Imperialism, Identity, and Language Choice in Persian Yehud Towards Understanding the Socio-political Implications in the Achaemenid Empire

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Jason M. Silverman


Scholars have long connected the Achaemenid Empire and its use of Imperial Aramaic—spanning the empire’s space and duration—with processes of social identity formation. Yet the details and mechanisms of this supposed link for the elites within the empire remains hazily theorized at best. Taking the famous complaint about language loss in Nehemiah as a starting point, this paper explores the various social and status implications involved in the local use of scripts and languages. Using sociolinguistic literature around ‘code-mixing’ and ‘code-switching,’ Communication Accommodation Theory, and diglossia, this paper tries to map some early ways the social implications of languages choices within Persian period marginal regions could be understood, with a specific focus on Yehud. These tools indicate a wider array of variables are relevant than have sometimes been entertained and suggest that language choice in Yehud related more to inter-elite rivalries than reaction to the Persians.

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