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bilinguismo | bilinguisme | Zweisprachigkeit


Bilingualism (or multilingualism, if more than two languages are involved), as a social phenomenon, can be defined as the coexistence, in a single community, of two different linguistic varieties that are on the same level, i.e., they are equally employed in both official/formal and unofficial/informal contexts. Bilingualism is thus distinguished from the situation called diglossia, in which the two varieties are functionally differentiated (see, e.g., Berruto 1995).

The term bilingualism (or multilingualism) can also refer to an individual phenomenon, consisting of the knowledge and use of two (or more) languages by a single individual (see, e.g., Weinreich 1953).


If one considers bilingualism as an individual phenomenon, in the case of the Hittite kingdom of the 2nd millennium BCE a large degree of individual bilingualism can be assumed at least among the members of the scribal class. For example, there is a lot of evidence that many scribes entrusted with the drafting of texts in Hittite language were actually Luwian native speakers with knowledge of Hittite as a second language (see, e.g., Yakubovich 2010).

As far as the social dimension of bilingualism is concerned, in the ancient Anatolia of the 2nd and 1st millennium BCE a number of communities are known in which more than one language were in use. However, it is difficult to assess the kind of situation involved in each of the different communities – whether actual bilingualism, diglossia, etc. – because the data we have are mostly partial and do not always allow for a full evaluation of the domains of use of the different varieties and their boundaries.

In the case of the 2nd millennium BCE Hittite kingdom, several languages were attested in the documents included in the Hittite archives, and an almost clear-cut distinction can often be made between the different languages employed in the official domains. Hittite was the language of the internal administration, Akkadian was the language of the international diplomacy, while other languages such as Kizzuwatna Luwian, Palaic, and Hurrian were mostly confined to the cultic practices. Such a functional distinction can be enough to exclude a situation of social bilingualism as defined above, although data on the spoken dimension of these languages are currently lacking.

Conversely, the relationship between the Anatolian languages and the Ancient Greek in the 1st millennium BCE is more difficult to fully assess, because all of them were seemingly employed in the same domains. Considering, e.g., the situation of the ancient Lycia, at least under the Carian satrapy in the 4th century BCE, both Lycian and Greek were employed in both funerary inscriptions and state documents like decrees, and some bilingual documents of both typologies were also found (see, e.g., Réveilhac 2021). Such a situation can be regarded as social bilingualism, although, again, we do not have data on to what extent the two varieties were actually employed in everyday speech by the different members of the community.


Berruto, Gaetano (1995), Fondamenti di sociolinguistica, Roma – Bari: Laterza. Réveilhac, Florian (2021), Le statut du lycien et du grec dans les inscriptions pré-hellénistiques de Lycie, in: L’Anatolie: de l’époque archaïque à Byzance (Dialogues d'histoire ancienne – Supplément 22), Besançon: Presses universitaires de Franche-Comté, pp. 67–96. Weinreich, Uriel (1953), Languages in contact. Findings and problems, New York: Linguistic Circle of New York. Yakubovich, Ilya (2010), Sociolinguistics of the Luvian Language (Brill’s Studies in Indo-European Languages & Linguistics 2), Leiden – Boston; Brill.