Dr Katherine McDonald

Research interests

My research interests include ancient Italy, linguistic and cultural contact in the ancient world, ancient migration, personal names, Greek and Roman comedy, and epigraphy. My work uses approaches from historical sociolinguistics to investigate multilingualism, language contact and gender linguistics. I'm particularly interested in exploring different approaches to fragmentary sources and lesser-known ancient languages.

My current research project, Language Contact in Ancient Italy, a comparative approach to language use in areas such as Campania, Lucania, the Veneto and the city of Rome. I am using sources in a wide range of languages - including Latin, Greek, Oscan, Venetic, Etruscan and Messapic - alongside material culture and archaeology to build a more nuanced picture of how languages and communities interacted.

You can find out more about my current research on my website and blog.

Research collaborations

Greek in Italy

I am an Affiliated Researcher at the AHRC-funded Greek in Italy project, based at the University of Cambridge.

In the course of the first millennium BC Greek sailors, traders and colonists visited and settled in the Italian peninsula in increasing numbers. The southern half of Italy became known as ‘Big Greece’, both by Romans (Magna Graecia) and Greeks (Megalē Hellas). Greek settlements in Italy are attested from the 8th century BC onwards, and there is evidence for Greek trade from even earlier. Greeks brought with them urban living, religion and wine drinking, the alphabet and its associated uses. Some cities of Italy, including Naples, Rhegium and Tarentum, remained Greek speaking even under Roman rule.

Substantial archaeological and textual discoveries in the last three decades have opened up our knowledge of the Greeks in Italy and the native societies they encountered, but there has been no complete study of the impact made by Greek on indigenous languages – this project aims to fill this gap. We will consider the nature and outcomes of contact between Greeks and speakers of the various native languages of ancient Italy, investigating the changes on the languages themselves, and relating linguistic interactions to social and political factors.

The project aims:

  • To understand the nature and long-term effects of language contact between Greek and other languages of Ancient Italy.
  • To understand the spread of the Greek alphabet among non-Greek speaking communities.
  • To investigate the nature of the Greek spoken in towns in Southern Italy, and compare this with developments in the rest of the Greek world.
  • To integrate issues of linguistic contact and linguistic borrowing into the discourse of archaeologists, historians and other scholars working on Greek colonization in Italy, and to promote dialogue between linguists and other scholars.

I have published a number of articles relating to the languages of Italy with my project colleagues, Nicholas Zair and Livia Tagliapietra, including a new reading of the multilingual Petelia curse tablet and some new suggestions for understanding the fragmentary Roccagloriosa law.

You can find out more about the project at our blog or @GreekinItaly.

Centre for Connectivity in the Roman World

I am a member of the Centre for Connectivity in the Roman World at the University of Exeter.

This Centre aims to examine in what ways connectivity contributed to the shaping of distinctive cultures, economies and societies across the breadth of the Roman world (and its immediate neighbours).