Thucydides, Sicilly and disappearing languages

At the end of May I returned to Madingley to read some Thucydides. Much of the learning experience was carried out over the previous 6 months. Thucydides is notoriously difficult and I soon found my preparation to have been inadequate. Nevertheless our excellent tutor helped us unravel the text to find the main strands and leave the incidental loops till later.

On the Saturday evening we had a talk about the ancient languages of Sicily, in particular, those mentioned by Thucydides. Archaeology has produced tantalising snippets of two of these languages but not enough to enable them to be deciphered. These were oral languages which had adopted the Greek script for the purposes of creating inscriptions. Other oral languages which were not written down in their own or a borrowed script have not even left this tiny trace. Considering that huge numbers of languages on the point of extinction today are oral languages they are destined to have a similar fate once their last speakers have died. For this reason programmes aimed at recording and preserving examples of some of these languages, such as the  oral literacy project are to be applauded.

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