Working Papers by Subject - Lingistics

071202 Making Sense of “Nonsense” Inscriptions: Non-Greek Words Associated with Amazons and Scythians on Ancient Greek Vases
Adrienne Mayor, Stanford University; John Colarusso, McMaster University; and David Saunders, J. Paul Getty Museum
Download PDF Abstract: More than 2,000 “nonsense” inscriptions (meaningless strings of Greek letters) appear on ancient Greek vases. We ask whether some nonsense inscriptions and non- Greek words associated with figures of Scythians and Amazons represent meaningful sounds (phonemes) in foreign languages spoken in “Scythia” (Black Sea-Caucasus region). We analyze the linguistic patterns of nonsense inscriptions and non-Greek words on thirteen vases featuring Scythians and Amazons by otherwise literate vase painters (550-450 BC). Our results reveal that for the first time in more than two millennia, some puzzling inscriptions next to Scythians and Amazons can be deciphered as appropriate names and words in ancient forms of Iranian, Abkhazian, Circassian, Ubykh, and Georgian. These examples appear to be the earliest attestations of Caucasian and other “barbarian” tongues. This new linguistic approach to so-called nonsense inscriptions sheds light on Greco-Scythian relations, literacy, bilingualism, iconography, and ethnicity; it also raises questions for further study.
This paper replaces 031201 originally published in March 2012.

031201 Making Sense of “Nonsense” Inscriptions: Non-Greek Words Associated with Amazons and Scythians on Ancient Greek Vases
Adrienne Mayor, Stanford University; John Colarusso, McMaster University; and David Saunders, J. Paul Getty Museum
Revised July 2012. See 071202 entry.

081001 Review of T. V. Evans and D. D. Obbink (eds.), The Language of the Papyri
Joshua Katz, Princeton University
Download PDF Abstract - This is a review, commissioned by and written for Bryn Mawr Classical Review, of an excellent collection of papers on the language — really, languages — found in Greek and Latin papyri and related sources from the third century B.C. to the seventh/eighth century A.D. Many of the contributions deserve a wider readership than I expect they will receive.

060801 Etymology (A Linguistic Window onto the History of Ideas)
Joshua Katz, Princeton University
Download PDF Abstract - This short essay for a volume on the classical tradition aims to give a basic, lively account of the forms and development of etymological practice from antiquity to the present day.
This paper has now been published in The Classical Tradition, ed. Anthony Grafton, Glenn W. Most, & Salvatore Settis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), pp. 342-45.

070702 The Origin of the Greek Pluperfect
Joshua Katz, Princeton University
Download PDF Abstract - The origin of the pluperfect is the biggest remaining hole in our understanding of the Ancient Greek verbal system. This paper provides a novel unitary account of all four morphological types — alphathematic, athematic, thematic, and the anomalous Homeric form 3sg. ēídē ‘knew’ — beginning with a “Jasanoff-type” reconstruction in Proto-Indo-European, an “imperfect of the perfect.”
This paper has now been published in Die Sprache 46 (2006, publ. 2008), pp. 1-37.

070701 The Epic Adventures of an Unknown Particle
Joshua Katz, Princeton University
Download PDF Abstract - This paper, a mini-"Autour de ‘ταρ épique’," is above all a contribution to the study of Homeric formulas and compositional technique. I give an overview and expand our understanding of the under-appreciated Homeric particle tar, whose Cuneiform Luvian cognate Calvert Watkins discovered over a decade ago and whose essential Greek-ness M. L. West accepts in his Teubner edition of the Iliad; demonstrate on linguistic and stylistic grounds that tar is part of the conjunction autár but not of the semantically similar near-look-alike atár; and explain why this unstressed and almost unknown monosyllable is of unexpectedly wide interest, being not just a bit of Homeric and Indo-European linguistic trivia, but an important rhetorical device in the description of ancient Greek ritual.
This paper has been published in Greek and Latin from an Indo-European Perspective, ed. Coulter George, Matthew McCullaugh, Benedicte Nielsen, Antonia Ruppel, & Olga Tribulato (Cambridge, Cambridge Philological Society, 2007), pp. 65-79.

120505 The Riddle of the 'sp(h)ij-': The Greek Sphinx and her Indic and Indo-European Background
Joshua Katz, Princeton University
Download PDF Abstract - The name of the Sphinx, the Greek female monster who had fun killing passers-by who could not answer her riddle, has long been an etymological conundrum. On the basis of literary, linguistic, and anthropological evidence from, above all, Greece and India, this paper comes to a novel understanding of the Sphinx’ origin, concluding that her oldest moniker, (S)Phí:k-, is related to a newly uncovered Greek noun phíkis ‘buttocks’ and to a Sanskrit word for the same body part, sphij-, a hitherto misunderstood form of which appears, in turn, in a riddle in the oldest Indic text, the Rigveda. This derivation situates the Greek creature squarely in the cross-culturally typically aggressive and sexually charged genre of riddling.
This paper is now published in La Langue poétique indo-européenne: actes du Colloque de travail de la Société des Études Indo-Européennes (Indogermanische Gesellschaft / Society for Indo-European Studies), Paris, 22-24 octobre 2003, ed. Georges-Jean Pinault & Daniel Petit (Leuven—Paris: Peeters, 2006), pp. 157-94.

120504 What Linguists are Good for
Joshua Katz, Princeton University
Download PDF Abstract - Linguists are good for a lot. This is a personal account of why departments of Classics should embrace them (us).
This has been published in Classical World 100 (2007), pp. 99-112.

120503 Review of Joachim Latacz’s 'Troy and Homer: Towards a Solution of an Old Mystery'
Joshua Katz, Princeton University
Download PDF Abstract - In this book, a translation of a German bestseller, the most vigorous proponent of the view that the Iliad is a reliable source of information about the city of Troy in the Late Bronze Age, presents the evidence from two very different fields: archaeology and linguistics/philology. Though especially sympathetic to the idea that certain significant details in Homer reflect society as it was long before the eighth century B.C., in a shared Greco-Anatolian setting, this reviewer, a linguist/philologist, is nevertheless dismayed by Latacz’s presentation of the evidence. To take just one egregious example of bias disguised as fact—a “fact” that certain colleagues are unfortunately already citing as gospel—there is, pace Latacz and Frank Starke, no evidence for the claim that an actual Hittite document reveals as a forebear of the king of Ahhiyawa (~ Achaia) a man by the name of Kadmos.
This has been published in Journal of the American Oriental Society 125 (2005), pp. 422-25.