Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.11.25 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.11.25

Paolo Di Giovine, Valentina Gasbarra (ed.), Dinamiche sociolinguistiche in aree di influenza greca: mutamento, variazione e contatto : atti del convegno internazionale, Roma, 22-24 settembre 2014. Linguarum varietas, 5 (2016).   Pisa; Roma:  Fabrizio Serra editore, 2016.  Pp. 265.  ISBN 9788862278881.  €120.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by James Clackson, Jesus College, Cambridge (

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

In the twenty-first century the linguistic study of Greek, Latin and other languages spoken in antiquity has taken a ‘sociolinguistic’ turn. While there are still a number of scholars working on the historical development of the classical languages from Proto-Indo-European, using the latest brand of minimalism or Lexical-Functional Grammar to understand ancient syntax, or rewriting Latin or Greek sound laws in terms of Optimality Theory, there seem to be even more conferences, books and seminar papers devoted to aspects of ancient sociolinguistics. These studies might look at how the language of particular groups of speakers—for example, those belonging to a certain social class or ethnic group—might be marked against others. Or they might be interested in the ways in which surviving texts switch between two or more different languages, or how communities adapt to the language of their conquerors. Such studies succeed when they combine a detailed philological analysis of surviving texts with a command of all relevant historical and archaeological data, and the best of them show how it is possible to say new things about well-studied texts.

The collected volume under review here contains a wide variety of papers from a conference in Rome held in 2014, the theme of which was based around language variation and change in situations where Greek speakers interacted those whose first language was something else. The spectrum is broad, both in time and space: the earliest texts to be discussed are from the sixth century BC, the latest are modern folktales from Calabria; the furthest east comes from Kandahar, the furthest west from Tartessos, south-western Spain. Topics range from etymological to narratological, with coverage of phonology, morphology, the syntax of agreement, semantics and lexical and structural borrowing.

The extraordinary range and richness of the volume means that there are many different ways to carve up it up for a review. I have decided to take a geographical approach, and I shall give a brief indication of the subjects of the different papers working from east to west (a full table of contents is given at the end of this review). One reason for presenting the volume in this way is because it allows me to discuss Albio Cesare Cassio’s paper first, one of the very strongest in the collection. Cassio discusses the Greek version of one of the famous rock edicts erected by the third-century BC King Aśoka, which set out, amongst other things, his promotion of a practice of religious observance that included vegetarianism. Through a close reading of the texts, Cassio shows how the Greek (and the Middle Persian) versions call upon different cultural norms from those embodied in the Prakrit base. The Greek decree adapts the wording of the original in order to bring it closer into line with contemporary inscriptions from the Greek world, but this is sometimes at the expense of an exact rendering of the religious concepts. Two papers are oriented towards Greek and Iranian contacts: Rüdiger Schmitt adds to his considerable contributions to the analysis of Iranian words and names in Greek texts, turning his attention to the works of Strabo (and incidentally revisiting a suggestion he made in one of his first published articles from 1964); Domenico Agostini looks at Greek influences in the Pahlavi lexicon, some of which seem to have been mediated through Syriac.

Adriano Rossi’s paper following the wider affinities of the ‘Wanderwort’ which surfaces in Greek κύμβαχος ‘crown of a helmet’ also features a number of Iranian words, together with terms in Indo-Aryan, Semitic and Dravidian languages, and contains a picture of an Indian crocodile with a protuberance at the end of its nose, thereby explaining the link with its Sanskrit name kumbhīra- and the widespread word for ‘pot’, which seems to be connected ultimately to κύμβαχος. There are two papers on Greek in Egypt: Giancarlo Schirru, in a fine paper on Egyptian influence on the Greek koiné, gives good reason to think that a change to a gender-system based on animacy, which takes place in Coptic, can also be seen to underlie abnormal gender patterns in Greek documentary papyri; Paolo Milizia looks for a way to explain the apparent use of a doubled vowel sign to represent glottal stops in Coptic orthography. The only paper devoted to Anatolia is Maria Carmela Benvenuto’s contribution on the multilingual Hellespontic Phrygia during the Achaemenid period, where she argues that the aristocracy favoured the imperial lingua franca Aramaic in their own epigraphy; the corpus is vanishingly small, however, and new discoveries might radically challenge this conclusion. Carlo Consani’s is the leading scholar on the fascinating series of inscriptions on pots from Kafizin, Cyprus, in the Hellenistic period, which are written both in koiné in alphabet Greek and in the local Cypriot dialect and syllabic script. His article highlights an apparent code-switch from the syllabary to alphabetic Greek, and examines the fate of nasals in coda position across the corpus.

