LINGUIST List 14.3178

Thu Nov 20 2003

Review: Historical Ling/Socioling: Adams (2003)

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  1. Lelija Socanac, Bilingualism and the Latin Language

Message 1: Bilingualism and the Latin Language

Date: Tue, 18 Nov 2003 23:27:07 -0500 (EST)
From: Lelija Socanac <>
Subject: Bilingualism and the Latin Language

Adams, J. N. (2003) Bilingualism and the Latin Language, Cambridge
University Press.

Announced at

Lelija Socanac, Linguistic Research Institute, Croatian Academy of
Sciences and Arts, Zagreb, Croatia.


Bilingualism has become since the 1980's one of the major themes of
socioli nguistics. Most research, however, has focused on language
contacts today; less attention has been paid to language contacts from
a historical perspective. So far, classicists have dealt with
bilingualism to some extent, focusing on elite bilingualism in the
classical period, involving contacts between Latin and Greek. Those
studying bilingualism in Roman antiquity have tended to concentrate
on some subjects to the exclusion of others. Loan-words have been
investigated to the neglect of code-switching, and lexical phenomena
have been studied to the neglect of syntax, morphology and orthography.

This book marks a radical departure from this trend by exploring
sub-elite bilingualism in the Roman period (down to about the fourth
century AD) as the first work to deal systematically with
bilingualism during a period of a ntiquity in the light of
sociolinguistic approaches to bilingual issues. Three major topics
are discussed: code-switching, language contact as a determinant of
linguistic change, and the part played by language choice in the
projection of identity. A number of other topics are also dealt with,
such as Roman language policies in the imperial administration and the
army, second-language acquisition, the emergence of 'reduced
languages', functions o f accomodation, concepts of diglossia in
specific social settings, language choice as a form of power or as an
expression of solidarity, the bilingual dimension to literacy
etc. Regional variation in Latin as determined by contact with other
languages is one of the major themes as well. In addition, names and
name changing as a result of languagecontact are discussed in a
variety of languages.

The book is divided into two parts, the first four chapters being
thematic, and the next four presenting case studies devoted to
particular places and texts.

Chapter 1: ''Introduction'' gives a broad overview of the topics
presented in greater detail in the chapters that follow. Borrowing,
code-switching an d interference are defined and discussed, pointing
to difficulties in makin g clear-cut distinctions. Sources of
information are presented, including bilingual texts involving a
juxtaposition of two separate versions, translit erated texts written
in a script appropriate to a language different from the language of
the text itself, mixed-language texts combining two languages within a
single utterance, and texts implicitly reflecting bilingual situation,
i.e. those that are written in one language but showing signs of
interference or influence from another.

Apparently, language contacts between Latin and various vernaculars
did not result in the emergence of a pidgin since there is no evidence
of genuinely uninflected texts or texts that would not have been
intelligible to speakers of Latin. Reduced forms of communication do
not seem to have been institutionalized to such an extent that the
outcome can be described as a new contact language.

Chapter 2: ''Languages in Contact with Latin'' presents contacts
between Latin and a wide range of vernacular languages, including
Italic languages (Oscan, Umbrian, Venetic, Messapic), Etruscan, Celtic
(Gaulish), Punic, Libiyan, Berber, Aramaic, Hebrew, Germanic and
Hispanic languages, Egyptian, Getic, Sarmatian and Thracian. The
evidence consists partly of inscriptions and other documents in which
two or more languages (one of them Latin) stand side by side, and
partly of testimonia which refer to speakers of Latin using another
language as well. The texts show borrowing and interference on
different linguistic levels, as well as extensive code-switching.

The most obvious contribution made by vernacular languages to Latin
was in the lexicon, with loanwords that can be regarded as
contact-induced regiona lisms. The influence of the Italic languages
is found in specific texts, such as ''defixiones'', referring to
certain magical practices. The Latin inf luence was indisputable in
most domains, especially the army and the law. There is no evidence,
however, that Romans tried to stamp out regional languages; the
initiative was probably taken by the regional upper classes thems
elves in acquiring the language of the dominant power. There is
abundant evidence for primary speakers of vernacular languages
learning Latin, but virtually none for Latin speakers learning any of
these languages, with the only exception of Etruscan and Punic in the
early Republican period.

