Greek in Italy

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Codebreakers and Groundbreakers

The Fitzwilliam Museum and the Museum of Classical Archaeology in the Classics Faculty are jointly hosting an exhibition called Codebreakers and Groundbreakers.

The Fitz’s exhibition focusses on the decipherment of Linear B (by the architect Michael Ventris aided by John Chadwick, then a newly appointed lecurer in Classics at Cambridge), and, a little earlier, the cracking of German codes during the Second World War at Bletchley Park by Alan Turing and others.

The Classics Faculty includes items from the archive of Alan Wace, who was the archaeologist who excavated Mycenae and discovered tablets written in Linear B, and features displays by current Faculty projects which rely on both ‘codebreaking’ and ‘groundbreaking’: the CREWS (Contexts of and Relations beween Early Scripts) project, the Greek Lexicon, the Myceneaen Epigraphy Group, and us at Greek in Italy!

Greek in Italy
Above you can see our panel at the exhibition. We think it’s pretty cool, and recommend that you go and see it and the rest of the exhibition in both venues (it’s on until the 3rd February, so there’s still plenty of time).

Thanks to Francesca Bellei, who designed the panel and wrote the text!


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A new member for a new year

Happy New Year to everyone. We’re very pleased to welcome to the project Patrick James, who is joining as a post-doctoral research associate. Patrick previously worked for the Greek Lexicon project in the Classics Faculty here in Cambridge, and comes to us via the Tyndale House Institute for Biblical Research. He will be working on Greek loanwords in Latin, and we’re very much looking forward to seeing what he comes up with as we work together on the project. Look out for him introducing his work in more detail here on the blog!


Join the team: post-doctoral opportunity with Greek in Italy

Post-doctoral Research Associate, AHRC Greek in Italy Project

Salary range: £28,982 to £37,768 per annum

Limit of Tenure: 01 January 2017 to 30  April 2018

Applications are sought for a fixed-term, fully funded Post-doctoral Research Associate on the AHRC-funded Project ‘Greek in Italy’.  The scholarship will run from 1st January 2017 to 30th April 2018.

The successful applicant will form part of the Greek in Italy project team which is focused on research into aspects of the linguistic impact of Greek settlement and colonisation in Italy in the first millennium BCE.

The successful candidate will undertake to write and submit for publication at least two academic articles relating to the impact of the Greek languages on the languages of ancient Italy and assist in the editing of the publication arising out of the 2016 Laurence Seminar ‘Migration, Mobility and Language Contact’.  They will be expected to assist in the organisation of the one-day workshop in the British School at Rome in March 2017, participate in regular seminars and workshops related to the project and give talks and presentations as appropriate in national and international conferences.  They will also contribute in access and outreach events, such as the Cambridge Festival of Ideas and University Open days.

Candidates with a good first degree and a doctorate in Greek historical linguistics, Latin historical linguistics or the languages of Ancient Italy (or clear evidence that completion of such a doctorate is imminent) are highly desirable.

Fixed-term: The funds for this post are available for 16 months in the first instance.

You can find out more and apply here.

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New book: Oscan in Southern Italy and Sicily

Katherine’s new book, Oscan in Southern Italy and Sicily: Evaluating Language Contact in a Fragmentary Corpus, published by Cambridge University Press, is now out. We’re all very excited! Check out the awesome cover.


Samnite robot is go!

Here’s the blurb:

In pre-Roman Italy and Sicily, dozens of languages and writing systems competed and interacted, and bilingualism was the norm. Using frameworks from epigraphy, archaeology and the sociolinguistics of language contact, this book explores the relationship between Greek and Oscan, two of the most widely spoken languages in the south of the peninsula. Dr McDonald undertakes a new analysis of the entire corpus of South Oscan texts written in Lucania, Bruttium and Messana, including dedications, curse tablets, laws, funerary texts and graffiti. She demonstrates that genre and domain are critical to understanding where and when Greek was used within Oscan-speaking communities, and how ancient bilinguals exploited the social meaning of their languages in their writing. This book also offers a cutting-edge example of how to build the fullest possible picture of bilingualism in fragmentary languages across the ancient world.