Gabriella Macrì and Paolo Martino write on the variety of Greek still spoken in Calabria, sometimes also known as bovese, (after the town of Bova, and to distinguish it from the Greek spoken in Puglia). Martino traces the social situation that led to the peculiar semantic changes of the word θέμα, from ‘administrative district’ to ‘man’. Macrì examines modern Calabrian Greek folktales, and traces their relationship to tales in other Greek-speaking communities. Alessandro De Angelis, Kalle Korhonen and Giulio Paulis tackle questions of Latin-Greek bilingualism on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia from ancient times up until the late Byzantine period in three separate papers. Particularly noteworthy in De Angelis’s evidence for a shared sound change of palatalization of the group /st/ before /i/ in both Sicilian Greek and local varieties of Romance. Elisabetta Magni also tackles aspects of Greek and Latin bilingualism, in this case the borrowing of Greek words into Latin. Magni is particularly interested in ‘hybrid’ formations, those that employ elements of both languages in a single word. Hybridity, however, is a catch-all term, and I wonder how helpful it is to consider a number of separate processes of borrowing, adaption, calquing, nonce-formations and compounding under a single umbrella. Margherita Donati and Giovanna Marotta’s contributions, though more focussed towards Latin itself than contact with Greek, are still valuable. Both authors consider what we can learn from Latin orthography and epigraphic spellings. Donati examines the effect of assimilation versus ‘etymological’ spelling of Latin preverbs and Marotta presents results of the Pisa study of Republican Latin texts, which takes into account the social status of the authors. Pierluigi Cuzzolin collects and discusses some examples of Greek inscriptions from the western Mediterranean and their interaction with local languages.

A helpful (if sometimes limited) subject index and an index of texts at the end increase the utility of the volume, but unfortunately there is no word-index.

Authors and titles

Paolo Di Giovine, Valentina Gasbarra, “Presentazione”
Domenico Agostini, “Greek echos in Pahlavi literature. A preliminary survey of calques and foreign terms”
Maria Carmela Benvenuto, “Appunti sulla rappresentazione linguistica dell’identità dell’aristocrazia dominante nella Frigia ellespontica achemenide”
Albio Cesare Cassio, “The koine in the East: Aśoka’s rock edict 12 in Greek dress”
Carlo Consani, “Fenomeni di contatto a livello di discorso e di sistema nella Cipro ellenistica (Kafizin) e le tendenze di ‘lunga durata’”
Pierluigi Cuzzolin, “Il greco nell’estremo occidente d’Europa: gli aspetti identitari”
Alessandro De Angelis, “Un esito palatale nel latino di Sicilia? A proposito del bilinguismo greco-latino”
Margherita Donati, “Sindrome delle coronali e trasparenza morfologica: varianti grafiche nell’assimilazione preverbale latina”
Kalle Korhonen, “Questioni del bilinguismo siciliano antico in lunga durata”
Gabriella Macrì, “Aspetti intertestuali tra letteratura grecanica di Calabria e letteratura greca”
Elisabetta Magni, “Notha verba: interferenza e mutamento attraverso le formazioni ibride latino-greco”
Giovanna Marotta, “Sociolinguistica storica ed epigrafia latina. Il corpus CLaSSES I
Paolo Martino, “Riflessi lessicali della stratificazione sociale nella Calabria bizantina: bovese thema‘uomo’”
Paolo Milizia, “Problemi di grafia e fonologia nel lessico copto-greco”
Giulio Paulis, “Latino, greco e volgare nella Sardegna bizantina e alto-giudicale. Dinamiche sociolinguistiche e onomastica personale”
Adriano V. Rossi, “Problemi di etimologia areale nel Mediterraneo orientale: gr. kúmbakos nel suo retroterra asiatico”
Giancarlo Schirru, “Accordo di genere e contatto linguistico nella koiné egiziana”
Rüdiger Schmitt, “Strabo’s account of the Iranian lands: some remarks of an Iranian linguist and onomastician”
Indice degli argomenti.
Indice dei testi oggetto di analisi
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