Latin in the linguistic context of the ancient Mediterranean


(To be held at the 21st International Colloquium of Latin Linguistics,
Santiago de Compostela, May 24–28, 2021)



Organizer: Prof. Carlotta Viti (Beijing Normal University, Zhuhai Campus, China).


This workshop investigates the relationship between Latin and other languages and cultures of Italy, of the Mediterranean and of the Middle East in antiquity, that is, from prehistory until the end of the Roman Empire. On the one hand, the Romans always acknowledged a cultural and linguistic debt to the Greeks. Roman intellectuals were normally also fluent in Ancient Greek. Some of them lamented the fact that Latin could not express abstract concepts and used Ancient Greek as the source of numerous borrowings, especially in the domain of philosophy, science and technique. Some others defended the lexical resources of Latin and preferred to imitate Ancient Greek by means of more indirect calques. In any case, the comparison between Latin and Ancient Greek vocabulary remains a crucial topic in the Latin rhetorical tradition (cf. Fögen 2000). This comparison can be extended from the lexicon to grammar, since some syntactic constructions may not be equally natural in both languages. The nominativus cum infinitivo, for example, is mainly a Graecism in Latin, where the accusativus cum infinitivo represents the most common strategy to render complementation. Syntactic influence from Ancient Greek to Latin has not been adequately studied in Latin linguistics.

On the other hand, the Romans were not particularly interested in the languages and cultures of their conquered countries: apart from Ancient Greek, they found it natural to destroy “tot populorum discordes ferasque linguas” (Plin. 3,39) and to complement their military expansion with a complete linguistic control of their provinces. Still, Latin has always exhibited cases of dialectal variation (cf. Ernout 1909) as well as language contact with Sabellic and with other Indo-European and non-Indo-European languages of Ancient Italy and of the Mediterranean (cf. Giacomelli 1963; Poccetti 1979; Marinetti 1985; Rix 2002 among others). Some Modern Southern Italian dialects, for example, present phonological features of assimilation that can be better explained by their Oscan substrate than by Latin. Similarly, despite the Roman official policy of language globalization, multilingualism persisted for centuries in the Roman Empire, which is to be expected given its geographical breadth, and numerous examples of bilingualism are attested between Latin and Gaulish, Punic, Berber, Aramaic, etc. (cf. Adams 2003). These often-fragmentary texts are rarely investigated in Latin linguistic studies, not only because of their intrinsic philological difficulties, but also because Latin has been traditionally presented as a quite homogeneous language, at least in its classical period, transmitted by a consistent literary tradition with specific models of correct grammar and elegant style, so that manifestations of internal variation and external contact have been often neglected.

Moreover, in the history of the Latin language, sources of linguistic interference may change. In the late periods of the Roman Empire, Latin especially interacts with Germanic languages in the North and with Semitic languages, such as Aramaic, in the South and in the East of its territories. These influences may affect different lexical or grammatical domains and may be especially relevant in different genres and text types. Some Germanic borrowings concerning colours, such as *blank “white”, *brūns “brown”, *grīs “grey”, originally described horse coats and were introduced in Vulgar Latin by Germanic soldiers integrated in the ranks of the Roman legions; these borrowings will become basic color terms in several Romance languages (cf. von Wartburg 1939). Semitic borrowings, in both lexicon and grammar, are especially apparent in religious texts related to the early Christian tradition, which may represent translations of the Hebrew Bible or original commentaries of it. However, some grammatical deviances in agreement, in the use of tenses and moods, in clause linkage, etc. from Classical Latin, which have been traditionally ascribed to features of Hebrew phraseology, also find parallels in substandard varieties of Latin from archaic to imperial ages (Väänänen 1963), so it may be controversial to establish whether they are more effectively triggered by external or internal mechanisms of language change.

In this workshop, we aim to discuss various manifestations of linguistic variation and language contact between Latin and other languages of the Roman Republic and of the Roman Empire, which accompanied the intense exchanges of artefacts, material products, literary motives and ideas through the Ancient Mediterranean. We invite papers devoted to any aspect of this language variation and change – papers focused on the linguistic and cultural relationship between Latin and Ancient Greek, papers based on the philological analysis of ancient Latin bilingual texts, papers devoted to the emergence of Romance constructions from Vulgar Latin, papers on the peculiarities of Christian Latin, as well as papers addressing Latin in the light of modern research on multilingualism, borrowing, calque, code-switching, linguistic interference, accommodation, diglossia, pidgins and creoles, lingua franca (cf. Hickey 2013).

You can send your abstract (not exceeding 500 words, exclusive of references) to until 15th October 2020 and clearly state that your submission is to be considered for the present Workshop. Submitted abstracts will be evaluated by both the ICLL Committee and the Workshop organizer. Accepted papers will receive a slot of 30 minutes (20 minutes presentation and 10 minutes discussion). As the Workshop will be included in the 21st International Colloquium of Latin Linguistics in Santiago de Compostela (, all participants should register for that congress. Within the end of 2021, we will gather the papers for publication of the proceedings of the workshop in a book series by Brill, Leiden.

Bibliographical references

Adams, J. (2003) Bilingualism and the Latin language, Cambridge, CUP.
Ernout, E. (1909) Les éléments dialectaux du vocabulaire latin, Paris, Champion.
Fögen, Th. (2000) Patrii sermonis egestas. Einstellungen lateinischer Autoren zu ihrer Muttersprache, München & Leipzig, Saur Verlag.
Giacomelli, G. (1963) La lingua falisca, Firenze, Olschki.
Hickey, R. (2013) Handbook of language contact, Oxford, Blackwell.
Marinetti, A. (1985) Le iscrizioni sudpicene, Firenze, Olschki.
Poccetti, P. (1979) Nuovi documenti italici a complemento del manuale di E. Vetter, Pisa, Giardini.
Rix, H. (2002) Sabellische Texte. Die Texte des Oskischen, Umbrischen und Südpikenischen, Heidelberg,Winter.
Väänänen, V. (1963) Introduction au latin vulgaire, Paris, Klincksieck.
von Wartburg, W. (1939) Die Entstehung der romanischen Völker, Halle/Saale, Niemeyer.