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Department of Greek & Latin

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Research: Historical Linguistics

Knossos chariot tablet Sd4401

UCL is one of only three universities in the UK with a tradition of teaching Greek and Latin historical linguistics (comparative philology). There has been a post in historical linguistics at UCL since 1842; distinguished scholars of the twentieth century include J.P. Postgate, Oswald Szemerényi, and James Hooker. Michael Ventris attended the London Mycenaean seminar, which started in 1954 (chaired by E.G. Turner) as a direct result of his decipherment, and which continues to take place in London at the Institute of Classical Studies. The ICS holds much of Ventris's personal correspondence.

The UCL library has an outstanding collection in historical linguistics, and the ICS library holds almost all publications in the field. Offerings at undergraduate level in the Department include an introduction to the study of language, the history of Latin from Indo-European to Dante, the ancient Greek dialects, and Mycenaean Greek. Undergraduates can also take Hebrew and ancient Egyptian at UCL; Sanskrit, Hittite, and Akkadian at SOAS; and courses in linguistics from the world-famous UCL Department of Psychology and Language Sciences. At MA level courses are regularly offered in Greek and Latin historical linguistics, and these presuppose no prior experience in the field.

We welcome applications from PhD students with interests in language in the ancient world: including the history of the study of grammar/linguistics; the cultural significance of language and literacy in the ancient world; the language of literature; Greek dialectology and sociolinguistics; and the influence of ancient linguistic thought in Western intellectual history. We also welcome interdisciplinary projects in Classical and Anatolian or Near-Eastern languages which might be co-supervised in SOAS.

Staff at UCL whose research interests include classical linguistics:

  • Stephen Colvin: Greek language, dialect and literature; Mycenaean Greek; historical linguistics and sociolinguistics
  • Gesine Manuwald: history of Latin grammar; Roman grammarians
  • Daniel Abondolo: the language of poetry; the poetry of lexicogrammar; non-arbitrary aspects of the linguistic sign; versification; morphophonology; translation.

For current PhD students working on linguistic topics see the list of PhD research projects