Metalinguistic texts as a privileged data source for the knowledge of ancient languages.
The research group of Rome “La Sapienza” is rethinking a fundamental set of lexical lists, grammars – which are essential to stare at otherwise unattainable linguistic developments through the indirect lens they make available to us. The first line of investigation concerns the Appendix Probi studied as a source for an indirect reconstruction of mainly phonetic developments making inroads in Vulgar Latin. As for the Ancient Near-East, the group focuses on Anatolian with particular reference to the so-called “lexical lists” as the principal source for metalinguistic inferences and indirect grammatical information about the languages of the Anatolia of the late II millennium BC. Metalinguistic information are going to be extracted from the Hittite lexical lists which are also analysed to cast light on translation strategies from Sumerian and Akkadian. A further research focus centres on the adaptation and commentary of Syriac technical terms contained in the translation of the of Dionysius Thrax, which played a prominent role in the foundation of the Syriac grammatical tradition. By studying this tradition, the researchers will hopefully shed new light on how Greek was taught and understood in a Hellenised Eastern community of bilingual speakers and evaluate the linguistic stage of Syriac during the sixth century AD. Besides, the Old Indian grammatical tradition – Panini’s work and the later grammatical commentaries – is studied as an indirect source of information on the diachronic evolution of Sanskrit after its obsolescence as a spoken language. Two main domains are under scrutiny: a) Commentators’ modifications of Panini’s syntactic theory as a reflection of the ongoing syntactic change involving Prakrits and influencing the “Grammarian’s Sanskrit”; b) Commentators’ linguistic examples describing the role frames of certain verbs as a reflection of the ongoing change in verbal semantics and argument government.