Scribal corrections and language variation and change in Greek documentary papyri from Egypt (300 BCE – 800 CE)

Start - End 
2016 - 2019 (ongoing)
Department(s) 
Department of Linguistics
Research Focus 

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Abstract

After the conquest of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE, Greek becomes the main written language in Egypt until the seventh century CE. Many of the changes between Classical Greek and Modern Greek start to develop during this time. However, language change is not always easy to trace in written documents because people tried to write in an old-fashioned standard language. Greek documentary papyri from Egypt provide an important, but largely unexplored, source for linguistic study. They are preserved over a large period of time (300 BCE – 800 CE) and they cover various topics: from administrative and juridical texts to business notes and private letters. 

The papyri preserve a special type of information which has not been studied before: corrections made by ancient scribes. This project aims to identify changes in the language by analyzing scribal ‘errors’ and their corrections. What were the norms that these writers were trying to follow? Does the standard change over time? Did Greek scribes understand the standard language in a different way than we do? The scientific contribution of this project is threefold. First of all, it offers a new and original perspective on linguistic variation in documentary papyri. Secondly, it contributes to our knowledge of the history of the Greek language, and finally, it develops a new area of research within the field of historical sociolinguistics.

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