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Conference | Workshop (online)

Multilingualism in Egypt: Comparative Perspectives on Language Choice in Documentary Papyri

Thursday 18 November 2021 - Friday 19 November 2021

Programme Leiden Papyrology+ Workshop (online)


+++ Please note that the schedule has been changed! ++++++

Thursday 18 November 2021

15:15 – 15:20 Welcome (Francisca Hoogendijk)
15:20– 15:30 Introduction (Joanne Stolk and Eline Scheerlinck)

Spelling choices in a multilingual society

15:30 – 16:15 Antonia Apostolakou (Universiteit Gent) – The limits of digraphia: Coptic letters in Egyptian personal names and toponyms in Greek

Signs of cultural contact may be traced and manifested not only in linguistic, but also in scriptal choices of writers, especially in situations where the linguistic varieties in contact use different or divergent scripts. Following this thesis, scriptal variation in (primarily) Greek documentary papyri from Egypt from the 4th to the 8th century was examined, and led to the collection of a set of texts where very few Coptic letters are found in certain words, usually without a change in language. This paper focuses on these words, which are generally Egyptian personal names and toponyms, in which one or two “Coptic-only” letters can be found (e.g. Παραϣ, Πιαϩ). This noticeable –at least by modern standards– combination of alphabets within a single word, a minimum trace of digraphia, triggered the investigation of the type of documents these writings appear in, as well as any attestations of Greek equivalents of the names they convey. The linguistic skills of their authors, who are from completely unknown to more familiar, as many of these documents belong to archives such as the ones of Dioscoros son of Apollos or Basilios the pagarch from Aphrodito, are also examined. Finally, the writing and paleography (linearity, superlinear strokes, ligatures) of these letters and words is taken into account. This study presents some preliminary findings on these questions, exploring the possibility of whether such phenomena can be used as additional indicators of the linguistic background of ancient writers, and shed light on the perception of Greek and Coptic alphabets at the time. In this way, the need for and usefulness of a more systematic, multimodal study of scriptal variation, even when the latter is very limited, is highlighted.

16:15 – 17:00 Joanne Stolk (Universiteit Gent) – Coptic monks writing Greek: spelling in liturgical texts from Thebes

The Greek liturgical texts written by monks in Western Thebes show a significant amount of non-standard spellings. The monks were probably monolingual Egyptians, but for their liturgical services they used Greek hymns and prayers and wrote them down on ostraca in Greek. Their writings show a rich variety of phonological and morphological variation, sometimes inspired by the Coptic alphabet, spelling, phonology and lexicon. How did these Coptic monks manage to write Greek? Which spelling strategies did they use? What kind of influences from their native language can we identify in their writing? And what could this tell us about the general knowledge of Greek in Western Thebes? These are the questions I will address in this paper based on a study carried out in collaboration with Ágnes Mihálykó and Céline Grassien.




Friday 19 November 2021

Onomastics in a multilingual society

14:15 – 15:00 Yanne Broux & Willy Clarysse (KU Leuven) – Sokrates and his crocodile: a Greek name in an Egyptian context

In a recent article, Clarysse presents an overview of the name Socrates in Egypt. He argues for an evolution from a ‘normal Greek name’, with no specific reference to the Athenian philosopher (Ptolemaic period), to a Greek name with Egyptian connotations (Roman period). Building on this data set, Broux uses quantitative methods and techniques from the blossoming field of Digital Humanities to reinforce his theory and to provide a more accurate picture of the context in which this name was used in Ptolemaic, Roman and Late Roman Egypt.

15:00 – 15:45 Grzegorz Ochała (University of Warsaw) – How to be a woman in a multilingual world: names and methods of (self-)presentation of women in Christian Nubian written sources

It is a well-established fact that women could have a relatively elevated position in Christian Nubian society. They owned and traded in land, funded wall paintings in Nubian churches, and sponsored sacral buildings. Recently, it has also become apparent that they could become deaconesses. However, apart from comments on the lives of such prominent female figures, no through gender study has ever been carried out for the Middle Nile Valley in Middle Ages. With the use of the Database of Medieval Nubian Identity Markers, the present paper will thus attempt to explore strategies of identification used by and for women in Nubian sources written in Greek, Coptic, and Old Nubian, and to see how these can be translated into a perception of their social standing in a multilingual environment.

15:45 – 16:00 Break

Language choice in a multilingual society

16:00 – 16:45 Eline Scheerlinck (Universiteit Leiden) – Coptic, an administrative language of Early Islamic Egypt

The administration of the caliphal province of Egypt was decidedly multilingual. Arabic, Greek, and Coptic were used to produce documents in order to facilitate the running of the province, most importantly the fiscal system. Publications discussing the role of Coptic in the administration and society of late antique and early Islamic Egypt have repeated the notion that Coptic never became an “official” language, in the same way that Greek and Arabic were. However, this dichotomy between “official” and “unofficial” language becomes irrelevant when we recognize that the administration of Egypt was an integrated system, in which  the administrators on various levels were connected, as well as the documents which they produced and received. When we consider the combined evidence of the documents in the three administrative languages of Islamic Egypt, we can see this integrated system reflected in them. I present a case study to illustrate this point. Around the turn of the eighth century several monastic communities were settled in the environs of the town of Djeme, near modern-day Luxor. I discuss three documents which were issued by administrators on different levels of the administration, on behalf of such monastic communities. One is a permit in Greek issued by a regional administrator whose office would soon become obsolete. The other two documents are so-called “protection letters” in Coptic, issued by the village officials of Djeme. The documents provided protection for the monks, especially related to taxation. I examine the connections between these documents, and the historical and linguistic background of this multilingual “dossier”.

16:45 – 17:30 Margaretha Folmer (Universiteit Leiden) – The Language Situation among the Judeans at Elephantine (5th c. BCE)

In the fifth century BCE a Judean community living on Elephantine island in the south of Egypt wrote and read Aramaic. The documentation is vast and comprises among other things letters and legal documents. But what do we know about their spoken language and about their knowledge of Hebrew, the language of their ancestors? These are the principal issues that will be addressed in this paper.

This workshop is organised on behalf of the Papyrology+ Group by the members of the Leiden Papyrological Institute. For more information contact e.scheerlinck@hum.leidenuniv.nl or joanne.stolk@ugent.be.


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