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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

Language norms from below: the Greek language in Graeco-Roman Egypt

Alternative title: Språknormer sett nedenfra: Gresk språk i gresk-romersk Egypt

Awarded: NOK 2.9 mill.

In this project I studied the contemporary norms of the post-Classical Greek language in documentary sources from Graeco-Roman Egypt, such as writing on papyrus and potsherds found in the Egyptian desert dating to the third century BCE and the seventh century CE. Two main resources were used: 1) editorial regularizations of 'non-standard' spelling and 2) the corrections by ancient scribes themselves. What kind of 'mistakes' did the scribes correct? And did they follow scholarly linguistic norms or did they create new norms and conventions? Quantitative study of the editorial regularizations showed that orthographic variation is mostly found in genres used for the interaction between private people, such as letters and contracts. Extensive scribal corrections are found in preliminary versions (drafts) of petitions and contracts, while smaller scribal corrections of orthography and morphology can also be found in final versions of private letters. Study of the orthographic variants showed that contemporary (local) scribal norms - different from scholarly norms - were in use for the spelling of certain lexemes.

The results of the database of editorial regularizations, collecting orthographic and morphological variation in all documentary papyri, are accessible at and annotation of other irregularities, such as scribal corrections, as well as papyrological genres is made available in the lexically and morphologically annotated tool at The project has furthermore resulted in four peer-reviewed scientific articles and one review in various academic journals, six peer-reviewed scientific chapters in important monographs in the fields of Papyrology, Digital Papyrology, Linguistic variation and Post-Classical Greek and two popular science articles. These studies have showed, among others, that contemporary norms were in practice at various periods in order to spell certain lexemes in different ways than is generally considered to be correct by ancient and modern scholars.

After the conquest of Alexander the Great, the city of Alexandria became an important place for scholarly debate during the Hellenistic period (323-31 BCE). Alexandrine grammarians studied and commented on Classical Greek literature and the Greek language. During Roman times (31 BCE -284 CE), the so-called Atticist grammarians tried to define the norms for 'correct Greek' based on Classical Attic literary models. Their prescriptive statements, often in the form 'one should say X, but not Y', can be observed to varying degrees in the surviving post-Classical literature (Horrocks 2010). However, their impact on everyday writing has hardly been studied, as also commented upon by Lee in his paper on Atticist grammarians (2013: 284). I intend to overcome this gap in our knowledge of the development of the post-Classical Greek language by studying the written language in non-literary texts from Graeco-Roman Egypt. Did the writers of these non-literary texts follow linguistic norms? And if so, what kind of rules did they follow? How far did the influence of the Alexandrine scholarship and Atticistic grammarians reach? I will use two different approaches to answer these questions: (1) philological study of the linguistic comments preserved in grammatical treatises and ancient Greek scholarship, and (2) a quantitative and qualitative linguistic study of the variants attested in inscriptions, papyri and potsherds. An important new resource will be used in the form of language revision by ancient scribes. The first phase of the project will be executed under supervision of Prof. Mark Janse, a specialist in post-Classical Greek and Greek grammarians, at the University of Ghent, while the second phase, including the development of a database of ancient corrections, will be continued at the University of Leuven under supervision of the leader of the Trismegistos portal, Prof. Mark Depauw. The University of Oslo will provide the perfect place for the comparison of the results.

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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam