Undergraduate Studies

Overview

There are currently four philology papers open to all undergraduate students of Classics, Classics and Oriental Studies, Classics and English, and Classics and Modern Languages:

Students reading Classics or Classics and Oriental Studies may choose ‘Historical Linguistics and Comparative Philology’ as their special subject for Mods; this option is not available for Prelims, however. As part of the Final Honours School, students may choose up to two philology papers.

Philology teaching is usually delivered in the form of lectures and seminars; these are accompanied by six tutorials per paper.

Next to papers examined by means of a written examination in either Mods or FHS, students may also opt to write an undergraduate thesis in philology.

Papers

Historical Linguistics and Comparative Philology

This paper introduces the study of the origins of Greek and Latin and their development from a common ancestor, Indo‐European (also the ancestor of English). Teaching begins in lectures from the first term onwards; anyone who is even considering doing this paper must attend these lectures from the start. The lectures and classes cover the methods of historical and comparative linguistics, the reconstruction of the (unattested) Indo‐European proto‐language, the numerous changes in sounds and forms that resulted in the Greek and Latin languages as we know them, and some of the ways in which these languages continued to change down to the classical period. Selected passages of Homer and some archaic Latin inscriptions are examined in detail with regard to points of linguistic interest, to show how an understanding of the prehistory of Greek and Latin, and of the processes of change, can illuminate early records of the languages.

The questions set will require specific competence in ONE of the two classical languages but not necessarily in both; an opportunity will be given for (optional) commentary on the Greek and Latin texts covered in the classes.

Greek Historical Linguistics

The subject consists of two main parts: (a) specific topics to be explored through texts and (b) the general history of the Greek language with special reference to the development of the literary languages. There are three text‐based topics (and students will have to answer questions on two of these in the Finals paper):

  1. The dialects of Greek poetry, which will involve looking in detail at the language of Homer and some lyric poets;
  2. Greek dialect inscriptions, which will offer an introduction to some of the many local varieties of Greek;
  3. Linear B, which will provide an opportunity to read some texts in Mycenaean Greek, preserved on clay tablets from the second millennium BC, our earliest evidence for the language.

The general history of Greek will cover topics such as the Indo‐European origins of Greek, varieties of Greek, the influence of neighbouring languages, the history of writing in Greece, the linguistic traditions of poetry, the development of formal prose and scientific language, the emergence of the koine (common language), etc.

Each of the text‐based topics will be taught in six two‐hour classes; there will be eight lectures on the history of Greek.  

Latin Historical Linguistics

The subject consists of two main parts: (a) specific topics to be explored through texts and (b) the general history of the Latin language, with special reference to the development of the literary language. There are four text‐based topics (and students will have to answer questions on two of these in the finals paper):

  1. Oscan and Umbrian, which will offer an introduction to two languages of ancient Italy, quite distinct from Latin though related to it, 111 that are known from inscriptions;
  2. Archaic Latin, which will deal with some of the earliest records of Latin, mainly inscriptions;
  3. the language of Plautus, which will involve looking in detail at various characteristic elements (archaic, colloquial, poetic, etc.);
  4. Imperial and Late Latin, which will examine the language of mainly sub‐literary and non‐literary texts (including papyri) from the first century AD onwards.

The general history of Latin will cover topics such as the Indo‐European origins of Latin, other languages of ancient Italy, the spread of Latin within Italy and beyond, the influence of Greek, the emergence of a poetic language, the creation of the classical standard, ‘vulgar’ Latin, post‐classical developments, the rise of the Romance languages, etc.

Each of the text‐based topics will be taught in six two‐hour classes; there will be eight lectures on the history of Latin. 

General Linguistics and Comparative Philology

This subject consists of three parts, of which students choose two.

Part 1: the linguistic description of either Latin or Greek, especially the application to the classical languages of modern descriptive insights and techniques.  Topics will include: grammatical categories (such as tense, aspect, voice, mood); ordering of elements within a phrase or sentence; structures of complex sentences; pragmatic and sociolinguistic functions of linguistic variables such as, for example, the different ways of expressing commands.
This part will be taught in six 2‐hour classes in each language.

Part 2: modern linguistic theory in more general terms, including topics in contemporary phonological and grammatical theory.
This part will be taught in four 2‐hour classes. Note that courses of lectures in General Linguistics are also offered by the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics.

Part 3: the reconstruction of Indo‐European. This course deals with problems affecting parts of the sound‐system and the grammar (especially the verb) of the parent language and their reflections in the (pre‐) history of Latin and Greek. Note that part 3 follows on from the Mods special subject in Comparative Philology; students may take it up without having done the subject in Mods, but will then have substantial ground to make up.
This part will be taught in eight two‐hour classes.

More Information

More information on the individual papers is available in the course handbooks for each individual course, available on WebLearn.

If you require more specific information, or have questions, please direct your enquiry to the relevant member of staff.

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