Call for Papers

Novel Perspectives on Communication Practices in Antiquity.
Towards a Historical Social-Semiotic Approach

Ghent University, October 3-5, 2019

Sociolinguists initially showed little concern for texts from the past, William Labov, the founding father of sociolinguistics, famously characterizing historical linguistics as ‘the art of making the best use of bad data’ (Labov 1994:11). Nowadays, historical socio-linguistics, too, has come to maturity as a sub¬discipline (see e.g. Conde-Silvestre & Hernandez-Campoy 2012), with researchers trying to identify dialectal relationships between language and society. Contemporary sociolinguistic insights form the basis for these descriptions, but given the complexity of the subject, a radically interdisciplinary approach has been in the making, combining insights from corpus linguistics, historical linguistics, philology, and semiotics.

One question which has received relatively little attention so far is to what extent other ‘meaning-making’ dimensions could and should be involved in the investigation. In recent years, scholars such as Bob Hodge, Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen have explicitly drawn attention to the ‘multi-modal’ nature of communication, arguing that people also use – next to language – visual, gestural, musical, choreographic, and actional resources to make meaning. Remarkably, however, the new discipline of Social Semiotics is currently restricted to the analysis of modern-day texts. Parallel to what we have seen with the development of sociolinguistics, there is little interest in texts from the past: one recent textbook, for example, is explicitly entitled ‘Multimodality. A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication’ (Kress 2010; our emphasis).

The main aim of this conference, which forms the opening event of the ERC-project ‘Everyday writing in Graeco-Roman and Late Antique Egypt. A socio-semiotic study of communicative variation’ (2018-2023;, is to explore to what extent it is possible and desirable to found a discipline such as historical social-semiotics, parallel to historical socio-linguistics. Such a novel, interdisciplinary approach is particularly relevant for ‘everyday’ documentary texts: since these texts represent autographs, their external characteristics can also be brought into the interpretation. Jean-Luc Fournet (2007), for example, has recently argued for a ‘paléographie signifiante’, noting that ‘l’analyse matérielle d’un document peut être porteuse de sens’ (2007:353), not only when it comes to text type, but also with regard to the socio-cultural context of writing, and the provenance of the document. Other external characteristics to be considered as expressions of social meaning (functioning as ‘semiotic resources’) are – but are not limited to – writing material, document format, and language choice. Their analysis reveals information concerning hierarchy, status and social relations.

We invite all interested scholars to submit a one-page English abstract to by April 30, 2019. Notification of acceptance will be given by June 1, 2019. The main focus of the conference will be documentary texts from the Mediterranean region, roughly spanning the period from the first millennium BCE to the first millennium CE. Next to the study of specific (linguistic, palaeographic, material, etc.) features, we consider the following questions to be of particular relevance:

– Which ‘semiotic resources’ should be taken into account when studying Ancient texts?
– How are these different semiotic resources interrelated?
– Can certain semiotic resources express types of meaning which other resources cannot?
– Which types of social meaning are expressed through communicative variation?
– How are these different types of social meaning related to each other?
– Is it possible to identify larger patterns of co-occurrence, extending linguistic concepts such as ‘register’ and ‘genre’ to other domains?
– Which diachronic changes can be observed?
– How do ‘everyday’ texts from Egypt compare to texts found elsewhere?
– Which digital tools are required for the discipline of historical social-semiotics?
– Which theoretical concepts from social semiotics can be further developed?
– What role do scribes play for the social-semiotic analysis of ancient texts?
– What kind of standards were there for ‘everyday’ communication practices?


Conde-Silvestre, J.C. & J.M. Hernandez-Campoy 2012. The handbook of historical sociolinguistics. Malden.
Fournet, J.-L. 2007. “Disposition et réalisation graphique des lettres et des pétitions protobyzantines: Pour une paléographie ‘signifiante’ des papyrus documentaires”. In: J. Frösén (ed.), Proceedings of the 24th international congress of papyrology, 353-367. Helsinki.
Kress, G. 2010. Multimodality: A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication. New York, NY.
Labov, W. 1994-2010. Principles of linguistic change. Vol. 1: Internal factors. Vol. 2: Social factors. Vol. 3: Cognitive and cultural factors. Oxford.

