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.)