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Italic languages

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Latino-Sabine, Italic–Venetic
EthnicityOriginally the Italic peoples
Originally the Italian Peninsula and parts of modern day Austria and Switzerland, today Southern Europe, Latin America, France, Romania, Moldova, Canada, and the official languages of half the countries of Africa.
Linguistic classificationIndo-European
ISO 639-5itc
Main linguistic groups in Iron-Age Italy and the surrounding areas. Some of those languages have left very little evidence, and their classification is quite uncertain. The Punic language brought to Sardinia by the Punics coexisted with the indigenous and non-Italic Paleo-Sardinian, or Nuragic.

The Italic languages form a branch of the Indo-European language family, whose earliest known members were spoken on the Italian Peninsula in the first millennium BC. The most important of the ancient Italic languages was Latin, the official language of ancient Rome, which conquered the other Italic peoples before the common era.[1] The other Italic languages became extinct in the first centuries AD as their speakers were assimilated into the Roman Empire and shifted to some form of Latin. Between the third and eighth centuries AD, Vulgar Latin (perhaps influenced by substrata from the other Italic languages) diversified into the Romance languages, which are the only Italic languages natively spoken today, while Literary Latin also survived.[2]

Besides Latin, the known ancient Italic languages are Faliscan (the closest to Latin), Umbrian and Oscan (or Osco-Umbrian), and South Picene. Other Indo-European languages once spoken in the peninsula whose inclusion in the Italic branch is disputed are Venetic and Siculian. These long-extinct languages are known only from inscriptions in archaeological finds.[3][4]

In the first millennium BC, several (other) non-Italic languages were spoken in the peninsula, including members of other branches of Indo-European (such as Celtic and Greek) as well as at least one non-Indo-European one, Etruscan.

It is generally believed that those 1st millennium Italic languages descend from Indo-European languages brought by migrants to the peninsula sometime in the 2nd millennium BC.[5][6][7] However, the source of those migrations and the history of the languages in the peninsula are still a matter of debate among historians. In particular, it is debated whether the ancient Italic languages all descended from a single Proto-Italic language after its arrival in the region, or whether the migrants brought two or more Indo-European languages that were only distantly related.

With over 800 million native speakers, the Romance languages make Italic the second-most-widely spoken branch of the Indo-European family, after Indo-Iranian. However, in academia the ancient Italic languages form a separate field of study from the medieval and modern Romance languages. This article focuses on the ancient languages. For information on the academic study of the Romance languages, see Romance studies.[8]

Most Italic languages (including Romance) are generally written in Old Italic scripts (or the descendant Latin alphabet and its adaptations), which descend from the alphabet used to write the non-Italic Etruscan language, and ultimately from the Greek alphabet. The notable exceptions are Judaeo-Spanish (also known as Ladino), which is sometimes written in the Hebrew, Greek, or Cyrillic script, and some forms of Romanian, which are written in the Cyrillic script.

History of the concept


Historical linguists have generally concluded that the ancient Indo-European languages of the Italian peninsula that were not identifiable as belonging to other branches of Indo-European, such as Greek, belonged to a single branch of the family, parallel for example to Celtic and Germanic. The founder of this theory is Antoine Meillet (1866–1936).[9]

This unitary theory has been criticized by, among others, Alois Walde, Vittore Pisani and Giacomo Devoto, who proposed that the Latino-Faliscan and Osco-Umbrian languages constituted two distinct branches of Indo-European. This view gained acceptance in the second half of the 20th century,[10] though proponents such as Rix would later reject the idea, and the unitary theory remains dominant in contemporary scholarship.[11]



The following classification, proposed by Michiel de Vaan (2008), is generally agreed on,[12] although some scholars have recently rejected the position of Venetic within the Italic branch.[13]



Proto-Italic period


Proto-Italic was probably originally spoken by Italic tribes north of the Alps. In particular, early contacts with Celtic and Germanic speakers are suggested by linguistic evidence.[6]

