Master’s Bursary from the Martin Burr Fund

written by Chris Watson (University of Oxford)

Originally a modern languages student, I was drawn into historical linguistics after stumbling across an article on the comparative method. This sparked off an interest in language change which quickly developed into a fascination, and so I chose to study Ancient Languages for my BA with a focus on Indo-European languages. This course gave me the opportunity to study Latin, Ancient Greek and Sanskrit (as well as a brief course in Hittite and a year of Ugaritic), but after graduating I was keen to take my study further and move into linguistics.

I was drawn to the MPhil in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology at Oxford as it would allow me to gain a grounding in theoretical linguistics while also giving me the chance to focus on historical linguistics and look specifically at the history of Latin. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to study, amongst other things, phonology, phonetics, syntax and linguistic typology, alongside the chance to take a range of classes and seminars on Latin and philology. For my final exams, I took papers in the development of the Latin language as well as a more general course in historical linguistics. To be able to learn about these topics through tutorials taught by leading academics in the field was invaluable, and has considerably broadened my knowledge.

Having been interested in early Latin for some time, I chose to look at the poet Ennius for my thesis. The thesis, supervised by Professor Wolfgang de Melo, examined whether the Latin of Ennius’ Annals is an accurate reflection of the language of the time. Though the language of the Annals has been much discussed, particularly since the publication of Otto Skutsch’s 1985 edition, I took a systematic approach to the text in order to ascertain just how much of the work that remains to us can be considered “early”. The Annals are fragmentary, which poses considerable problems when trying to gauge what the language of the text as a whole looked like; many lines are preserved by grammarians specifically because they contain non-Classical usages. The longer fragments that remain are likely to give a more accurate picture of the language of the Annals overall. In contrast to the linguistic oddities catalogued in the short fragments, the longer pieces of the work show a Latin that is barely distinguishable from Classical Latin, with only a handful of specifically “early” usages.

Without PhilSoc’s generosity, this research would not have been possible, and so I am immensely grateful for the Master’s Bursary, which has given me the opportunity to follow my passion. I am now moving into employment but hope to return to graduate study in the future.

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