A Script of One’s Own – Ethno-Nationalist Motives in the Development of the Literacies of Northern Italy

Author: Corinna Salomon (University of Vienna, Austria)
Speaker: Corinna Salomon
Topic: Language Documentation
COMELA 2020 General Session


Despite occasional criticism that such notions impose modern concepts upon ancient realities (e.g., Rix 1992, 141), conscious efforts of writing communities to set themselves and their scripts apart from literary prestige cultures are frequently assumed by scholars of script history. Writing “creates social coherence” and “indicat[es…] group loyalties and identities” (Coulmas 1989, 8, 226f.). The wish to establish script as a mark of cultural, political or ethnic identity for the community which employs it can explain unorthodox deviations of new scripts from their models (e.g., De Voogt 2012, 5 for Carian, McManus 1991, 14 for Ogam, Moltke 1981, 6 for Runic; generally Justeson & Stephens 1993, 38) as well as appendant phenomena such as the preference of a marginal model script over a more prestigious one (e.g., Stifter 2019, 109 for Celtiberian) and the persistence/revival of near-obsolete vernacular scripts in the face of political/cultural pressure from a dominant literary culture (e.g., Prosdocimi 2003 for the Venetic Cadore alphabet in the 1st century AD).

The talk will investigate the explanatory power of ethno-nationalist motives for the idio-syncrasies of the creation and history of the Iron Age alphabets used to write the Venetic, Cisalpine Celtic, Raetic and Camunic languages of Transpadania and the Alpine area. Points of discussion will include the feature-mix of the Raetic Sanzeno alphabet in the 5th–4th century BC as expression of shifting alliances, the derivation of the graphically deviant Camunic alphabet, and the role of epichoric North Italic literacy after the 3rd century BC in relation to spreading Roman literacy.

Coulmas, Florian, 1989, The Writing Systems of the World (Oxford/NY).
De Voogt, Alex, 2012, Invention and borrowing in the development and dispersal of writing systems. The Idea of WritingA Guide to Ogam (Maynooth).
Moltke, Erik, 1981, The Origins of the Runes. Michigan Germanic Studies 7,1, 3–7.
Prosdocimi, Aldo Luigi, 2003, Sulla formazione dell’alfabeto runico. Promessa di novità documentali forse decisive. Corona Alpium II (Firenze), 427–440.
Rix, Helmut, 1992, Thesen zum Ursprung der Runenschrift. Etrusker nördlich von Etrurien, ed. Aigner-Foresti (Wien), 411–441.
Stifter, David, 2019, Ancient Celtic Epigraphy and its Interface with Classical Epigraphy. Sprachen – Schriftkulturen – Identitäten der Antike, ed. Amann et al. (Wien), 97–123.

Keywords: Northern Italy