Ligurian language (ancient)

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Ligurian (ancient)
Native to Liguria
Region Northern Mediterranean Coast straddling South-east French and North-west Italian coasts, including Northern Tuscany and Corsica.
Era 300 BCE – 100 CE[1]
  • Celtic (epigraphic),[2] Para-Celtic (onomastic)[3]
    • Ligurian (ancient)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 xlg
Glottolog anci1248[4]

The Ligurian language was spoken in pre-Roman times and into the Roman era by an ancient people of north-western Italy and south-eastern France known as the Ligures. Very little is known about it (mainly place names and personal names in modern Liguria remain), but it is generally believed to have been Indo-European;[5] it appears to have shared many features with other Indo-European languages, primarily Celtic (Gaulish) and Italic (Latin and the Osco-Umbrian languages).[5]

Relationship with Celtic[edit]

Xavier Delamarre argues that Ligurian was a Celtic language, similar to, but not the same as Gaulish. His argument hinges on two points: firstly, the Ligurian place-name Genua (modern Genoa, located near a river mouth) is claimed by Delamarre to derive from PIE *ǵenu-, "chin(bone)". Many Indo-European languages use 'mouth' to mean the part of a river which meets the sea or a lake, but it is only in Celtic for which reflexes of PIE *ǵenu- mean 'mouth'. Besides Genua, which is considered Ligurian (Delamarre 2003, p. 177), this is found also in Genava (modern Geneva), which may be Gaulish. However, Genua and Genava may well derive from another PIE root with the form *ǵonu-, which means "knee" (so in Pokorny, IEW).[6]

Delamarre's second point is Plutarch's mention (Marius 10, 5-6) that during the Battle of Aquae Sextiae in 102 BC, the Ambrones (who may have been a Celtic tribe) began to shout "Ambrones!" as their battle cry; the Ligurian troops fighting for the Romans, on hearing this cry, found that it was identical to an ancient name in their country which the Ligurians often used when speaking of their descent (outôs kata genos onomazousi Ligues), so they returned the shout, "Ambrones!".

A risk of circular logic has been pointed out – if it is believed that the Ligurians are non-Celtic, and if many place names and tribal names that classical authors state are Ligurian seem to be Celtic, it is incorrect to discard all the Celtic ones when collecting Ligurian words and to use this edited corpus to demonstrate that Ligurian is non-Celtic or non-Indo-European.[7]

The Ligurian-Celtic question is also discussed by Barruol (1999).

Ancient sources[edit]

Strabo indicates that the Ligurians were different from the Celts:

As for the Alps... Many tribes (éthnê) occupy these mountains, all Celtic (Keltikà) except the Ligurians; but while these Ligurians belong to a different people (hetero-ethneis), still they are similar to the Celts in their modes of life (bíois).

Herodotus (5.9) wrote that sigunnai meant 'hucksters, peddlers' among the Ligurians who lived above Massilia.

Ligurian as substrate[edit]

French historian and philologist Marie Henri d'Arbois de Jubainville held that Ligurian was the first Indo-European language spoken in Western Europe and was related to Sicel. In his work Premiers Habitants de l'Europe (2nd edition 1889–1894), Jubainville proposed an early Indo-European substrate language for Corsica, Sardinia, eastern Spain, southern France and western Italy, based on the occurrence there of place names ending in -asco, -asca, -usco, -osco, -osca as well as -inco, -inca.[8] For examples of the Corsican toponymy cited by Jubainville, see Prehistory of Corsica.

Other linguists expanded on the idea. Julius Pokorny adapted it as the basis for his Illyro-Venetic theory. Paul Kretschmer saw evidence for Ligurian in Lepontic inscriptions, now seen as Celtic. Hans Krahe, focusing on river-names, converted the concept into his theory of the Old European hydronymy.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ligurian (ancient) at MultiTree on the Linguist List
  2. ^ Kruta, Venceslas (1991). The Celts. Thames and Hudson. p. 54.
  3. ^ Kruta, Venceslas (1991). The Celts. Thames and Hudson. p. 55.
  4. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Ancient Ligurian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  5. ^ a b "Ligurian language". 2014-12-16. Retrieved 2015-08-29.
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ [2] Archived 2013-05-18 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Jubainville, H. D'Arbois de (1889). Les Premiers Habitants de l'Europe d'après les Écrivains de l'Antiquité et les Travaux des Linguistes: Seconde Édition (in French). Paris: Ernest Thorin. pp. V.II, Book II, Chapter 9, Sections 10, 11.
  9. ^ Mees, Bernard (2003). "A genealogy of stratigraphy theories from the Indo-European west". In Anderson, Henning. Language Contacts in Prehistory: Studies in Stratigraphy. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamin Publishing Company. pp. 11–44. ISBN 1-58811-379-5.


  • Barruol, G. (1999) Les peuples pré-romains du sud-est de la Gaule - Etude de géographie historique, 2d ed., Paris
  • Delamarre, X. (2003). Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise (2nd ed.). Paris: Editions Errance. ISBN 2-87772-237-6
  • Strabo (1917) The Geography of Strabo I. Horace Jones, translator. Loeb Classical Library. London, William Heinemann.