Bakkum defines Proto-Italic as a "chronological stage" without an independent development of its own, but extending over late Proto-Indo-European and the initial stages of Proto-Latin and Proto-Sabellic. Meiser's dates of 4000 BC to 1800 BC, well before Mycenaean Greek, are described by him as being "as good a guess as anyone's".[30] Schrijver argues for a Proto-Italo-Celtic stage, which he suggests was spoken in "approximately the first half or the middle of the 2nd millennium BC",[31] from which Celtic split off first, then Venetic, before the remainder, Italic, split into Latino-Faliscan and Sabellian.[32]

Italic peoples probably moved towards the Italian Peninsula during the second half of the 2nd millennium BC, gradually reaching the southern regions.[6][7] Although an equation between archeological and linguistic evidence cannot be established with certainty, the Proto-Italic language is generally associated with the Terramare (1700–1150 BC) and Proto-Villanovan culture (1200–900 BC).[6]

Languages of pre-Roman Italy and nearby islands: N1, Rhaetian; N2, Etruscan: N3, North Picene (Picene of Novilara); N4, Ligurian; N5, Nuragic; N6, Elymian; N7, Sicanian; C1, Lepontic; C2, Gaulish; I1, South Picene; I2, Umbrian; I3, Sabine; I4, Faliscan; I5, Latin; I6, Volscian and Hernican; I7, Central Italic (Marsian, Aequian, Paeligni, Marrucinian, Vestinian); I8, Oscan, Sidicini, Pre-Samnite; I9, Siculian; IE1, Venetic; IE2, Messapian; G1-G2-G3, Greek dialects (G1: Ionic, G2: Aeolic, G3: Doric); P1, Punic.

Languages of Italy in the Iron Age


At the start of the Iron Age, around 700 BC, Ionian Greek settlers from Euboea established colonies along the coast of southern Italy.[33] They brought with them the alphabet, which they had learned from the Phoenicians; specifically, what we now call Western Greek alphabet. The invention quickly spread through the whole peninsula, across language and political barriers. Local adaptations (mainly minor letter shape changes and the dropping or addition of a few letters) yielded several Old Italic alphabets.

The inscriptions show that, by 700 BC, many languages were spoken in the region, including members of several branches of Indo-European and several non-Indo-European languages. The most important of the latter was Etruscan, attested by evidence from more than 10,000 inscriptions and some short texts. No relation has been found between Etruscan and any other known language, and there is still no clue about its possible origin (except for inscriptions on the island of Lemnos in the eastern Mediterranean). Other possibly non-Indo-European languages present at the time were Rhaetian in the Alpine region, Ligurian around present-day Genoa, and some unidentified languages in Sardinia. Those languages have left some detectable imprint in Latin.

The largest language in southern Italy, except Ionic Greek spoken in the Greek colonies, was Messapian, known from some 260 inscriptions dating from the 6th and 5th centuries BC. There is a historical connection of Messapian with the Illyrian tribes, added to the archaeological connection in ceramics and metals existing between both peoples, which motivated the hypothesis of linguistic connection. But the evidence of Illyrian inscriptions is reduced to personal names and places, which makes it difficult to support such a hypothesis.

It has also been proposed that the Lusitanian language may have belonged to the Italic family.[29][34]

Timeline of Latin


In the history of Latin of ancient times, there are several periods:

As the Roman Republic extended its political dominion over the whole of the Italian peninsula, Latin became dominant over the other Italic languages, which ceased to be spoken perhaps sometime in the 1st century AD. From Vulgar Latin, the Romance languages emerged.

The Latin language gradually spread beyond Rome, along with the growth of the power of this state, displacing, beginning in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, the languages of other Italic tribes, as well as Illyrian, Messapian and Venetic, etc. The Romanisation of the Italian Peninsula was basically complete by the 1st century BC; except for the south of Italy and Sicily, where the dominance of Greek was preserved. The attribution of Ligurian is controversial.

Origin theories


The main debate concerning the origin of the Italic languages mirrors that on the origins of the Greek ones,[36] except that there is no record of any "early Italic" to play the role of Mycenaean Greek.

