Epigraphic community

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Comunità epigrafica | communauté épigraphique | epigraphische Gemeinschaft


Concept proposed by Martti Leitvo (2002) for “a community, which is attested through inscriptions which share some linguistic idiosyncracies typical of [a] speech community”. The boundaries of the area that is defined by an e.c. do not necessarily coincide with the boundaries of linguistic areas. The definition, as provided by Leitvo (cit.) is glottocentric, as it derives from a conception of writing as a model strictly representing a language or a set of languages. As such, an e.c. seems to be defined only in those cases in which two or more speech communities share a graphic system. However, while the case of language contact and interference is scientifically relevant, there is no reason not to generalize the notion of e.c. in order to indicate any group of people who share the same writing system. While the term was created in order to describe communities of the Ancient Mediterranean world, it was successfully applied to the analysis of later scenarios (e.g. Safran 2011).
In the Ancient Near East, the notion of epigraphic community is extremely important, as the very definition of the historical area can and should be based as the set of cultures that all belonged to the Cuneiform e.c.
The concept of e.c. is of the utmost importance for the study of epigraphic contact, when a writing system influences another one because of the coexistence of two or more e.c.’s in an area (with ot without the involvment of multilingual documents). It should also be noted that a single e.c. can be interested by the presence of one or more grapholects, meaning that the presence of a single, shared writing system does not exclude that it was applied to recording different idiolects within a language.


An example can be the influence of Akkadian and Sumerian on the order of nouns and modifiers in the Akkadographic or Sumerographic graphic chains in Cuneiform Hittite and, again, the penetration of unusual orders in the construction of compound logograms in the Anatolian Hieroglyphic writing system:

Sumerian word order NOUN-GENITIVE: nin kur-kur-ra-ke4 (lady lands.PL.G.ERG). The lady of the countries (Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta line 67)

Anatolian word order GENITIVE-NOUN: ne-pi2-sa-as DIŠKUR-as (sky.G. Storm-GOD.NOM) The Storm-god of the sky (e.g. KBo 3, 22 passim)

Order of sumerograms in standard formulas of Cuneiform Hittite NOUN-GENITIVE: DUTU URUPU2-na (Sun-god(dess) Arinna) The Sun-goddess of Arinna (KUB 21, 27 I 4)

Order of Anatolian Hieroglyphic compound logograms NOUN-GENITIVE: (DEUS)TONITRUS HATTI (Storm-god Hatti) The Storm-god of Hatti (SÜDBURG §2)


Leitvo, M. 2002. From contact to mixture. J.N. Adams, M. Janse, S. Swain, eds., Bilingualism ad Ancient Society: Language Contact and the Written Word, Oxford, OUP, 168-194. Safran, L. 2011. Public Textual Cultures: A Case Study in Southern Italy. W. Robins, ed., Textual Cultures of Medieval Italy: Essays from the 41st Conference on Editorial Problems, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 115-144.