Language in Greek and Roman Society (CLA3269)

StaffDr Katherine McDonald - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Pre-requisitesLatin II and/or Greek II, or equivalent
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims


This module aims to introduce students to some of the basics of using linguistics to analyse Greek and Latin texts. Students will be introduced to historical linguistics, dialectology and sociolinguistics, and they will gain an appreciated of how these methods can increase our understanding of ancient languages and the societies of the ancient Mediterranean. The module will also take a critical approach to the evidence, using both literary and epigraphic sources to address the issues of limited literacy in the ancient world and the incompleteness of our knowledge of Greek and Latin based on the surviving sources. The module will cover variation across space including the Greek dialects, variation between social classes, among genders and among age groups. We will also discover what happens when Latin and Greek come into contact with each other, and with other languages of the ancient world.


ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrating detailed knowledge and understanding of variation and language change in Greek and Latin
  • 2. Demonstrating a detailed knowledge of the writing systems and phonology of Greek and Latin, including variation and change over time
  • 3. Assessing evidence using knowledge of historical linguistic and sociolinguistic methods
  • 4. Demonstrating a good knowledge of the history of scholarship in the field of historical linguistics and sociolinguistics and how these subfields have informed ancient linguistics

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. Developing critical approaches to ancient source material, including issues relating to the limitations of the available evidence
  • 6. Conducting independent research, including library and online research
  • 7. Honing skills in formal academic writing, including essays and commentaries on the linguistic features of a text or source

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. Developing skills in critical analysis
  • 9. Demonstrating the ability to read, assess and organize diverse information to form a coherent argument
  • 10. Writing an analytical essay or a critical discussion of a piece of source material
  • 11. Conducting independent research, including experience in time management

Syllabus plan

Topics may include: the basics of linguistics (the sounds of Greek and Latin; ancient writing systems); literacy in the ancient world; the Greek dialects; language variation in the Roman Empire; “Vulgar Latin” and class variation in Latin; class variation in Greek; gender variation in Greek (Aristophanes); gender variation in Latin (Plautus); age variation and change over time; Greek/Latin bilingualism; minority languages in Athens and Rome.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities44Seminars (1 x 2 hours per week)
Guided independent study256Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
2 x Commentaries on Example Texts750 words1-11Mark and written feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay353000 words1-11Mark and written comments
Presentation1515-20 minutes1-11Mark and written comments
Exam503 hours1-11Mark and written comments

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-11August ref/def period
ExamExam1-11August ref/def period
PresentationPresentation Script/Outline1-11August ref/def period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:


J.N. Adams (2013) Social Variation and the Latin Language, Cambridge

J.N. Adams (2003) Bilingualism and the Latin Language, Cambridge

W. Sidney Allen (1987, 3rd edition) Vox Graeca: The Pronunciation of Classical Greek, Cambridge

W. Sidney Allen (1978, 2nd edition) Vox Latina: The Pronunciation of Classical Latin, Cambridge

Carl Darling Buck (1955) The Greek Dialects, Bristol

James Clackson (2007) Indo-European Linguistics, Cambridge

James Clackson (2015) Language in the Greek and Roman Worlds, Cambridge

James Clackson and Geoff Horrocks (2007) The Blackwell History of the Latin Language, Malden/Oxford

Jennifer Coates and Pia Pichler (2011, 2nd edition) Language and Gender: A Reader, Malden/Oxford

Alison E. Cooley (2012) The Cambridge Manual of Latin Epigraphy, Cambridge

Stephen Colvin (2007) A Historical Greek Reader: Mycenaean to the Koine, Oxford

William V. Harris (1989) Ancient Literacy, Harvard

Henry Rogers (2005) Writing Systems: A Linguistic Approach, Malden/Oxford

Suzanne Romaine (2009) Socio-Historical Linguistics, Cambridge

Andrew L. Sihler (1995) New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin, Oxford

Andreas Willi (2009) The Languages of Aristophanes, Oxford

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Key words search

Ancient linguistics, historical linguistics, sociolinguistics, language in society, dialects, literacy