One instrument of Romanisation consisted of giving instruction in
Latin literacy to provincials in the western provinces, accompanied
by some suppression of local literacy practices. The old languages
came for a period to be written in Latin script, before dying out. The
esteem of Latin, combined with an ambition to get on in the Roman
world, is seen as the primary determinant of language shift in the
western provinces, where there was no competing language of culture
to rival Latin. The change of languages usually occu rred first at the
official level, while in private, informal usage the vern aculars were
not dropped so abruptly.

Chapter 3: ''Code-switching'' presents various aspects of the
phenomenon which is defined as ''the full blown switches from one
language into another within one person's utterance or piece of
writing''. The main issues under consideration include competence,
solidarity, identity and topic or genre. Code-switching (CS) could
result either from the bilingual's competence or from a speaker's lack
of competence in the second language. Switching through imperfect
competence could be committed by second-language learners such as
slaves of foreign origin or other immigrants in Rome, for
instance. Switching into Greek in Latin literary texts was primarily
related to genre. In the formal literary genres such as
historiography, oratory and epic poetry switching as a rule did not
take place. On the other hand, in less formal genres such as the plays
of Plautus, early satire and epistolography it was admitted more or
less frequently. It is found most often in the sub-genre of letters to
intimates, where it can be regarded as a sort of game played between
two members of a self-conscious cultural elite sharing same cultur al
background. In this sense code-switching was a mark of identity and a
me ans of expressing in-group membership.

Frequent functions of CS include brief characterizations of someone's
words (metalinguistic function), as well as distancing or euphemism in
an attempt to make more acceptable the discussion of unpleasant
matters. Switching into Greek at moments of tension did not involve
the creative use of Greek at all, but the citation of Greek literary
tags or proverbs.

Among the forms of code-switching, tag-switching was among the most
common, since ready-made phrases and cliches do not require any
creative skill. Greek words or expressions, especially technical terms
from philosophy and rhetoric, were often used to fill gaps in the
Latin language. Medical termino logy was Greek to a large extent.

When there is pressure on bilinguals to use a public language,
code-switching into the mother tongue is often a means of expressing
solidarity with fellow members of a minority group. Thus Greek servile
immigrants living in Rome retained Greek in the family as a
''we-code'', while attempting to empl oy Latin in external

Code-switching is often an act of convergence with an addressee and as
such it may sometimes be a means of expressing solidarity, but it can
also be a way to exercise power. Latin, as the language of power, was
often used in the official contexts to the exclusion of monolingual
speakers of other languages.

Chapter 4: ''Bilingualism, linguistic diversity and language change''
prese nts factors which were responsible for variation and change in
the Latin language, such as the choice of a register and style
appropriate to the circumstances of composition, the educational level
of the writer or speaker, and the area from which he
originated. Bilingualism or language contact was also extremely
important in this respect.

As the Roman Empire spread, Latin was carried to different parts of
Europe functioning as a ''supraregional'' or ''link''
language. Gradually, the link language became ''indigenized'' as it
took on different regional features which were to some extent due to
interference from the first languages of the new speakers. Language
contacts in different parts of the Empire result ed in the transfer of
local terms from other languages into Latin, constituting an
important, but largely neglected, regional feature of provincial
varieties of Latin. Calques and loan-shifts were also very common
especially in technical vocabularies created in Latin on Greek
models. Instances of in terference on the phonetic, morphological and
syntactic levels are also discussed.

The Latin language cannot be treated as a unity where bilingual
transfers a reconcerned; it was rather a collection of language
varieties. There was the Latin of native speakers of the language, and
that of foreigners (mainly Greeks) learning and writing Latin as a
second language. The contact pheno mena in these two varieties were
very different. Greek lexical loans entered Latin in different social
strata and in different varieties of the language. There were learned
borrowings, introduced by educated first-language speakers of Latin,
and popular borrowings introduced by lower-class Greeks acquiring
Latin as a second language.

Bilingualism and language contact were important determinants of the
divers ification of Latin. Vernacular languages also placed a certain
role in this respect, since the entry of substrate words into the
local Latin probably contributed to dialectal diversity in peripheral
areas of the Empire.

