New Light from the East

Linguistic Perspectives on Non-Literary Papyri and Related Sources

September 15-17, 2021


It has been nearly fifteen years since the conference ‘Buried Linguistic Treasure: The Potential of Papyri and Related Sources for the Study of Greek and Latin’ was organized in Oxford, Christ Church (30/06/2006 – 02/07/2006). In the edited volume that resulted from that conference (Evans and Obbink 2010), the organizers noted that while the linguistic significance of Greek and Latin papyri had been recognized ever since non-literary papyri became available to scholars in large quantity, research on the texts had not progressed much after the groundbreaking work of Adolf Deissmann and his followers, culminating in Edwin Mayser’s grammar of the Ptole­maic papyri. Similar obser­vations were made in other, contemporary studies: Verhoogt (2010, 67), for exam­ple, noted that while ‘it is not often that a language can be followed in this detail in writing for a period of over one millennium’, the attention of linguistic specialists to the material had been ‘relatively minimal’.

Significant advances have been made in the past decade, perhaps most visibly in the area of digital humanities: digital tools such as the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri (papyri.info) and Trismegistos (trismegistos.org) have been expanded and further developed, now also including linguistic fun­cti­onalities, and new tools have become available that facilitate accessing and studying specific corpora, their metadata and their linguistic and graphic characteristics, including PapPal, Sematia, Synallagma, etc. Now that the field is so rapidly and extensively developing, it has been suggested that the twenty-first century will come to be known as ‘the century of digi­tal papyrology’ (Reggiani 2017, 9–10), after the example of the ‘cen­tury of epigraphy’ (the nine­teenth century) and ‘the century of papyrology’ (the twen­tieth cen­tury).

Considerable progress has also been made in terms of linguistic groundwork properly speaking. A number of areas identified by Evans and Obbink (2010, 9–12) as ‘key issues for future research’ have been addressed in recent studies, such as scribal norms and practices (e.g. Halla-aho 2018; Vierros 2019; Stolk 2020), linguistic diversity and language contact (e.g. Vierros 2012; Leiwo 2020), and syntactic and other types of linguistic development (Bentein 2017; di Bartolo 2020). Other im­portant topics that have been explored during the past years include lexicography (e.g. Torallas Tovar 2020), phonology (Dahlgren 2017), linguistic levels and varieties (e.g. Evans 2015), and rhetorical strategies and poli­teness (e.g. Papathomas and Koroli 2014). A number of edited volumes dedicated partly or solely to the language of the papyri have appeared (e.g. Leiwo, Halla-aho, and Vierros 2012; Bentein, Janse, and Soltic 2017; Bentein and Janse 2020), and funds for several projects (small- and large-scale) about the language of the papyri have been awarded.

The main aim of this conference is to continue the discussion on the language of the papyri, giving scholars an opportunity to present the results of ongoing research, to propose new approaches, theoretical discussions and methodologies, or to introduce new projects, data repositories, tools, or corpora. At the same time, we want to critically reflect on what has been achieved so far, and where we would like to be headed in the future: an important question in this regard is to what extent ‘the language of the papyri’ as a field of study focusing on Greek and (to some extent) Latin sources, should seek to relate itself more explicitly to other fields of study, such as epigraphy, Semitic documentary culture, paleography, etc.


Interested scholars are invited to submit proposals (600 words max.) for 20 min. papers to newlightfromtheeast@gmail.com by March 31, 2021 at the latest. Apart from Greek non-literary sources, proposals may engage with related traditions, such as Latin, Coptic and Arabic. 



We sincerely hope that it will be possible to hold the conference on site, but do not exclude the possibility that the conference will be held online because of the COVID-19 virus. Should the latter be the case, we will inform participants well in advance. When submitting your proposal, please indicate (i) whether you will/will not attend if the event happens only online, and (ii) whether you only want to participate if the event takes place online.



Bartolo, Giuseppina di. 2020. “Purpose and Result Clauses: Ἵνα-Hína and Ὥστε-Hōʹste in the Greek Documentary Papyri of the Roman Period.” In Postclassical Greek. Contemporary Approaches to Philology and Linguistics, edited by Dariya Rafiyenko and Ilja A. Seržant, 19–38. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

Bentein, Klaas. 2017. “Finite vs. Non-Finite Complementation in Post-Classical and Early Byzantine Greek.” Journal of Greek Linguistics 17 (1): 3–36.

Bentein, Klaas, and Mark Janse, eds. 2020. Varieties of Post-Classical and Byzantine Greek. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

Bentein, Klaas, Mark Janse, and Jorie Soltic. 2017. Variation and Change in Ancient Greek Tense, Aspect and Modality. Leiden: Brill.

Dahlgren, Sonja. 2017. “Outcome of Long-Term Language Contact: Transfer of Egyptian Phonological Features onto Greek in Graeco-Roman Egypt.” PhD dissertation, University of Helsinki.

Evans, Trevor V., and Dirk Obbink, eds. 2010. The Language of the Papyri. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Evans, Trevor V. 2015. “Idiolect and Aspectual Choice in Ancient Greek: Evidence from the Zenon Archive and the Greek Pentateuch.” In Biblical Greek in Context: Studies in Honour of John A. L. Lee, edited by James Aitken and Trevor V. Evans, 59-90. Leuven: Peeters.

Halla-aho, Hilla. 2018. “Scribes in Private Letter Writing. Linguistic Perspectives.” In Scribal Repertoires in Egypt from the New Kingdom to the Early Islamic Period, edited by Jennifer Cromwell and Eitan Grossman, 227–39. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Leiwo, Martti. 2017. “Confusion of Moods in Greek Private Letters of Roman Egypt?” In Variation and Change in Ancient Greek Tense, Aspect and Modality, edited by Klaas Bentein, Mark Janse, and Jorie Soltic, 242–60. Leiden: Brill.

———. 2020. “L2 Greek in Roman Egypt. Intense Language Contact in Roman Military Forts.” Journal of Historical Sociolinguistics 6.

Leiwo, Martti, Hilla Halla-aho, and Marja Vierros. 2012. Variation and Change in Greek and Latin. Helsinki: Finnish Institute at Athens.

Papathomas, Amphilochios, and Aikaterini Koroli. 2014. “Subjectivité et stylistique dans l’épistolographie privée de l’Antiquité tardive: l’exemple de P.Oxy. XVI 1869.” Chronique d’Egypte 89: 376–387.

Reggiani, Nicola. 2017. Digital Papyrology I: Methods, Tools and Trends. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

Stolk, Joanne Vera. 2020. “Post-Classical Greek from a Scribal Perspective: Variation and Change in Contemporary Orthographic Norms in Documentary Papyri.” Mnemosyne.

Torallas Tovar, Sofia. 2020. “In Search of an Egyptian Greek Lexicon in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt.” In Varieties of Post-Classical and Byzantine Greek, edited by Klaas Bentein and Mark Janse, 141-162. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Verhoogt, Arthur. 2010. “Papyri.” In A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language, edited by Egbert J. Bakker, 62–68. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Vierros, Marja. 2012. Bilingual Notaries in Hellenistic Egypt: A Study of Greek as a Second Language. Brussel: Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten.

———. 2019. “Copying Practices in Ptolemaic Egypt: A Discussion Based on Agoranomic Contracts from Pathyris.” Tyche : Beiträge Zur Alten Geschichte, Papyrologie Und Epigraphik 33: 207–30.