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Paper 10: Classical and Comparative Philology and Linguistics

Aims and Objectives

  1. To introduce the systematic study of language in general and modern descriptive and theoretical linguistics as applied to Greek and Latin.
  2. To introduce the historical study of language in general and its application to the Classical languages in particular.
  3. To introduce the variety of available evidence relating to the classical languages and their use.
  4. To evaluate the language of various genres and authors.

Scope and structure of the examination paper 2020–21

Candidates will be expected to show knowledge of Greek or Latin or both. The paper will be divided into four sections as follows:

  • Greek and Latin through Time
  • Varieties of Greek and Latin
  • The Language of Latin Literature
  • The Language of Greek Literature

Each section will contain four questions, resulting in 16 questions in total. Candidates for the Classical Tripos will be expected to answer three questions from three different sections.

Subject to Directors of Studies’ approval, supervisions will be organised centrally to complement the lectures.


Course descriptions


(16 L: Michaelmas;
16 L: Lent)

TOPIC 1: Greek and Latin Through Time

(8 L: Michaelmas)

An introduction to language change, with particular reference to the pre-history and history of Latin and Greek. The course will concentrate closely on the phonological development of the languages, in particular the principal historical Greek and Latin sound changes, such as loss of /h/ and /w/ in Greek, labiovelars, changes in the Greek vowel system, rhotacism and vowel weakening in Latin.

Introductory reading:

Lyle Campbell, Historical Linguistics: An Introduction, Edinburgh: University Press 2013 (3rd ed.)

Robert McColl Miller, Trask’s Historical Linguistics, Routledge 2015 (3rd ed.)

Leonard R. Palmer, The Greek Language, Bristol Classical Press 1995 (many printings)

Leonard R. Palmer. The Latin Language, Bristol Classical Press 1990 (many printings)


TOPIC 2: Varieties of Greek and Latin

(8 L: Michaelmas)

Different varieties of Greek and Latin can be associated with different groups of speakers. For Greek, we have a large amount of evidence for different regional dialects; for Latin we have many sources which attest to the existence of sociolects, varieties associated with specific social classes. There is good reason to believe that there were also marked differences between the way men and women, the old and young, natives and foreigners spoke Greek and Latin. These lectures will be an introduction to the range of variation in Greek and Latin, presenting the methodology used in modern dialectology and sociolinguistics.

Introductory reading: James Clackson, Language and Society in the Greek and Roman Worlds (Cambridge 2015); Stephen Colvin, A Brief History of Ancient Greek (Malden/ Oxford 2014); Janet Holmes An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (4th ed. London 2013); Ronald Wardhaugh & Janet Fuller, An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (7th ed., Malden / Oxford 2015).


TOPIC 3: The Language of Latin Literature

(10 L: Lent, weeks 1-5)

This topic is concerned with the description and analysis of some of the different literary forms of Latin. Starting from the earliest literature written in Latin down to the Classical period, we will examine topics including the development of a Roman poetic register and different genres; the presence and meaning of Greek features (words, morphology, syntax) in Latin literature; developments in the verbal system of Latin; to what extent everyday speech has an influence on literary texts - and to what extent we can use texts as evidence for everyday speech; linguistic aspects of metre and scansion; the use (and abuse) of archaisms. The lectures will include in-depth analyses of the language of individual authors and texts, many of which will be taken from the Part IA and Part IB schedules, and all of which will be distributed in class.

Suggested introductory reading:

James Clackson and Geoffrey Horrocks, The Blackwell History of The Latin Language (2007) 183-228

James Clackson (ed.) Blackwell Companion to the Latin Language (2011)

Eleanor Dickey and Anna Chahoud (eds.) Colloquial and Literary Latin (2010)


TOPIC 4: The Language of Greek Literature

(6 L: Lent, weeks 6-8)

This topic is concerned with the description and analysis of some of the different literary forms of Greek. We shall address the following questions (among others): What marks off the language of literature from the language of speech? How are linguistic features employed to distinguish different literary genres, and how do those differences originate? How do authors use dialectal differences or archaic forms in literary compositions? How can we separate out colloquial and literary features of language? The lectures will include in-depth analyses of the language of individual authors and texts, many of which will be taken from the Part IA and Part IB schedules, and all of which will be distributed in class.

Suggested introductory reading:

Geoffrey Horrocks Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers (2nd ed. 2010) 44–72

Egbert Bakker (ed.) A Companion to the Greek Language (Blackwell, 2010) 355–482

Anastasios-Foivos Christidis (ed.) A History of Ancient Greek (corrected ed., Cambridge, 2010) 963–1053

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