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Group E: Classical and Comparative Philology and Lingustics


The three Group E papers complement one another and together provide a comprehensive grounding in the problems and techniques of comparative and historical linguistics and of classical philology. However, each paper is self-contained and may equally well be taken separately or in combination with one of the others.

Those who wish to extend their knowledge of general and theoretical aspects of linguistics may take Paper O1 or O10 in addition to their selection of E papers.

In addition to the courses specifically for those papers, candidates for E1 and E2 may also be interested in the MPhil course The Epigraphy and Interpretation of the Linear B Tablets.


Paper E1: Elements of Comparative Linguistics

Course Director: Dr R J E Thompson

Aims and objectives

  1. To introduce Comparative Indo-European Linguistics and the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European, with emphasis on the linguistic prehistory and development of Latin and Greek.
  2. To introduce the theory, methods and findings of historical linguistics. In particular stress is placed on explaining how languages change and the techniques used to compare languages in the same family and reconstruct their ancestor.
  3. To offer instruction in the primary data for Proto-Indo-European reconstruction and the principal developments presumed to have taken place in Greek and Latin. Particular stress is placed on the reconstruction of the phonology and morphology of Proto-Indo-European, but syntactic and lexical reconstruction are also covered.
  4. To introduce students to the Sanskrit language and aspects of it relevant for comparison with Latin and Greek and reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European.
  5. To encourage students to examine and evaluate different techniques of reconstruction.
  6. To raise awareness of problems and issues in the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European and in the development of the Classical languages, and to encourage techniques of problem-solving and the assessment of proposed solutions.
  7. To develop the techniques of linguistic analysis enabling students to relate and reconstruct items in Latin, Greek and Sanskrit.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2017–18

The paper is not divided into sections. It will contain questions on the following topics: the theoretical methods and problems of reconstruction and processes of language change; comparative phonology; comparative morphology and syntax; the reconstruction of PIE lexicon; Vedic and its relevance for Indo-European comparison. Candidates will be required to answer any three questions.

(Supervisions for this course will be centrally organised.)

In 2018-19 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.

Course description


(18 L: Michaelmas; 6 C: Easter)

Paper E1 concerns itself with the elements of comparative linguistics:

(1) The theoretical basis of comparative and historical linguistics, including methods of analysis and reconstruction.

(2) The genetic relationship between the Indo-European languages, and the methods of comparative linguistics applied specifically to Greek, Latin and Vedic as a basis for the reconstruction of the parent language’s vocabulary, sound-system, word-structure and sentence-structure. No knowledge of languages other than Latin and Greek is assumed at the outset of the course; relevant aspects of Vedic and other languages are gradually introduced as necessary.

Recommended Reading:

*L. Campbell, Historical Linguistics: An Introduction (Edinburgh, 1998)

J.P.T.. Clackson, Indo-European Linguistics (Cambridge 2007)

*B.W. Fortson IV, Indo-European Language and Culture: an introduction, (2nd edition Oxford 2010)

*A. Fox, Linguistic Reconstruction (Oxford 1995)

A.L. Sihler, New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin (New York /Oxford, 1995)

O. Szemerényi, Introduction to Indo-European Linguistics (Oxford, 1996)

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

Texts marked * are particularly recommended as introductory reading. A detailed bibliography arranged by topics for the whole course is distributed at the beginning of the lectures.

The course comprises the following lecture series:


Michaelmas Term

Comparative Indo-European Phonology


A brief introduction to the phonological systems of Sanskrit and other Indo-European languages followed by reconstruction of the phonology of Proto-Indo-European through the comparative method and explanation of the principal phonetic and phonological developments which have taken place in Latin, Greek and Sanskrit.


Topics in Comparative Indo-European Morphology and Syntax: The Noun


Discussion of the main inflectional categories and morphological processes that can be reconstructed for the Indo-European noun, and the syntax of nominal concord in Indo-European. Topics treated will include noun paradigms and case syncretism, the reconstruction of gender and number.


Topics in Comparative Indo-European Morphology and Syntax: The Verb


Discussion of the main inflectional categories and morphological processes that can be reconstructed for the Indo-European verb. Topics treated will include verb paradigms and personal inflections; tense/aspect, mood and voice and their syntactic behaviour in Indo-European.


