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Bilingualism and Youth in the Roman army

Egizia-Maria Felice

This paper offers a revisitation of language choice in the renowned early second-century letters from the soldier Claudius Terentianus to his alleged father, the veteran Claudius Tiberianus. Often taken as an example of “Vulgar Latin”, these Egyptian texts are particularly significant for the study of bilingualism in the Roman army, for Terentianus sends Tiberianus letters in both Latin and Greek alternately, performing what in Sociolinguistics is called "code-alternation". The possibility that scribes might have interfered with his choice of language is not entirely sustainable, in that Egypt was a highly multilingual province where Graeco-Latin bilingualism was the norm in both official and unofficial writing. In his linguistic analysis of the papyri, J.N. Adams (1977) has advanced the possibility that Terentianus’ code-alternation is related to the wish to sound more formal whilst writing Greek, whereas Latin might have been the mundane language of the household that the young man spoke with his father. In a recent study by D. Nachtergaele (2015) the reason for Terentianus’ code-alternation is said to be due to a specific communication strategy, according to which the sender employed Latin when asking favours of Tiberianus. With my paper I intend to revisit the relation between the two correspondents and show that, as an expression of a communal military identity, Latin is employed by the young soldier to seek from the senior member of the army shelter from various unsettling situations. Unlike the Greek ones, Terentianus’ Latin letters in fact feature utterances that reflect youth behaviour, including a line in which the soldier mocks his mother.

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Identity and Ethnicity

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