On the margins of culture: The practice of transcription in the ancient world

Jonathan J. Price, Shlomo Naeh

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Dozens of languages were spoken in the ancient world during the period stretching from the Hellenistic to the Islamic conquests. There were far fewer writing systems than spoken languages, which means that not every language had a cognate script, and many died out before ever being written down. But for those languages with a tradition and formalised system of writing, the connection between language and script was strong. Long integral texts written in the script of another language are a medieval phenomenon; they were not produced as a mainstream cultural activity in antiquity. The concept of separating language from script was not entirely absent, but it is our thesis that a transcribed text invariably indicates marginality or liminality of some kind: a language or script which is dying, an individual on a cultural/linguistic seam, a peripheral medium such as magic, a scholastic exercise. These exceptional cases constitute the first part of the current investigation. In the second part, we shall examine the more complex instance of rabbinical traditions regarding the scripts and languages used in writing biblical books.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationFrom Hellenism to Islam
Subtitle of host publicationCultural and Linguistic Change in The Roman Near East
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages34
ISBN (Electronic)9780511641992
ISBN (Print)9780521875813
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2009 and Cambridge University Press, 2010.


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