Dictating to a scribe can alter the language used?

A fascinating post at Evangelical Textual Criticism (the post seems to have vanished for the moment, but, lucky me, I can see it in my RSS reader).  This gives abstracts for an Australian conference, Observing the Scribe at Work.  One of these caught my eye:

Delphine Nachtergaele (Ghent University), ‘Scribes in the Greek Private Papyrus Letters’

In this paper I investigate the role of scribes in Greek private papyrus letters.

When an individual decided to write a letter, he had two options: writing the letter himself or paying a scribe and having the letter written. Many papyrus letters were the result of the work of a scribe. Outsourcing the task of writing was the only possibility when one was illiterate. But when the sender could write and read, he could pen the letter himself.

The first research question in this study is whether the choice to use a scribe or not can be considered a conscious decision. In P.Mich. VIII 469, preserved in the archive of Claudius Tiberianus, the decision not to hire a scribe seems to be taken deliberately: the fact that the letter was written by the sender himself, bears in itself a message to the addressee.

The second and main query is whether the intervention of a scribe has an effect on the language used in the letters. At first sight, the influence of the scribe seems rather limited. However, the investigation of letters preserved in archives can shed more light on this matter: in different case studies, I compare the language of one single sender in autographical letters and in letters written by a scribe. The archive of Asklepiades shows the effect scribes can have on the epistolary language: in the letters from Isidora to her brother Asklepiades there is a marked linguistic difference between the autographs and the letters she dictated to a scribe. In other collections of texts, such as the letters from Eudaimonis in the archive of Apollonios strategos, there is no such difference: the personality of the sender is apparent in all letters, autograph or dictated.

This paper has a double conclusion: firstly, we observe that letter writers make deliberate choices when writing letters: these choices are situated at the level of using a scribe or not, and at a linguistic level. Of course, these findings cannot be generalized, but this paper provides nevertheless an important insight: although the authors of documentary letters cannot be compared to authors of literary works, we should not underestimate the creative capacities of the senders of papyrus letters. Secondly, the influence of scribes on the language of the papyrus letters is rather limited. Mostly, the scribes just penned down what the sender dictated. The language of the papyrus letters can thus safely be assumed to be the language of the letter writer.

Emphasis mine.  Hmm.  I’d really like to hear more about that.

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