|Ancient south and central Italy|
Approximate distribution of languages in Iron Age Italy during the sixth century BC
Osco-Umbrian AKA Sabellian is a group of languages of the Italic language family of the Indo-European languages. They were spoken in central and southern Italy before Latin replaced them as the power of the Romans expanded. They are known almost exclusively through inscriptions, principally of Oscan and Umbrian, though there are also some Osco-Umbrian loanwords in Latin.
Attested languages are:
- Umbrian, Volscian, Sabine, South Picene, Marsian, Paelignian, Hernican, Marrucinian, Oscan, Pre-Samnite.
These have traditionally been ascribed to an Oscan group or an Umbrian group. However, they are all poorly attested, and such a division is not supported by the evidence. It appears that they may have formed a continuum, with Umbrian in the north, Oscan in the south, and the 'Sabellic' languages in between (see next section) having features of both.
Sabellic was originally the collective ethnonym of the Italic people who inhabited central and southern Italy at the time of Roman expansion. The name was later used by Theodor Mommsen in his Unteritalische Dialekte to describe the pre-Roman dialects of central Italy which were neither Oscan nor Umbrian. Nowadays, it is used for the Osco-Umbrian languages as a whole. The word "Sabellic" was once applied to all such minor languages, whether Osco-Umbrian or not, even the North Picene language, despite the fact that North Picene has never been thought to be related to the languages to which the word is now applied.
Differences from Latin
Although the Osco-Umbrian languages are far more poorly attested than Latin, a corpus of a few thousand words' worth of inscriptions has allowed linguists to deduce some cladistic innovations and retentions. For example, while Proto-Indo-European aspirates appear as b, d, and h/g between vowels in Latin (medius < *medʰyos), in Sabellic these aspirates all appear as f (Oscan mefiai). In addition, while Latin retained the Proto-Indo-European labiovelar series ("Q-Italic"), the Osco-Umbrian languages merged them with the labials ("P-Italic): Latin quattuor, Oscan petora.
- Rex Wallace, 2008, "Sabellian Languages", in Woodard, ed., The Ancient Languages of Europe, CUP, p 98
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