Bilingualism and the Latin Language

Bilingualism and the Latin Language

Bilingualism and the Latin Language

Bilingualism and the Latin Language

Synopsis

Since the 1980s, bilingualism has become one of the main themes of sociolinguistics - but there are as yet few large-scale treatments of the subject specific to the ancient world. This book is the first work to deal systematically with bilingualism during a period of antiquity (the Roman period, down to about the fourth century AD) in the light of sociolinguistic discussions of bilingual issues. The general theme of the work is the nature of the contact between Latin and numerous other languages spoken in the Roman world. Among the many issues discussed three are prominent: code-switching (the practice of switching between two languages in the course of a single utterance) and its motivation, language contact as a cause of change in one or both of the languages in contact, and the part played by language choice and language switching in the establishment of personal and group identities.

Excerpt

I first began working on contact between Latin and other languages in an organised way when I had the good fortune to be Visiting Senior Research Fellow at St John’s College, Oxford, in 1994–5. the project was given impetus by the invitation to deliver the J. H. Gray Lectures in the Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge, in May 1999. the title of the lectures was the same as that of the present book. the subject turned out to have such ramifications, and the material relevant to it to be so scattered, that I might never have finished the book had I not had the even greater good fortune to be elected to a Senior Research Fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford, in 1997.

An account of the full range of bilingualism in the ancient world across the whole of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern areas and at all recorded periods would be virtually unmanageable, unless a team of collaborators was assembled. I have restricted myself to the Roman period, from the early Republic to the late Empire (approximately the fourth century). I have not adopted a fixed cut-off point, but on the whole have avoided entering into the period of the barbarian invasions in the west. in the western Empire Latin came into conflict with a number of vernacular languages and eventually effected their death. in the east similarly the Romans behaved as if vernacular languages did not exist, but here by contrast they were prepared to use Greek as a lingua franca, and consequently Latin did not cause language death, since it remained very much in the background. the eastern Empire is represented in the book by case studies devoted to Egypt, where the evidence is far superior to that from other eastern regions, and to the trading community at Delos; various eastern languages are also dealt with in Chapter 2. But the full story of bilingualism in the east would not be the story of bilingualism and the Latin language, and I have left much of the area to others.

Bilingualism has become since the 1980s one of the major themes of sociolinguistics. It has also attracted some attention from classicists.

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