Talk: HiSoN 2017, New York

I’m very excited to be speaking this week at the Historical Sociolinguistics Network Conference (HiSoN) 2017 in New York, hosted by NYU and CUNY Graduate Centre. I hugely enjoyed HiSoN 2015, and met some lovely people doing fascinating work there, so I’m looking forward to this year’s conference hugely.

I’m speaking on the first day of the conference, in Panel 2, I believe – please come along if you’re around. I would love to meet some of you there and hear more about your work. (And if anyone has any tips for New York, let me know! I’ve never been.)

I’m presenting work that will form part of a joint-authored chapter in the volume my ‘Greek in Italy’ colleagues and I are editing (about which I will say more another time). My paper concerns a number of Messapic, Oscan, Greek and Gaulish sources by artists and artisans, and how they use language to engage with a multilingual market. These are sources I’ve been thinking about since about 2014, so I’m very glad to be talking about them again in front of such a knowledgeable audience. Here’s my abstract:

Negotiating a multilingual society: Craftsmen and traders as vectors for language contact in Ancient Italy
The Greek alphabet, in various forms, was in use for multiple languages of the Western Mediterranean in the first millennium BC, including Oscan, Gaulish, Messapic and a number of Greek dialects. Trade – which involved both the movement of craftsmen and the objects they created – acted as a vector for the spread of the alphabet. Once the use of the Greek alphabet became established for these widespread languages and dialects, its role as a scripta franca facilitated further contact between speech communities. This paper shows that literate craftsmen had a key role in contact-induced language change in Italy, and that they took active decisions to make the most of their multilingual society. From the evidence left by these craftsmen, we can examine the relationship between social and economic pressures and the outcomes of language contact in ancient Italy.
The paper investigates the movement of the craftsmen who used the Greek alphabet and the objects they produced that were inscribed with the Greek alphabet. Goods inscribed with words written in the Greek alphabet, but without morphology, suggest that the inscriptions could have been intended as linguistically ambiguous to allow for mobility across language barriers, giving makers of high-quality goods access to multiple markets and social groups. We will also discuss the small number of individual craftsmen whom we can track crossing linguistic boundaries using the Greek alphabet, such as the ceramicist Plator (c. second century BC), whose spelling shows his familiarity with both Greek and Oscan.
Artos 2

Wall painting showing a man in a white toga, signed by the artist Artos, who probably spoke both Greek and Messapic. Arpi, SE Italy, third or second century BC. Image from Mazzei (1995) Arpi. 

HiSoN run summer schools, conferences and other events as well as the big annual HiSoN conference. If you’re a scholar in historical sociolinguistics, the history of language, historical linguistic anthropology, or any vaguely allied field, I’d highly recommend that you sign up to their mailing list. You can find out more on their website. They also have a bit of a sense of humour about the location of their conference:

labov fourth floor

(In case this joke is a bit niche, here’s a quick explanation of the ‘fourth floor’ experiment, and cartoon imagining some pitfalls.)


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