Chapter 5: ''Latin in Egypt'' focuses on the relationship between
Latin and Greek in the eastern part of the Empire. Since Greek
functioned as the lingua franca in Egypt, Latin had only a marginal
place. The relationship between Latin and Greek was primarily
reflected in the army and administration, where Greek was used on the
local level, while Latin functioned as a political language for
bringing out the Romanness of imperial power. Although the Romans did
not officially demand that Roman citizens should speak Latin, it was
sometimes expected that possessors of the ''civitas'' should know th e
language. Thus certain types of legalistic documents concerning Roman
cit izens were in Latin even if the citizens did not know the
language. As a result, a cluster of documents survived in a mixture of
languages, with Latin having the official status, while the Greek
version was provided for the information of the Greek speaker. In
court proceedings, Latin often provided the official framework of the
interaction, while Greek was used to a large extent in the hearing
itself. In the army, Latin was used as the language of passwords,
receipts, ''diplomata'' or certificates of discharge of auxiliaries,
dedications to emperors and some epitaphs. Since both languages were
used for similar functions, there was not only interference from Greek
in some Latin documents of military provenance, but also interference
from Latin in Greek military texts. According to the author, the old
diglossic opposition High-Low cannot be applied to the relationship
between Latin and Greek in this context, since both languages enjoyed
a high prestige.

Chapter 6: ''Bilingualism at Delos'' is an interesting case study of
biling ualism in a trading community. Delos was the site of the
earliest and large st Roman commercial community in the Greek world,
where the Roman attitude to Greek was far more deferential than in
some other Greek areas. Many insc riptions in Greek, Latin and both
languages, bear witness to the activities of bilingual
''negotiatores'', and raise questions about the relationship between
the two languages, the motivations of language choice and the
character of the bilingualism of the traders.

The Italians could not be classified as exclusively or predominantly
monolingual Latin speakers who had to adopt strategies for
communicating in Greek . Neither Italy nor Rome was monolingual in
Latin in the Republican period. There were Greeks of diverse eastern
origins not only in the servile class in Rome, but also in the Greek
settlements of Italy (Magna Graecia). Thus, the traders at Delos were
not ethnically or socially homogeneous. Whatever language they used in
private, they were willing to use Greek as a formal public language
and there is evidence of their immersion in Greek-speaking Delian
society. However, in dealing with outside Roman officialdom they were
careful to project a Latin-speaking, or at least bilingual, identity.

Chapter 7: ''Bilingualism at La Graufesenque'' focuses on language
contacts in a commercial enterprise. La Graufesenque was an important
Gallic-Latin pottery where the labour of local Gallic potters was
used. The names of the potters were partly Gallic and partly
Latin. Many of the texts are in Celt ic, and some are in Latin, while
others present a mixture of elements from both languages. They throw
light not only on bilingualism in a general sens e, but also on
language mixing as a stage in language shift. Local elites m ay have
been moved by the prestige of the Latin language and culture to lea rn
the language. The Romans themselves might have encouraged such
accultura tion in the Celtic provinces. Due to the prestige of Latin
and consequent elite bilingualism, the vernacular languages were
completely abandoned. Lower-class Gauls were also exposed to Latin and
they acquired the Latin litera cy along with some Latin. Latin was
treated as an international or imperial language, while Gaulish was
seen as provincial and unsuited for use in the wider world, showing
the polar diglossic opposition High-Low.

Chapter 8: ''The Latin of a learner (P.Amh.II.26): a case study''
presents learner's errors in a Latin translation of parts of two
fables of Babrius a nd in letters of Claudius Terentianus. Some
mistakes reveal the areas of de ficiencies in language learning and
allow deductions to be made about the order in the acquisition of the
Latin morphology.

Chapter 9: ''Some Concluding Remarks'' sums up the most important
points dealt with in the book, such as bilingualism and identity,
diglossia, languag e attitudes,language policies, language death,
language contacts in the arm y, bilingualism and slavery,
''Hellenisation'' of the Latin language, Vulg ar Latin, and literacy.

The book contains an extensive Bibliography, Subject Index and Word
Index, including words from Greek, Latin, Oscan,
Umbrian,Paelingian,Venetic, Etruscan, Gaulish, Iberian, Celtiberian,
Phoenician, Punic, Aramaic, Thracian, G ermanic and Berber.


It is difficult to do justice to this groundbreaking study, combining
profo und knowledge of classical philology with up-to-date approaches
to contact linguistics and sociolinguistics. The author offers
linguistic analysis of a wide range of diverse texts, often belonging
to sub-literary genres, which have received little scholarly attention
so far. The book is a very valuable contribution both to classical
philology and contact linguistics, and it will be of greatest interest
to classical philologists, historical linguists, historians and


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Lelija Socanac is a researcher at the Linguistic Research Institute,
Zagreb , Croatia. She has a PhD in linguistics. She is currently
directing the pro ject "Croatian in Contact with European
Languages". Her research interests include contact linguistics and
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