Easter Term

Introduction to Vedic


An introduction to the language of Vedic Sanskrit and the principal elements of its phonological and morphological development from PIE. Edited texts of selections of the Rig Veda will be distributed, read and analysed in the classes with reference to IE comparison.


Papers E2 and E3: Topics in the History of the Greek and Latin Languages

Aims and objectives

For both E2 and E3 the topics taught change regularly. The aims and objectives of both papers are the same, although with different topics the emphasis may change.

  1. To introduce students to the diachronic study of a period of Greek/Latin. (Topics are changed at roughly 3 year intervals.)
  2. To introduce the methods of diachronic linguistics, the processes of language change and the theoretical understanding of how languages change, and to present ways in which these methods can be applied to the history of a particular language or group of languages. Different topics may also stress the importance of particular elements of historical linguistics, such as historical dialectology or the methodology for constructing genetic sub-groups.
  3. To introduce students to a range of linguistic data from a period of the history of Latin/Greek and provide the framework through which those data can be assessed. For many topics this will include an introduction to stages of the language or related languages (including the role of / need for constructs such as Proto-Indo-European or Proto-Romance) in which students have had little previous instruction, and the course will provide the necessary linguistic background. The course will explain how trends in the development of the attested history of Greek or Latin can often be tied in with reconstructed phenomena in their prehistory.
  4. To place the linguistic data within its historical / social / literary / cultural context and consequently to arrive at a better understanding and interpretation of individual texts and authors from Greece and Italy.
  5. To develop students’ understanding of the motivations for and processes of particular linguistic changes.
  6. To encourage the development of a critical awareness of the use of written data for understanding and tracking change in the spoken language, and of the limitations and advantages associated with various types of data.
  7. To develop skills in the close analysis of texts and in the identification and assessment of significant linguistic features.


Paper E2: Greek in the Bronze Age

Course Directors: Dr R J E Thompson and Dr T Meißner

Scope and structure of the examination paper 2017–18

Question 1 will contain passages for analysis and comment from the set texts discussed in lectures and classes. The remaining questions will deal with a range of more general topics and issues. Candidates are required to answer Question 1 and two other questions.

(Supervisions for this course will be centrally organised.)

In 2018-19 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.

Course description


(8 L: Michaelmas, 16 L: Lent)

Greek is a language of many dialects, but it is possible to compare their similarities and differences and construct a ‘family tree’ which shows how the different varieties of Greek are related to each other. In the classical period, dialects of a type known as East Greek were spoken in Attica, the Ionian islands and colonies of Asia Minor, in Arcadia in the centre of the Peloponnese, and on Cyprus. The whole of the rest of the Peloponnese, north-western Greece, and Crete spoke dialects of a different type, known as West Greek.

In the second millennium BC the picture looks very different. Documents written on clay tablets in a script called Linear B, dating from between 1,400 and 1,200 BC, have been found at Knossos and Chania on Crete, and at Thebes in Boeotia, Mycenae, Tiryns and Midea in the Argolid, and at Pylos in Messenia, i.e. all over the southern Greek world. In 1952, Michael Ventris, an architect and amateur code breaker, aided by John Chadwick, a lecturer in Greek linguistics at Cambridge, demonstrated that the language of these documents was Greek - Greek of a very different sort from that of any classical dialect, but Greek nonetheless. That dialect is now called Mycenaean, although it seems to have been spoken throughout Greece from Boeotia southwards, and it is of a type clearly belonging to the East Greek group.

In this course we will look at the early history of the Greek language. We will look at how the various varieties of Greek are related to one another, paying particular attention to Mycenaean and its relation to the dialects of the classical period. We will also consider how and why the dialect map of Greece changed between the second and first millennia.

