Greek in Italy

Project Research Blog

Migrating to the Hay Festival

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festival-wales

Last week I gave a talk relating to the Greek in Italy project as part of the Cambridge Series at the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts. The festival is set in the beautiful Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye and attracts around 100,000 visitors each year. Around three hundred of them braved the torrential rain on Friday morning to come to my talk, ‘Migration and Language: Ancient Perspectives’. In the talk I was comparing some of the modern and ancient anxieties about the consequences of population movement on language. Nigel Farage’s disquiet at hearing foreign languages spoken on a London train and David Starkey’s fears (expressed after the London riots in 2011) that British youth had been corrupted by Jamaican patois can be set aside ancient views, found for example in Pseudo-Xenophon Athenian Constitution and Cicero’s Brutus, that the language of incomers leads to linguistic corruption. These worries about the effects of migration on language can be countered by the findings of the national census (in the modern case) and by consideration of the long-term picture of language change in the ancient world. Despite the massive influx of non-native speakers of Latin (many of them Greeks) into Rome, Latin continued to be spoken in the Western Roman Empire. Indeed, it was the other languages, Oscan, Umbrian, Etruscan, Gaulish, Iberian etc. that died out. In the same way recent census findings have shown the dominance of English in the British Isles, and that this is at the expense of the minority language, Welsh. The 2011 UK Census also asked for the first time about competence in English amongst those who did not use it as their first language, and found that only a tiny fraction (0.3% roughly 138,000 people) of the population were unable to speak any English at all (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_302179.pdf). A recording of this talk  – although unfortunately without the accompanying slides – is available here.

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