Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wrong about the Romans

In the last post, I suggested
The Romans didn't care too much what language you spoke at home as long as you spoke Latin where it mattered—in official capacities. 
And I was wrong. Sort of. On p. 46, Whatmough says:
The frame work of the native cantonal organization was respected by the Roman imperial administration, but for all official purposes Latin was required almost from the beginning.
Which seems pretty reasonable given common sense. If you come in and conquer a territory, you pick the language of administration (usually). But this isn't an entirely correct picture.
Commonly, then, as Latin must have been adopted after the conquest by Caesar, Keltic doubtless lingered on in rural districts perhaps as a second language… (70)
So far, so good. The Celtic languages even hang on in rural areas. This pattern is visible here in the United States when we look at English vs. Native American languages.
…a reasonable estimate puts the date of its complete disappearance, even from remote country districts, not earlier than the fifth century after Christ. (70–1)
Ok, so this answers when continental Celtic languages finally disappeared. Or at least an early date. But  Whatmough goes on to say something else.
From the Digests of Ulpian (222–228 A.D.) it is clear that Gaulish must still have been current in many places in the third century, for its use in pledges and trusts (fideicomissa) was expressly permitted… (71)
So it looks like I'm somewhat wrong. Though I don't know the legal standing of pledges and trusts, I would assume that they would be along the lines of modern contracts (correct me in the comments if you know I'm wrong yet again). This would give them standing in courts, which, according to Whatmough on p. 46, would be in the territory of official purposes.

So it looks like the officialness of Latin is somewhat complicated. For the most part, you've got to use Latin when dealing with the administration. On the other hand, when your primary purpose isn't official, you can use a Celtic language.

A hope dashed
I had been hoping that the Celtic language experience with Latin would play out something like the Native American languages with English. There would be some nice parallels to be drawn—and perhaps an idea of how the contact progressed. But no dice. There are some very key differences. The United States government had a policy of English-only boarding schools (and I've just brushed a host of human rights violations under the rug there). The other is that Christianity came earlier in the story and—at least in the case of the first Bibles printed in the English colonies—in the native language. Both of these are at odds. In the first, the Romans didn't care much what language you spoke at home. In the second, Christianity wasn't language flexible in Gaul the way it was in America.

Whatmough, Joshua. (1970). The Dialects of Ancient Gaul: Prolegomena and records of the dialects. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Speaking of Celtic Gaul

And of course some of the choicest nuggets are tied up in a musty-smelling book. Initial copyright is 1944 and a reprint date of 1970. The author cites sources from the 19th century as vital scholarship. It is a trip. And I found it in the stacks at my university's library.

And it is enlightening. Whatmough suggests that in southern Gaul—Provincia to the Romans—had a linguistic situation that progressed something like this:
Ligurian (supposedly Indo-European language of some sort or another)
Celtic languages of the continental variety
Though the Greek part of the stream is, I'm sure, a trading language with few native speakers as a portion of the population. Though the Romans had a bigger military component, I'm sure they were also traders. And also a small portion of the population. But that doesn't explain the how of latinization. From p. 24:
In its main features the history of the latinization, this term being used in its strictest (i.e. linguistic) sense, is very similar in Gaul to what it had been in Italy. In both lands there are records of languages spoken before the spared of Latin, and some hints, but no actual records, of still others. Moreover we do not suppose that the ancestors of the people whose linguistic remains are the oldest known to us in either Gaul or Italy were dumb. What we have to ask is the question what languages, so far as we can now tell, were spoken in the several regions of Gaul, and its frontier-districts before the spread of Romance (that is Latin) or Germanic speech. This ultimate fate of the pre-Latin dialects of Gaul, as in Italy, was that at last they were abandoned, almost everywhere, in favor of other forms of speech, usually Latin. And if, as some hold, modern Greek is in Italy nowhere descended from the ancient Greek of Magna Graecia, a view mentioned here only for the sake of comparison and not because it is thought to be truer than the opposite theory, no more is Breton in France descended from the ancient Keltic dialect of Brittany, but (like Albanian in Italy) was introduced there from outside. But Basque, spoken in the arrondissements of Bayonne and MaulĂ©on, is usually maintained to be descended from Iberian, spoken in the ancient Aquitania and presumably anterior to Keltic. 
So I suppose to really get to the heart of the matter, I'm going to have to learn about the latinization of Italy too. Vae mihi! I seem to have opened a can of worms. As for the origin of Greek spoken in Italy today, I have zero information to allow me an opinion. More about the latinization of Gaul, from p. 29:
There is, however, a great contrast between Narbonensis and the three Gauls, where latinization was affected much more slowly and was not in fact complete before the sixth century of our own era. The spared of Christianity had much to do with the introduction of Latin into the remoter parts of Gaul, and, outside of the towns and permanent camps, Christian preachers must have played at least as large a part as Roman soldiers, traders, and officials in spreading the Latin at the same time that they spread the faith of the Church. It is, therefore, all the more remarkable that a large proportion out of the total number of dialect inscriptions preserved to us in Gaul have been discovered in southern Gaul, which was earlier and more rapidly latinized, and not from Tres Galliae, which maintained their Keltic speech longer and more tenaciously, thoroughly latinized as the whole of Gaul was in the long run.
Well. That's a surprise. I wouldn't have expected that the church was the final nail in the coffin of Celtic Gaul, if for no other reason than the Romans had latinized the rest of the Celtic-speaking areas under their control. Interestingly though, it does help explain why Insular Celtic does survive. Want to make me guess? Here goes: The Romans didn't care too much what language you spoke at home as long as you spoke Latin where it mattered—in official capacities. The other curious bit is that there is a lack of Celtic-language inscriptions in the north. I've got no explanation.

