Rewriting the history of the language sciences in classical antiquity

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This paper addresses documents and celebrates the many remarkable success sto­ries that have figured so prominently in the study of the history of clas­sical lin­guis­tics in recent years. Marcus Terentius Varro (116–27 BC) and his De Lingua Latina provide a striking case in point. Varro enjoyed an unparalleled reputation as ancient Rome’s most authorita­tive language scientist, but a century ago we were embarrassed even to attempt to justify that reputation. Today, how­ever, we know, inter alia, that he reconstructed earlier, unattested forms to explain contemporary ones and that he also discovered the declensions and conjugations of his native language. Indeed, almost all major ancient grammarians and texts have received fresh and novel attention from classical scholars and historians of linguis­tics. Even a cursory survey there­fore reveals that during the past half century or so we have not just been rethinking the history of the language sciences in classical antiquity but have in fact been rewriting that history.


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