Language, Text, and Power - Classics

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Our objective

The main objective of our research initiative in Classics is to promote innovative forms of inquiry into the languages of the Ancient World through our published research, research collaborations, and public events. Moreover, we are very keen to attract, support, and supervise young researchers at any level in their Academic career who are willing to contribute to the initiative's objective as well as to further develop and strengthen its thriving research culture.

Areas of current research

Language is central to both how the ancient world worked and how power-relations were negotiated and enforced; it is also the primary medium through which we learn about the ancient world today. And while a lot of attention has been given in recent scholarship to visual and material culture, scholars have neglected the central role of language in all human cultures, something which the ancient Greek and Roman world illustrates particularly well.

We have organised our current activities around five major research themes which are illustrated below. The initiative and its objectives are dynamic and ever-evolving, defining the agenda of current research, responding to new ideas, and exploring the limits of understanding in the complex relations between languages, texts, and power.

1. Applicability of modern linguistic approaches to ancient languages

Modern linguistic theory is a pre-eminently empirical discipline, generating its data and insights from an (at least in theory) infinite amount of utterances in spoken language; most of its theoretical framework is built upon and around this theorem. But how does one apply modern linguistic approaches to the so-called corpus languages, i. e. languages that do not allow interaction with native speakers and that by definition have a finite amount of evidence, none of which genuinely reflects spoken language? (An additional issue here is the generally conservative methodology of Latin and Greek scholars to ancient grammar, still mostly determined by normative approaches that, in their substance, date back to ancient practice.) Yet another, often neglected, problem is the nature of the sources: literary sources contain written language that is supposedly formalised to an even higher degree than subliterary texts; subliterary text, on the other hand, often reveal lack of care in composition, which in turn makes it hard to determine the value of the texts for linguistic research.

2. Variety and change

One of the hotly debated issues of current linguistic research in Classics is the complex of linguistic variety and change. Traditionally, especially from the learner's perspective, the ancient languages present themselves as a more or less coherent monolithic block, that can either be understood or not, but does not show much variation at all (except for the obvious difference between Archaic and later texts). This, however, is a view that has since long been refuted in scholarship, explaining languages as complex systems in motion, showing considerable amount of linguistic varieties at any given time as well as long-term changes.

3. Non-literary languages and text typology

Literary genres and languages (such as registers etc.) have been researched for hundreds of years now, sometimes with enormous controversy. Ancient literature, and consequently Greek and Latin philologists and literary critics, has played a notoriously marginal role in this debate, as the ancient authors of course were unaware of the philosophical considerations of the 19th and 20th centuries, that tended to get projected back on ancient texts (with some minor successes). Documentary and semi-literary texts as well as technical languages are a different matter entirely. Only recently have non-literary texts and languages become the focus of linguistic research, and Classical texts and technical languages have been a key part of the discussion from the very beginning.

4. Formal and material aspects of texts

One important aspect about literature seems to be the fact that the texts have certain qualities that make them virtually independent of media, time, and space (even though in many cases one cannot at all disregard these factors for a true appreciation): Homeric poems inspire and entertain people regardless of circumstance, as oral poetry in their own time, on papyrus, or as audio book in the 21st century. But there are texts and text types that cannot be separated from their media easily or at all, and in fact even in the case of literary texts there is often far more to them than just the words and letters: it is the layout, the presentation of the text, illustrations - all these aspects are considered features of a text in modern linguistics - but hardly ever when it comes to Classical scholarship. Research into documentary texts in general as well as the material and formal aspects of these texts in particular (as well as their interaction with their micro- and macro-contexts) is therefore urgently needed.

5. Language and Power

An area that we are currently still developing is the range of interactions between language and power - the power of language as well as the language of power that can be studied from material texts in particular. How often is the text in fact the message - and how often is the very monument (that happens to be inscribed) a message that is far more important than the text itself?

Current Postgraduate Students

  • Mr Orazio Camaioni works on a new edition and commentary of Varro's Antiquitates Rerum Humanarum. He is also involved in Prof. Kruschwitz's current project on 'Fake Latin' (funded by the British Academy).
  • Ms Clare Coombe works on the use of mythology in the late antique poet Claudian, exploring in detail how this relates to the poetology of this still undervalued author.
  • Mr Ryan Hackman works on a study of the concept of the imperator in Latin.

Things to do now

Contact us:

Prof. Peter Kruschwitz

  • email
  • +44 (0)118 378 8420

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