Recommended reading:

John Chadwick, The decipherment of Linear B (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967) gives a detailed and fascinating account of the decipherment. His book The Mycenaean World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976) provides a glimpse into the world of the Greek Bronze Age in which the Linear B documents were written. J. T. Hooker, Linear B: An Introduction (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1980) is a good introduction to the language of the Mycenaean documents, and includes many texts in Linear B and Roman transcription, with translation and commentary. The best place to start, however, is the first two chapters of Duhoux and Morpurgo Davies A Companion to Linear B: Mycenaean Texts and their World vol 1 (Louvain-la-Neuve: Peeters, 2008 = BCILL 120).

The course comprises the following lecture series:


Michaelmas Term


(8 L: weeks 5–8)

We will begin by looking at the methods that dialectologists use to classify different varieties and determine how closely they are related. We will then look at the major characteristics of the Greek dialects of the classical period, and use those methods to classify them. There will be an introduction to the Linear B script, its history and the history of its decipherment, and the Mycenaean documents and their world. We will look in detail at the characteristics of Mycenaean Greek, and examine the major issues in determining its relation to the dialects of the classical period. We will ask how the distribution of dialects in the first millennium came about from their somewhat different distribution in the second; and we will ask the question, ‘What happened to Mycenaean at the end of the Bronze Age?’


Lent Term



Edited copies of the prescribed texts will be distributed to the class at the beginning of the course. In these lectures the texts will be discussed in detail, highlighting themes identified in the Michaelmas Term lectures. All texts will be read in Roman transcription.


Students may also wish to take note of the following course:



 (8 C: Michaelmas)

Instruction in how to read and understand Linear B tablets covering both epigraphy and approaches to interpretation. No previous experience required. The classes are open both to postgraduates and to third-year students taking D and E papers in Part II.


Paper E3: Latin as She is Spoke

Course Director: Dr N A S Zair

Scope and structure of the examination paper 2017–18

Question 1 will contain passages from the set texts covered in lecture courses for analysis and comment. The remaining questions will cover various topics covered in the course. Candidates are required to answer Question 1 and two other questions.

(Supervisions for this course will be centrally organised.)

In 2018-2019 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.

Course description


(8 L: Michaelmas, 8 2hr C: Lent)

Like all spoken languages, Latin varied according to place, time, social class of the speaker, genre of text, and many other factors. However, Classical literary texts largely obscure this variation, so that, for example, we do not know what it was about Livy’s language that caused him to be accused of showing features characteristic of his home city of Padua. In this course, we will examine the ways that variation can be identified in Latin, from Republican versus Classical Latin, to the language used by social groups such as Christians and soldiers, and address questions such as whether it is possible to talk about ‘Vulgar Latin’, and whether provinces had their own identifiable dialects of Latin under the Empire. Both inscriptional and manuscript sources will be used to consider how non-literary genres including medical, legal, and technical texts such as cook-books developed their own ‘languages’, in the light of the social and educational backgrounds of authors (where known) and intended readers. We shall use recent theoretical work on language variation and sociolinguistics and examine how far this is applicable to the ancient world, and to what extent it helps ‘fill in the gaps’ in our understanding of the way Latin was used outside the literary elite.

Recommended reading: a detailed bibliography arranged by topics for the whole course will be distributed at the beginning of the lecture course and made available on the Faculty website. J. Clackson and G. Horrocks (2007) The Blackwell History of the Latin Language, J.N. Adams (2013), Social Variation and the Latin Language (Cambridge), J. Clackson (2011) A companion to the Latin Language (Wiley-Blackwell) and J.N.Adams (2016) An Anthology of Informal Latin, 200 BC–AD 900. Fifty Texts with Translations and Linguistic Commentary (Cambridge) are good starting points.

The course comprises the following lecture series:


Michaelmas Term


(8 L, weeks 1–4)

These lectures set the scene and outline the theoretical and historical framework for the study of variation and register in Latin and will discuss pertinent issues such as education, class, local features, prestige, and audience.


Lent Term


(8 2hr C)

Eight two-hour seminars where the prescribed texts will be studied in detail with recourse to the topics outlined above. Edited copies of the prescribed texts will be distributed to the class at the beginning of the course. Students will be asked to give a short presentation on one or more extracts from the scheduled texts (the extracts will be circulated and read by all students in the week before the seminar), and this will be followed by a structured discussion led by the lecturer.

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