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mer. 27/03/2019 Réunion Interne
Conseil de Laboratoire
MSH, André Frossard

mer. 27/03/2019 Atelier Phonological Typology, Sonja Dahlgren: Reconstructing Egyptian Greek - Typology and sociolinguistics as tools for variation studies in text languages
ISH - Salle André Bollier


Reconstructing Egyptian Greek – Typology and sociolinguistics as tools for variation studies in text languages
Sonja Dahlgren (Department of Languages, University of Helsinki)

In this paper I discuss the Greek phonological variation within the language contact situation in Roman Egypt. Greek documents in Egypt contain plenty of nonstandard variation, much of which is based on the impact of Egyptian. Morphosyntactic variation has been verified before (Leiwo 2003 & Stolk 2015 for case inflection, Vierros 2012 for relative clause constructions) but until recently, the orthographic variation that is revealing of the phonological level has lacked a detailed analysis. Gignac (1976) lists all the nonstandard variants in the Egyptian Greek corpus, and Horrocks (2010: 112) lists the main features that can be seen to result from the contact with Egyptian. In Dahlgren (2017), I was able to prove a solid connection between Greek nonstandard spelling variants and Egyptian phonology. Greek had served as the official language of the government since the conquest of Alexander the Great in 332 BCE (e.g. Clarysse 1993: 186-188), but in the Roman period especially misspellings based on the phonological level of the language multiplied. This is for a variety of reasons, some to do with sociolinguistic factors such as the growing population size of L2 Greek users (see Sinnemäki & Di Garbo 2018), and some with linguistic factors such as the development of the Egyptian language into its final phase, Coptic. At the same time, Greek was also in the process of phonological development (Horrocks 2010: 166-167), causing irregularity in the grapheme-phoneme correspondence.
Analysing variation of this multicausal language contact situation required a multidisciplinary approach. In my phonological analysis, I focused on one corpus of Greek ostraca, particularly rich with Egyptian-influenced variation on the phonological level. I verified variation in the L2 Greek by similar variants in Greek loanwords in native Coptic texts. To separate the phonological level from orthographic conventions, I incorporated Second Language Writing System (L2WS) studies into the analysis. Most importantly, in order to understand the synchronic nature of the variation, I compared the phonological variation in Egyptian Greek to similar contact linguistic situations between languages of comparable structural differences, for instance English/French and Arabic.
The study showed that most of the L2 features in the Greek used by L1 Egyptians were universal examples of underdifferentiation, overdifferentiation and stress transfer as already described by Weinreich (1968: 18-19). Furthermore, the sociolinguistic study of the early Roman period material showed structural similarities to the typology of language convergence by Matras (2009: 223-226) as well as the analysis of early societal bilingualism by Haugen (1950: 215-217). The type of language variation present in Greek texts in Egypt also suggests an independent contact variety, such as is described by Thomason (2001: 15-26): a second language speakers’ version of the target variety, with features deriving from imperfect learning and the impact of L1. These findings combined allow for a reinterpretation of the type of phonetically-based misspellings in Egyptian Greek, including iotacism. In this paper, I give examples e.g. of the difference between how the Greek-internal variation and the contact-induced variants manifested themselves: in the former, e.g. fronting of vowel value could occur in any position, in the latter it was connected to the consonantal environment. The bivalency of Coptic eta is related to this issue and studied within Coptology (Lambdin 1958: 179-180, 185-187; Peust 1999: 228-230).


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