BMCR 2005.09.06

A Sociophilological Study of Late Latin. Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy, 10

, A Sociophilological Study of Late Latin. Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy, 10. Turnhout: Brepols, 2002. viii, 389. €65.00.

Roger Wright is the most distinguished living student of medieval Iberian Latin and of the history of Latin in the so-called “middle ages”. His Late Latin and Early Romance of 1982 made an epoch in the study of the history of Latin and remains a standard work.

This volume comprises and makes coherent his work of the last decade. In principle, it is a re-publication of his articles of this period, many of them in out of the way periodicals, but in fact he has reworked and organized them significantly to make clear a sustained line of argument and thus a readable and important book. (Some were originally published in languages other than English as well.)

The word “sociophilological” has a Late Latin sound about it — the mix of language roots, the sesquipedalian cadence, and the desire to say a bit more than ordinary language can say. “The social history of language” perhaps gets it a bit better, and it is Wright’s habit and practice to stay a bit closer to the social than to the philological than does, say, J.N. Adams.

Some sections are of greatest interest to medieval Latin philologists, but I would commend to a wider audience these chapters: “How Latin Came to Be a Foreign Language for All”; “Why the Romance Languages Are Not All the Same”; “The End of Written ladino in Al-Andalus”; and (most provocative — the sort of thing that would once, long ago in the 1990s, have been called “theory” perhaps, but we no one does theory any longer) “Writing: Photo or Disguise?” One animating principle of Wright’s work has been that writing systems are exceedingly conservative (as any dough-ploughing tough cougher can tell you) and poor representatives of the diversity of human speech they report, and he has used this principle with telling effect over centuries of the history of Latinity.