Language Use, Literacy, and Bilingualism

Mark Depauw

in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Egypt

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780199571451
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Archaeology

 Language Use, Literacy, and Bilingualism

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  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology of the Near East
  • Egyptian Archaeology


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This article discusses language use, language contact and bilingualism, and literacy in Roman Egypt. The Roman conquest brought about many changes in the political, social, and cultural life of Egypt, including the linguistic situation. At no stage, however, did the Romans impose their Latin language. On all but the most official and formal occasions Greek was the preferred idiom, as in the other eastern provinces of their empire. Nevertheless, in retrospect Gallus' stele did announce a Roman language policy of conscious elimination of the local Demotic in an administrative context. This accelerated the marginalization of ancient Egyptian to religious contexts. Eventually this resulted in its obsolescence as a written language and led to the almost complete extinction of indigenous scripts by the end of the third century ce.

Keywords: Egyptian language; Roman Egypt; Latin; Greek; Roman language policy

Article.  7302 words. 

Subjects: Archaeology ; Archaeology of the Near East ; Egyptian Archaeology

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