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American Journal of Philology 125.2 (2004) 279-283

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J. N. Adams, Mark Janse, and Simon Swain, eds. Bilingualism in Ancient Society: Language Contact and the Written Word. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. x + 483 pp. Cloth, $98.

There are some issues, and bilingualism is one of them, that have been mainstays in the scholarly dialogue of classicists and historical linguists for centuries. This interest has been fueled in part by the frequent references to Greek/Latin bilingualism in the ancient record, especially in connection with what Adams (Bilingualism and the Latin Language, 9) calls "élite bilinguals," i.e., upper-class Romans who were skilled in Greek. For example, Quintilian (1.1.12) says: "a sermone Graeco puerum incipere malo, quia Latinum, qui pluribus in usu est, vel nobis nolentibus perbibet." Cicero (Verr. 4.127), attacking Verres for his lack of cultivation, has the following harsh words: "tum epigramma Graecum pernobile incisum est in basi, quod iste eruditus homo et Graeculus, qui haec subtiliter iudicat, qui solus intellegit, si unam litteram Graecam scisset, certe non sustulisset." There is a notable passage in Gellius (17.17.1; commentary by Skutsch, The Annals of Q. Ennius, Oxford 1975, 749-50) in which he affirms the proficiency of Ennius in Greek, Latin and Oscan, and that of the famed king Mithridates, who was said to be fluent in twenty-five different languages ("Quintus Ennius tria corda habere sese dicebat, quod loqui Graece et Osce et Latine sciret. Mithridates autem . . . quinque et viginti gentium quas sub dicione habuit linguas percalluit").

But as is the case with many everyday commonsense notions, bilingualism is far more complex, and far more interesting, than has been thought previously. Bilingual societies have to some extent been unappreciated and have certainly been underanalyzed by scholars of the ancient world. The reasons are obvious but merit restatement: although bilingualism in ancient societies was an everyday fact of life, most of them did not have "language policies" governing the use of languages in particular social settings and therefore offer no scholarly or administrative discourse on the matter. Furthermore, the study of ancient bilingualism depends crucially on the existence of certain kinds of (bilingual) materials, a knowledge of the languages in question (not only Greek and Latin), and on subtle sociolinguistic notions, which are generally not in the repertoire of the literary or historical scholar, or the historical linguist.

But this is all beginning to change, as scholars of antiquity begin to discover the features—psychological, sociological, and linguistic—that defined bilingual societies. Work has appeared recently by Indo-Europeanists conversant in dialectology and sociolinguistic principles: see, for example, Neumann and [End Page 279] Untermann, Die Sprachen im Römischen Reich der Kaiserzeit (Cologne 1980); Campanile, Cardona, and Lazzeroni, eds., Bilinguismo e biculturalismo nel mondo antico (Pisa 1988); and Dunkel, "Remarks on Code-Switching in Cicero's Letters to Atticus" (Museum Helveticum 57, 2000). There is also work by classical philologists who have applied the methods and approaches of sociolinguistics, such as Flobert, e.g., "Les grafittes de La Graufesenque; Un témoinage sur le gallo-latin sous Néron," in Iliescu and Marxgut, eds., Latin vulgaire-latin tardif iii (Tübingen 1992), and in this volume; and Biville, e.g., "Compétence bilingue latino-grecque et manipulations interlinguistiques," in La Koiné grecque antique, vol. 3 (Nancy 1998), also in this volume; and especially the recent massive volume by Adams, Bilingualism and the Latin Language (Cambridge 2003).

The volume under review results from a conference held at the University of Reading in 1998. There are fifteen chapters, including a useful introductory essay by the editors. The introductory chapter is an important one for the classicist, since it contains discussion and explanation of many technical concepts that are central to the study of bilingual individuals and societies. The book contains two methodological essays in the introduction (D. L. Langslow, "Approaching Bilingualism in Corpus Languages"; and K. Versteegh, "Dead or Alive? The Status of the Standard Language"); four chapters on Greek-Latin bilingualism (F. Biville, "The Graeco-Romans and Graeco-Latin: A...


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