All that is known about the linguistic landscape of Italy is from inscriptions made after the introduction of the alphabet in the peninsula, around 700 BC onwards, and from Greek and Roman writers several centuries later. The oldest known samples come from Umbrian and Faliscan inscriptions from the 7th century BC. Their alphabets were clearly derived from the Etruscan alphabet, which was derived from the Western Greek alphabet not much earlier than that. There is no reliable information about the languages spoken before that time. Some conjectures can be made based on toponyms, but they cannot be verified.

There is no guarantee that the intermediate phases between those old Italic languages and Indo-European will be found. The question of whether Italic originated outside Italy or developed by assimilation of Indo-European and other elements within Italy, approximately on or within its current range there, remains.[37]

An extreme view of some linguists and historians is that there never was a unique "Proto-Italic" whose diversification resulted in an "Italic branch" of Indo-European. Some linguists, like Silvestri[38] and Rix,[39] further argue that no common Proto-Italic can be reconstructed such that its phonological system may have developed into those of Latin and Osco-Umbrian through consistent phonetic changes and that its phonology and morphology can be consistently derived from those of Proto-Indo-European. However, Rix later changed his mind and became an outspoken supporter of Italic as a family.

Those linguists propose instead that the ancestors of the 1st millennium Indo-European languages of Italy were two or more different languages that separately descended from Indo-European in a more remote past and separately entered Europe, possibly by different routes or at different times. That view stems in part from the difficulty in identifying a common Italic homeland in prehistory,[40] or reconstructing an ancestral "Common Italic" or "Proto-Italic" language from which those languages could have descended. Some common features that seem to connect the languages may be just a sprachbund phenomenon – a linguistic convergence due to contact over a long period,[41] as in the most widely accepted version of the Italo-Celtic hypothesis.[undue weight?discuss]



General and specific characteristics of the pre-Roman Italic languages:

  • in phonetics: Oscan (in comparison with Latin and Umbrian) preserved all positions of old diphthongs ai, oi, ei, ou, in the absence of rhotacism, the absence of sibilants[clarification needed], in the development of kt > ht; a different interpretation of Indo-European kw and gw (Latin qu and v, Osco-Umbrian p and b); in the latter the preservation of s in front of nasal sonants and the reflection of Indo-European *dh and *bh as f; initial stress (in Latin, it was reconstructed in the historical period), which led to syncopation and the reduction of vowels of unstressed syllables;
  • in the syntax: many convergences; In Osco-Umbrian, impersonal constructions, parataxis, partitive genitive, temporal genitive and genitive relationships are more often used;



The most distinctive feature of the Italic languages is the development of the PIE voiced aspirated stops.[42] In initial position, *bʰ-, *dʰ- and *gʷʰ- merged to /f-/, while *gʰ- became /h-/, although Latin also has *gʰ- > /w-/ and /g-/ in special environments.[43]

In medial position, all voiced aspirated stops have a distinct reflex in Latin, with different outcome for -*gʰ- and *gʷʰ- if preceded by a nasal. In Osco-Umbrian, they generally have the same reflexes as in initial position, although Umbrian shows a special development if preceded by a nasal, just as in Latin. Most probably, the voiced aspirated stops went through an intermediate stage *-β-, *-ð-, *-ɣ- and *-ɣʷ- in Proto-Italic.[44]

Italic reflexes of PIE voiced aspirated stops
initial position medial position
*bʰ- *dʰ- *gʰ- *gʷʰ- *-(m)bʰ- *-(n)dʰ- *-(n)gʰ- *-(n)gʷʰ-
Latin[43] f- f- h- f- -b-
Faliscan[45] f- f- h- ? -f- -f- -g- ?
Umbrian[46] f- f- h- ? -f-
Oscan[47] f- f- h- ? -f- -f- -h- ?
  1. ^ Also -b- in certain environments.

