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Bilingualism and Biliteracy in Oscan South Italy?

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Dr Nicholas Zair (Peterhouse; Classics) presents at the CRASSH Postdoctoral Research Seminar.

The event is free to attend but registration is required:


The South of Italy between 400 and 100BC was extremely multicultural and multilingual, with speakers of various languages, including Greek, Latin, Oscan and Messapic all in contact at various times. My talk will examine the evidence for cultural and linguistic interaction provided by the use of different alphabets to write Oscan, a well understood language related to Latin. Oscan was spoken from Campania to the toe of Italy, and I will focus on the inscriptions from modern-day Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily, which use the Greek alphabet. Traditionally, inscriptions written in this alphabet have been seen as reflecting a fixed and rigid school of trained scribes using an orthography specifically developed for writing Oscan. Variation in the rules of this orthography have been attributed to a reform at the start of the 3rd century under the influence of specific changes in the Oscan alphabet used further North, or the Greek alphabet used to write Greek. I will argue that we should instead identify continuing variation in orthography due to individual factors, in particular widespread Greek-Oscan bilingualism leading to shared Greek-Oscan orthographic practices.

About Nicholas Zair

Nicholas Zair is a Research Fellow at Peterhouse and Affiliated Lecturer in the Faculty of Classics. He is currently working on the relationship between the orthography and phonology of the Oscan inscriptions written in the Greek alphabet, and what this can tell us about the Oscan sound system, dialectal variation, and the social context of writing Oscan. His research interests include the historical phonology and morphology of the Italic and Celtic language families. His book, The Reflexes of the Proto-Indo-European Laryngeals in Celtic, came out in September 2012.

This talk is part of the CRASSH series.

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