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.