The voiceless and plain voiced stops (*p, *t, *k, *kʷ; *b, *d, *g, *gʷ) remained unchanged in Latin, except for the minor shift of *gʷ > /w/. In Osco-Umbrian, the labiovelars *kʷ and *gʷ became the labial stops /p/ and /b/, e.g. Oscan pis 'who?' (cf. Latin quis) and bivus 'alive (nom.pl.)' (cf. Latin vivus).[48]



In grammar there are basically three innovations shared by the Osco-Umbrian and the Latino-Faliscan languages:

  • A suffix in the imperfect subjunctive *-sē- (in Oscan the 3rd person singular of the imperfect subjunctive fusíd and Latin foret, both derivatives of *fusēd).[49]
  • A suffix in the imperfect indicative *-fā- (Oscan fufans 'they were', in Latin this suffix became -bā- as in portabāmus 'we carried').[50]
  • A suffix to derive gerundive adjectives from verbs *-ndo- (Latin operandam 'which will be built'; in Osco-Umbrian there is the additional reduction -nd- > -nn-, Oscan úpsannam 'which will be built', Umbrian pihaner 'which will be purified').[51]

In turn, these shared innovations are one of the main arguments in favour of an Italic group, questioned by other authors.[who?]

Lexical comparison


Among the Indo-European languages, the Italic languages share a higher percentage of lexicon with the Celtic and the Germanic ones, three of the four traditional "centum" branches of Indo-European (together with Greek).

The following table shows a lexical comparison of several Italic languages:

Gloss Latino-Faliscan Osco-Umbrian Proto-
Faliscan Old
Oscan Umbrian
'1' *ounos ūnus *𐌖𐌉𐌍𐌖𐌔
*oinos *oinos *ainaz
'2' du *duō duō 𐌃𐌖𐌔
*duō *dwāu *twai
'3' tris trēs (m.f.)
tria (n.)
𐌕𐌓𐌉𐌚 (m.f.)
𐌕𐌓𐌉𐌉𐌀 (n.)
trif (m.f.)
triia (n.)
*trēs (m.f.)
*triā (n.)
*trīs *þrīz
'4' quattuor 𐌐𐌄𐌕𐌖𐌓𐌀
*kʷettwōr *kʷetwares *fedwōr
'5' *quique quinque 𐌐𐌏𐌌𐌐𐌄-
*kʷenkʷe *kʷenkʷe *fimf
'6' śex *sex sex *𐌔𐌄𐌇𐌔
*seks *swexs *sehs
'7' *śepten septem 𐌔𐌄𐌚𐌕𐌄𐌍
*septem *sextam *sebun
'8' oktu octō *𐌖𐌇𐌕𐌏
*oktō *oxtū *ahtōu
'9' *neven novem *𐌍𐌖𐌖𐌄𐌍
*nowen *nawan *newun
'10' decem 𐌃𐌄𐌊𐌄𐌍
*dekem *dekam *tehun

The asterisk indicates reconstructed forms based on indirect linguistic evidence and not forms directly attested in any inscription.

Map showing the approximate extent of the centum (blue) and satem (red) areals

From the point of view of Proto-Indo-European, the Italic languages are fairly conservative. In phonology, the Italic languages are centum languages by merging the palatals with the velars (Latin centum has a /k/) but keeping the combined group separate from the labio-velars. In morphology, the Italic languages preserve six cases in the noun and the adjective (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, ablative, vocative) with traces of a seventh (locative), but the dual of both the noun and the verb has completely disappeared. From the position of both morphological innovations and uniquely shared lexical items, Italic shows the greatest similarities with Celtic and Germanic, with some of the shared lexical correspondences also being found in Baltic and Slavic.[52]

P-Italic and Q-Italic languages


Similar to Celtic languages, the Italic languages are also divided into P- and Q-branches, depending on the reflex of Proto-Indo-European *. In the languages of the Osco-Umbrian branch, * gave p, whereas the languages of the Latino-Faliscan branch preserved it (Latin qu [kʷ]).[53]

