valued!

Further thoughts: after hearing arguments for the importance of Sumerian, it sounds like “Afroasiatic and Sumerian languages and literatures” may be our best option for replacement. If anyone has printed (i.e. academic or reference) resources, please add below this or in comments below if you don’t want to log in. Thanks! –Violet Jan 31 2018

One Reply to “Replacement for PJ schedule “Oriental languages and literatures””

  1. My initial worry was that the general section included other non-Afroasiatic languages in the region. I think I’ve resolved this in the negative.

    There are a fair number of books about Mesopotamian languages, collections of inscriptions and so forth that include not only Sumerian but also Elamite, another important ancient isolate. It seems that Elamite goes in P 943. Someone with access to the full LCC schedules should check this, however. Ditto Hurrian, at P 958.

    FWIW, I’m putting in a vote for “Afroasiatic and Sumerian.” Sumerian is a big f-ing deal. It’s one of the great cross-cultural, civilizational languages, like Latin, Persian and Chinese. Genres, themes and even characters (Gilgamesh!) start here and carry on in some form for five millennia. It’s the wellspring of all the other ancient literatures here, and at least arguably all Old World writing systems, and much of their literature. You can’t even write Akkadian without writing Sumerian, which uses Sumerian ideographs for common Akkadian words. Ditto Elamite, Hurrian, and Hittite.

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