Organizing committee
Klaas Bentein (
Yasmine Amory (

Scientific committee
Antonia Apostolakou – Eleonora Cattafi – Serena Causo – Giovanbattista Galdi – Mark Janse – Geert de Mol – Emmanuel Roumanis – Joanne Stolk

Keynote speakers
James Clackson (Cambridge)
Mark Depauw (Leuven)
Jean-Luc Fournet (Paris)
Antonella Ghignoli (Rome)
Tonio Sebastian Richter (Berlin)
Petra Sijpesteijn (Leiden)



Digital Approaches in Greek Palaeography

Institute of Classical Studies, University of London

Room G37, Senate House, Malet Street WC1E 7HU

10:00-17:20 Friday, December 14, 2018


10:00 Introductions and opening discussion (moderator Gabriel Bodard)
11:00 Script types and scribal hands (moderator Antonia Sarri; short presentations Stewart Brookes/Simona Stoyanova & Rodney Ast)
11:45 Handwriting identification (moderator Oliver Thomas; short presentations Maruf Dhali/Gemma Hayes & Gregg Schwendner)

12:30 Lunch

14:00 Quantitative approaches (moderator Francesco Camagni; short presentations Timo Korkiakangas & Thomas Köntges)
14:45 New projects on documentary texts (moderator Joanne Stolk; short presentations Isabelle Marthot & Yasmine Amory)
15:30 Coffee
15:50 Digitization and corpora (moderator Maria Konstantinidou; short presentations Alberto Nodar & Charalambos Dendrinos)
16:35 Closing discussion (moderator Klaas Bentein)

17:20 ENDS

Klaas Bentein (
Gabriel Bodard (


In this one-day workshop, we want to address some key questions, including:

  1. What new research possibilities does digital palaeography offer?
  2. Can we arrive at a descriptive standard for (digital) palaeographical analysis?
  3. What role should the analysis of scribal hands and script types play in future investigations?
  4. Should new digital tools be developed, or can existing tools be modified and adapted to each researcher’s purpose? How much of the analysis can be done automatically with these tools?
  5. At what stages in research can digital tools assist the scholar—data gathering, categorization, synthesis, analysis, visualization, publication, etc.?
  6. What possibilities are there for interdisciplinary collaboration?

The main goal of the workshop is to bring together scholars with an interest in digital palaeography, focusing in particular on Ancient Greek. The workshop will be discussion focused, but will also involve a few short position papers or provocations to raise questions and structure the conversation.

Reading group

Ghent University – Faculty of Arts and Philosophy

Once a month from January 2019, the EVWRIT team will meet to discuss and develop a new theoretical perspective towards communication practices in Antiquity. Theoretical sessions on fundamental aspects of novel methodologies (cognitive sociolinguistics, social semiotics, paléographie signifiante…) will be interchanged with practical ones (doing statistics, showing a database, presenting a paper…).

The reading group is open to anyone interested.


First session: 15:00-17:00 Friday, January 25, 2019 (Grote Vergaderzaal)

Moderator: Klaas Bentein

Theme: social semiotics & multimodality

Background literature: G. Kress. 2010. Multimodality. A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication. London & New York.


Second session: 15:00-17:00 Thursday, February 21, 2019 (Grote Vergaderzaal).

Moderator: Yasmine Amory

Theme: social semiotics & palaeography

Background literature: J.-L. Fournet. 2007. “Disposition et réalisation graphique des lettres et des pétitions protobyzantines: pour une paléographie ‘signifiante” des papyrus documentaires” in J. Frösen, T. Purola, E. Salmenkivi (eds.), Proceedings of the 24th International Congress of Papyrology, Helsinki, I, p. 353-367.

T. van Leeuwen. 2006. “Towards a Semiotics of Typography”, Information Design Journal + Document Design 14 (2), pp. 139-155.


Third session: 15:00-17:00 Thursday, March 27, 2019 (Room 110.046).

Moderator: Serena Causo

Theme: literacy, writing practices and materiality in Roman Egypt

Background literature: R. Ast. 2015. “Writing and the City in Later Roman Egypt. Towards a Social History of the Ancient ‘Scribe.’” CHS Research Bulletin 4 (1).

P. Schubert. 2018. “Who Needed Writing in Graeco-Roman Egypt, and for What Purpose? Document Layout as a Tool of Literacy” in Kolb, A. Literacy in ancient everyday life. Zürich (Switzerland). Berlin & Boston, pp. 335-350.

G. Woolf. 2015 “Ancient Illiteracy?” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 58 (2): 31-42.


Fourth session: 15:30-17:00, Friday, May 10, 2019 (Grote Vergaderzaal).