See also



  1. ^ "Italic Languages". obo. Retrieved 9 March 2023.
  2. ^ Sturtevant, E. H. (13 December 1920). "The Italic Languages". The Classical Weekly. 14 (9): 66–69. doi:10.2307/4388079. JSTOR 4388079. Retrieved 2 May 2023.
  3. ^ S. Beeler, Madison (1952). "The Relation of Latin and Osco-Umbrian". Language. 28 (4): 435–443. doi:10.2307/409679. JSTOR 409679. Retrieved 2 May 2023.
  4. ^ FERRISS-HILL, JENNIFER L. (2011). "Virgil's Program of Sabellic Etymologizing and the Construction of Italic Identity". Transactions of the American Philological Association. 141 (2): 265–284. doi:10.1353/apa.2011.0016. JSTOR 41289745. S2CID 161961761. Retrieved 2 May 2023.
  5. ^ Mallory & Adams 1997, p. 314–319.
  6. ^ a b c d Bossong 2017, p. 859.
  7. ^ a b Fortson 2004, p. 245.
  8. ^ Manning, Eugene W. (1892). "Romance Languages". Modern Language Notes. 7 (5): 158. doi:10.2307/2918378. JSTOR 2918378. Retrieved 2 May 2023.
  9. ^ Villar 2000, pp. 474–475.
  10. ^ Villar 2000, pp. 447–482.
  11. ^ Poccetti 2017.
  12. ^ de Vaan 2008, p. 5: "Most scholars assume that Venetic was the first language to branch off Proto-Italic, which implies that the other Italic languages, which belong to the Sabellic branch and to the Latino-Faliscan branch, must have continued for a certain amount of time as a single language."
  13. ^ Bossong 2017, p. 859: "Venetic, spoken in Venetia, was undoubtedly Indo-European. It is safe to assume that it formed an independent branch by itself, rather than a subgroup of Italic."
  14. ^ a b c d e de Vaan 2008, p. 5.
  15. ^ Fortson 2017, p. 836.
  16. ^ Polomé, Edgar C. (1992). Lippi-Green, Rosina (ed.). Recent Developments in Germanic Linguistics. John Benjamins Publishing. p. 50. ISBN 978-90-272-3593-0.
  17. ^ a b c Poccetti 2017, p. 738.
  18. ^ a b c de Vaan 2008, p. 14.
  19. ^ Bossong 2017, p. 863: "Up to the middle of the 2nd century BCE (conquest of Carthage and Greece) the language was uniform; no differences between 'higher' and 'lower' styles can be detected." p. 867: "From a strictly linguistic point of view, the Strasbourg Oaths are just an instantaneous snapshot in the long evolution from Latin to French, but their fundamental importance lies in the fact that here a Romance text is explicitly opposed to a surrounding text formulated in Latin. Romance is clearly presented as something different from Latin."
  20. ^ Posner 1996, p. 98.
  21. ^ Herman 2000, p. 113: "That is, the transformation of the language, from structures we call Latin into structures we call Romance, lasted from the third or fourth century until the eighth."
  22. ^ Fortson 2004, p. 258: "The earliest Romance language to be attested is French, a northern variety of which first appears in writing in the Strasbourg Oaths in or around the year 842 (...) it had diverged more strongly from Latin than the other varieties closer to Italy."
  23. ^ Bossong 2017, pp. 863, 867.
  24. ^ Bossong 2017, pp. 861–862, 867.
  25. ^ a b c d e de Vaan 2008, p. 2.
  26. ^ a b c d Baldi 2017, p. 804.
  27. ^ a b Vine 2017, p. 752.
  28. ^ Hartmann 2018, p. 1854: "The Siculian language is widely believed to be of Indo-European, Italic origin..."
  29. ^ a b Villar 2000.
  30. ^ Bakkum 2009, p. 54.
  31. ^ Schrijver 2016, p. 490
  32. ^ Schrijver 2016, p. 499
  33. ^ "history of Europe : Romans". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 28 October 2012.
  34. ^ Francisco Villar, Rosa Pedrero y Blanca María Prósper
  35. ^ a b Fortson (2010) §13.26.
  36. ^ Leppänen, Ville (1 January 2014). "Geoffrey Horrocks,Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers (2nd edn.). Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, 2010. Pp. xx + 505". Journal of Greek Linguistics. 14 (1): 127–135. doi:10.1163/15699846-01401006. ISSN 1566-5844.
  37. ^ Silvestri 1998, p. 325
  38. ^ Silvestri, 1987
  39. ^ Rix, 1983, p. 104
  40. ^ Silvestri 1998, pp. 322–323.
  41. ^ Domenico Silvestri, 1993
  42. ^ Meiser 2017, p. 744.
  43. ^ a b Stuart-Smith 2004, p. 53.
  44. ^ Meiser 2017, pp. 744, 750.
  45. ^ Stuart-Smith 2004, p. 63.
  46. ^ Stuart-Smith 2004, p. 115.
  47. ^ Stuart-Smith 2004, p. 99.
  48. ^ Meiser 2017, pp. 749.
  49. ^ Vine 2017, p. 786.
  50. ^ Rix 2002, p. 3.
  51. ^ Vine 2017, pp. 795–796.
  52. ^ Mallory & Adams 1997, pp. 316–317.
  53. ^ Whatmough, Joshua (2015). The Foundations of Roman Italy. London: Routledge. pp. 276–277. doi:10.4324/9781315744810. ISBN 9781315744810.