It’s available to order on the CUP website or, no doubt, in your local bookshop.


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Migrating to the Hay Festival


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 ( A recording of this talk  – although unfortunately without the accompanying slides – is available here.

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New book: Language and Society in the Greek and Roman Worlds

James Clackson’s new book Language and Society in the Greek and Roman Worlds is now available as part of the “Key Themes in Ancient History” series.

The blurb:

“Texts written in Latin, Greek and other languages provide ancient historians with their primary evidence, but the role of language as a source for understanding the ancient world is often overlooked. Language played a key role in state-formation and the spread of Christianity, the construction of ethnicity, and negotiating positions of social status and group membership. Language could reinforce social norms and shed light on taboos. This book presents an accessible account of ways in which linguistic evidence can illuminate topics such as imperialism, ethnicity, social mobility, religion, gender and sexuality in the ancient world, without assuming the reader has any knowledge of Greek or Latin, or of linguistic jargon. It describes the rise of Greek and Latin at the expense of other languages spoken around the Mediterranean and details the social meanings of different styles, and the attitudes of ancient speakers towards linguistic differences.”

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A linguist in the family

The New Year has meant, if not a resolution to do more, at least an observation that I haven’t blogged much in the last few months. This is partly because the work I’ve been doing lately has been the kind of mundane things that are involved in the last stages of writing a book, and hasn’t given me much blogging inspiration. But some of you may be interested in the practicalities of getting an academic book out, so here’s what’s been going on (for those who aren’t, you can skip to the third paragraph).

I finished the first typescript at the end of September and sent it off to the the reviewers; they got back to me with suggestions for changes and I spent a while making the changes, passed it on to my expert proofreader/reference checker (thanks Ardief!), and made more changes. Now I’m waiting to hear back from the publishers about my suggestions for cover art, and making the indexes (one word, one subject). The first of these took a lot less time once I realised – rather too late, alas – it was possible to search for words in bold, italics and Greek alphabet in Word. I start the second on Tuesday. After that, it’s just trying to make sure I don’t miss out from the Acknowledgements anyone from the large number of people who’ve helped me in my research in the last 5 years, making any (hopefully) minor changes from the editors, and waiting for the proofs!

Edward Mockler
In amongst all this, I did manage to sneak off for a few days to Opava in the Czech Republic, for a conference called ‘The Sound of Indo-European 3’. It was one of the best-organised conferences I’ve ever been to (the organisers arranged accommodation and picked up speakers at the airport!), and it was great to meet up with old friends and make some new ones. I also ate goose and dumplings every day for nearly a week, this being the traditional (and close to only available) dish around St. Martin’s Day. Yum! (Though I did have to go on a strict boiled vegetables diet on my return). But the really amazing thing for me was that I had a conversation with an expert in Indo-Iranian languages, and, the conversation having got on to Balochi (an Iranian language spoken in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan), I mentioned that my great-grandfather Edward Mockler had written a grammar of Balochi. At the time he was a Major in the Indian army, and an Assistant Political Agent (I think that means ‘spy’) on the Makran Coast, so it was by no means a professional job and I was very surprised and pleased to be told that it is one of the earliest sources of Balochi, and well-known in the field – it’s nice that linguistics runs in the family, and that something written in 1877 can still be useful more than a century years later.

Should you be interested, the grammar was scanned as part of the Bodleian Library project at Oxford University, and you can download a copy here.  They went in for snappy titles in those days: the full name is A Grammar of the Baloochee Language as it is Spoken in Makrān (ancient Gedrosia), in the Persi-Arabic and Roman Characters. It’s Edward you can see above in rather gaudy technicolour (courtesy of Elaine Zair).