Moderator: Geert De Mol

Theme: orthography as social action

Background literature: M. Sebba. 2012. Orthography as social action. Scripts, spelling, identity and power. In: Jaffe et al., “Orthography as social action. Scripts, spelling, identity and power”, pp. 1-20.

M. Sebba. 2012. Orthography as literacy. How Manx was “reduced to writing”. In: Jaffe et al., “Orthography as social action. Scripts, spelling, identity and power”, pp. 161-176.

M. Sebba. 2015. Iconisation, attribution and branding in orthography. “Written Language & Literacy” 18 (2): 208-227.



1.     Bentein, K. Towards a typology of relative clauses in Post-classical Greek. Paper presented at the PapyGreek colloquium (Helsinki, June 8, 2018)

2.     Bentein, K. Deictic shifting in Greek contractual writing. Paper presented at the International Colloquium on Ancient Greek Linguistics (Helsinki, August 31, 2018)

3.     Bentein, K. The distinctiveness of syntax for varieties of Post-classical and Byzantine Greek. Paper presented at the Beyond Standards: Attic, the Koiné and Atticism conference (Cambridge, September 14, 2018)

4.     Bentein, K. Syntax: a sociolinguistically distinctive level? Some observations from the Life of Euthymius. Paper presented at the Metaphrasis workshop (Nicosia, October 13, 2018)

5.     Bentein, K., Amory, Y., De Mol, G. & E. Roumanis. Everyday writing in Graeco-Roman and Byzantine Greek. Paper presented at the Dialing Research Seminar (Ghent, November 8, 2018)

6.     Bentein, K. The decline of infinitival complementation in Ancient Greek: A reconsideration. Paper presented at the Classics Research Seminar (Cambridge, November 21, 2018)

7.      Amory, Y. Defense of her doctoral thesis [Title: Communiquer par écrit dans l’Égypte de l’Antiquité tardive: les lettres grecques des archives de Dioscore d’Aphrodité [Égypte; VIe s. apr. J-.C.]). Discussed at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (Paris, December 1, 2018).

8.     Bentein, K. Variation equals social meaning? Developing a digital approach towards communicative variation in Roman and Late Antique Egypt. Paper presented at the Digital Approaches to Ancient and Modern Texts colloquium (Manchester, December 12, 2018).

9.      Amory, Y.  New projects on documentary texts. Paper presented at the Digital Approaches in Greek Palaeography workshop (London, December 14, 2018)

10.    De Mol, G. Hypercorrection in Greek documentary sources: a historical-sociolinguistic approach. Paper presented at the Linghentian Doctorials colloquium (Ghent, December 18, 2018)

11.     Amory, Y. & Schram, V. SPP I 3: un certificat médical? Paper presented at the Greek Papyrology Seminar (Paris, January 31, 2019).

12.    Amory, Y. Sous le calame d’un scribe digraphe en Égypte byzantine: un dossier épistolaire grec et copte dans les archives de Dioscore d’Aphrodité. Paper presented at the Ecritures en contact: pratiques et interférences conference (Paris, February 28-March 2, 2019).

13.    Amory, Y., Marthot-Santaniello, I., & Stoyanova S. Digital methods in ancient palaeography. Session 9 of the Sunoikisis Digital Classics Cours, Spring 2019 (March 7, 2019).

14.    De Mol, G. The hypercorrect use of iota adscript in Greek documentary sources: a historical-sociolinguistic approach. Paper presented at the U4 Winter School 2019 on Greco-Roman Antiquity: Challenge and Response in the Ancient World (Rome, March 14, 2019).

15.    Roumanis, E. Atticist Manuals, Prescription, and Documentary Greek Texts. Paper presented at the U4 Winter School 2019 on Greco-Roman Antiquity: Challenge and Response in the Ancient World (Rome, March 14, 2019).

16.    Apostolakou, A. Multilingualism in Graeco-Roman and Late Antique Egypt: Documented Cases of Linguistic Interference. Paper presented at the U4 Winter School 2019 on Greco-Roman Antiquity: Challenge and Response in the Ancient World (Rome, March 15, 2019).

17.     De Mol, G. Hypercorrection in Greek documentary sources: a historical-sociolinguistic approach. Paper presented at the PhD/ReMA Day (Ravenstein, March 29, 2019).

18.    Amory, Y. Écrire une lettre dans l’Égypte du sixième siècle : grec ou copte ? Un nouveau scribe digraphe dans les archives de Dioscore d’Aphrodité. Paper to be presented at the 18de dag van de Byzantinistiek. Belgisch Genootschap voor Byzantijnse Studies (Bruxelles, May 24, 2019).