de Vaan, Michiel (2008). Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-16797-1.

Further reading

  • Baldi, Philip. 2002. The Foundations of Latin. Berlin: de Gruyter.
  • Beeler, Madison S. 1966. "The Interrelationships within Italic." In Ancient Indo-European Dialects: Proceedings of the Conference on Indo-European Linguistics held at the University of California, Los Angeles, April 25–27, 1963. Edited by Henrik Birnbaum and Jaan Puhvel, 51–58. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.
  • Coleman, Robert. 1986. "The Central Italic Languages in the Period of Roman Expansion." Transactions of the Philological Society 84.1: 100–131.
  • Dickey, Eleanor, and Anna Chahoud, eds. 2010. Colloquial and Literary Latin. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Joseph, Brian D., and Rex J. Wallace. 1991. "Is Faliscan a Local Latin Patois?" Diachronica 8:159–186.
  • Pulgram, Ernst. 1968. The Tongues of Italy: Prehistory and History. New York: Greenwood.
  • Rix, Helmut (2002). Handbuch der italischen Dialekte. Sabellische Texte: Die Texte des Oskischen, Umbrischen und Südpikenischen. Vol. 5. Heidelberg, Germany: Winter.
  • Rix, Helmut. "Towards a reconstruction of Proto-Italic" (PDF). Program in Indo-European Studies. UCLA. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 November 2017. Retrieved 24 June 2017.
  • Silvestri, Domenico (1995). "Las lenguas itálicas" [The Italic languages]. Las lenguas indoeuropeas [The Indo-European languages] (in Spanish). Cátedra. ISBN 978-84-376-1348-2.
  • Tikkanen, Karin. 2009. A Comparative Grammar of Latin and the Sabellian Languages: The System of Case Syntax. PhD diss., Uppsala Univ.
  • Villar, Francisco [in Italian] (1997). Gli Indoeuropei e le origini dell'Europa [Indo-Europeans and the origins of Europe] (in Italian). Bologna: Il Mulino. ISBN 978-88-15-05708-2.
  • Wallace, Rex E. 2007. The Sabellic Languages of Ancient Italy. Languages of the World: Materials 371. Munich: LINCOM.
  • Watkins, Calvert. 1998. "Proto-Indo-European: Comparison and Reconstruction" In The Indo-European Languages. Edited by Anna Giacalone Ramat and Paolo Ramat, 25–73. London: Routledge.
  • Clackson, James, and Horrocks, Geoffrey. 2007. A Blackwell History of the Latin Language