Some questions
•When did Ligurian die out as a spoken language?
•When did Greek die out in Gaul?
•What was the proportion of Greek speakers in Provincia?
•When did continental Celtic die out in Gaul?
•Do we know the route of the spread of Latin?
•Why did Breton manage to reverse the trend of latinization?
•And why did Breton come from Britain instead of Gaul itself?

Whatmough, Joshua. (1970). The Dialects of Ancient Gaul: Prolegomena and records of the dialects. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Latin and Continental Celtic in contact

They had to have been, and the contact had to have lasted a long time. Ultimately, Latin displaced all speakers of Continental Celtic languages in Gaul (France and Northern Italy) and Iberia (Spain and Portugal). All of them.

Latin and Celtic languages were in contact in Italy since at least the early 4th century BCE, quite possibly longer. By the time of Caesar's conquest of Gaul in the mid 1st century BCE, there were "friends of the Roman people" on the far side of the Alps. It is hard to believe that there wasn't at least some degree of bilingualism between Latin speakers and Celtic speakers at both of these points in time.

These two data points suggest centuries of widespread contact between Latin and Celtic languages. At first they may have been on more equal footing, but as time progressed so did the relative power of the Latin speakers.

Obviously there are Celtic words in Latin: raeda (carriage), lancea (javelin), sparus (spear), bracae (pants) and ambactus (serf) are all examples (Palmer 53). So we can be sure that there was lexical exchange, but there are other questions. Since I don't have handy access to the proper scholarship, some of these may be quite settled matters.

Some questions
•Is Italo-Celtic an artifact of linguistic interference due to much language contact between the Celtic and Italic languages? Or is it real?
•What was the tipping point for Latin's total replacement of Continental Celtic languages?
•How long did Celtic languages persist in Gaul? In Iberia?
•Why didn't Latin also wipe out Basque?

Palmer, R.L. (1964). The Latin Language. London: Faber and Faber.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Language contact in the ancient Mediterranean

I saw an call for abstracts that got me thinking.

There's all sorts of languages in contact today. People are bilingual with varying degrees of skill. They carry their languages forward. And nothing is new. People were doing those exact things thousands of years ago. The differences are two. One, we can't interview or record any of those people. Two, what evidence they did leave us has problems.

The evidence is often in the form of the literature of the elite layers of the societies. Evidence that comes from more ordinary people is often fragmentary in nature. Broken pottery, graffiti, papyrus fragments. Some of that evidence is so fragmentary that we don't even have complete languages. For example, Venetic is a relatively poorly known language. Some are relatively well known in scholarly circles, like Oscan. Others are more commonly known, like Latin.

All of these languages were in contact with each other. They were affecting each other. Just like languages today. And there is little easily available information on this topic. There is some work being done on the topic, but it is expensive. For example:
Early Civilization and Literacy in Europe from $164 used
Bilingualism and the Latin Language from $57.98 used
Some of the nearest copies of these books are in libraries that are difficult to get to—or as I'm starting to think of them, walled gardens of scholarship. Articles about these topics are in databases that cost real money to have access to—or at least that's what my tuition costs would lead me to believe. It is a disgrace that in 2012 that credible information on obscure topics is so difficult to find in easily accesible ways. Forget that. Keep an eye on this blog. (And if you bought either of those books to you, I'd write a haiku for you on this blog.)