A Sociolinguistic approach to the Ptolemaic priestly decrees and the reconstruction of past identities
University of Liverpool
Dr. Marina Escolano-Poveda
Prof. Mark Collier
Prof. Colin Adams
My thesis centres on the Ptolemaic priestly decrees, a corpus of administrative and political texts on stelae from Egypt, dated to the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. The documents present the mutually advantageous exchange of honours and fiscal benefits between the Ptolemies, ruling the country after the death of Alexander the Great, and the Egyptian high priesthood. Their most distinctive characteristic is that they are trilingual, written in hieroglyphs, demotic and Greek, and therefore reflect the polyglot, multicultural feature of the historical period. Every script mirrors its social influence. The Greek relates to the foreign monarchs and the Greek intelligentsia. The hieroglyphs connect to the pharaonic tradition, supported by the priests which the Ptolemies looked to please and control. The demotic communicates with professional scribes and elite Egyptians concerned with day-to-day administrative transactions and correspondences. Thus, the corpus displays the sociolinguistic complexity of the Ptolemaic state and its need for reciprocal understanding and reinvention.
My aim is to thoroughly investigate the trilingual nature of these decrees, bringing out their distinctness in expression, message, contextualisation, and audience. Firstly, I will establish a new edition of the corpus and examine the interplay between the scripts, via a detailed textual analysis centred on discrepancies and analogies in linguistic choices, orthographic tendencies, stylistic preferences, and free translations. Through a diachronic comparison of the documents, from their first to last surviving instance, I will provide a statistical display of the frequency and typology of variations across the three scripts and their languages. I will then apply contemporary models of multilingualism to interpret this dataset. I will specifically refer to theories on written bilingualism and adopt aspects of ‘descriptive translation studies’ to link the linguistic discussion to its sociocultural environment. My project will offer an innovative interpretation of the impact of societal change on language, highlighting the indispensable correspondences between changes in language fluency and cultural amalgamation. This sophisticated analysis of past instances of multilingualism will demonstrate the value of written sources in representing the voice of heterogeneous populations and reconstructing hybridised identities.
and ancient languages.