Skip to main content

Language contact in the eastern Mediterranean in the Late Middle Ages : Greek in a multilingual society

Final Report Summary - GREEK IN CONTACT (Language contact in the eastern Mediterranean in the Late Middle Ages : Greek in a multilingual society)

The main objective of the project is to determine the extent to which language contact situations in the Greek-speaking world in the late medieval period have influenced the grammatical structure of Medieval Greek, since the influence of language contact on its morphosyntactic developments is touched upon only in passing in the extant literature. It focuses on language contact between Greek and Romance (mainly French and Italian) speakers in the aftermath of the fourth crusade, which left various areas formerly ruled by the Greek-speaking Byzantine empire under the dominion of Western rulers. Through the study of these contact situations, the project's more general aim is to establish a general picture of the linguistic interaction in these multilingual societies.

The initial stage of the project was devoted to the study of Cyprus, a celebrated case of language contact in the late middle ages. Both the historical and the linguistic literature on the subject were thoroughly examined and, more importantly, a systematic investigation -and comparison, where applicable- of the texts in Greek and in French produced on the island was carried out. This careful examination revealed that, although multilingualism on the island must have been even more widespread than originally suspected, this cannot constitute an explanation per se of various morphosyntactic phenomena attested in the Medieval Greek Cypriot texts. To be more precise, the famous 'loss' of the masculine genitive plural of Cypriot Greek, attributed recently to language contact between the Greek- and the French-speaking population of the island, was studied in great detail and was found to be only partially dependent on language contact, and only as far as its diffusion in medieval Greek is concerned; its origins are to be found in the early medieval period, in the varieties of Greek spoken in the eastern Mediterranean. On the other hand, the use of the eiha (had) periphrastic forms with past reference in Cypriot Greek (and probably elsewhere in the Greek-speaking areas) is most likely more intimately linked to language contact. This is based predominantly on the examination of the Assises, a legal text surviving in both Medieval Greek and French, enabling us to make useful comparisons concerning specific morphosyntactic forms. On the whole, the study of Cyprus from a language contact perspective has given important insights into the medieval Greek spoken on the island, and has yet much more to offer, since more phenomena remain to be investigated, as for instance the rise of the gerundive in -onta(s).

The second stage of the project was focused on the study of the language contact situation on Rhodes during the rule of the Knight Order of the Hospitallers (1310-1522). Contrary to Cyprus, Rhodes has hardly ever attracted the interest of historical linguists as a case of language contact, and consequently, the major goal of this project was to highlight the sociolinguistics of the situation, determine the possible extent of language contact from the historical record, and then attempt a preliminary investigation of the linguistic record to find out whether it complies with the picture drawn by the extra- linguistic material. The investigation has revealed that, indeed the island of Rhodes or, to be more precise, the city of Rhodes constituted a multilingual environment, as the knights themselves as well as the various Latin settlers mingled in various ways with the local Greek population: in households (Greek servants - mixed marriages), in commerce and in the every-day life inside the walls of Rhodes. There is evidence from various sources to support a rather widespread -and hitherto ignored by linguists- multilingualism on Rhodes. Regarding the linguistic record, its paucity (especially in a published form) cannot but undermine any firm conclusions; nonetheless, it has been found that the written Greek originating from the Hospitaller-ruled Rhodes has morphosyntactic affinities with both French and Italian that need to be investigated closely. Further research on both the Latin and the Greek texts of the period will illuminate possible influences and their direction.

On the whole, the investigation revealed that the cultures that came into contact in the eastern Mediterranean in the late Middle Ages influenced each other to an extent that the traditional views tend to underestimate. This can prove to be the key for further fruitful results concerning the linguistic situation of those multilingual communities.