Umbrian language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Native toUmbria
Regioncentral Italy
Eraattested 7th–1st century BC[1]
Umbrian and Old Italic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3xum
Iron Age Italy.svg
Approximate distribution of languages in Iron Age Italy during the 6th century BC

Umbrian is an extinct Italic language formerly spoken by the Umbri in the ancient Italian region of Umbria. Within the Italic languages it is closely related to the Oscan group and is therefore associated with it in the group of Osco-Umbrian languages. Since that classification was first formulated a number of other languages in ancient Italy were discovered to be more closely related to Umbrian. Therefore, a group, the Umbrian languages, was devised to contain them.


Umbrian is known from about 30 inscriptions dated from the 7th through 1st centuries BC. The largest cache by far is the Iguvine Tablets, seven [2] inscribed bronze tablets found in 1444 near the village of Scheggia or, according to another tradition, in an underground chamber at Gubbio (ancient Iguvium).[3][2] The seven tablets contain notes on the ceremonies and statutes for priests of the ancient religion in the region. Sometimes they are called the Eugubian tablets after the medieval name of Iguvium/Eugubium.[4] The tablets contain 4000-5000 words.

Other minor inscriptions are from Todi, Assisi and Spoleto.


The Iguvine tablets were written in two alphabets. The older, the Umbrian alphabet, like other Old Italic script, was derived from the Etruscan alphabet, and was written right-to-left. The newer was written in the Latin script. The texts are sometimes called Old Umbrian and New Umbrian. The differences are mainly orthographic.[5] For example, <rs>in the Latin alphabet is represented by a single character in the native script (generally transcribed as ř; this represents an unknown sound that developed regularly from intervocalic *-d- in most cases). [6]

History of Sounds[edit]

Compared to its highly conservative sister language Oscan, Umbrian exhibits a number of innovations, some of them shared by its neighbor to the west, Latin.

All diphthongs are simplified (a process only partly seen in Latin, and only very rarely in Oscan).[7]

Velars are palatalized and spirantized before front vowels and the front glide /j/ (as happened later in most Romance languages).[8]

Like Latin, but unlike Oscan, intervocalic -s- rhotacized to -r-. In late forms of the language, final -s also becomes -r (a change not seen in Latin). [9]

Sample text[edit]

Taken from the Iguvine Tablets, tablet Va, lines 6-10 (written in the native alphabet on the tablet):

(6) ...Sakreu (7) perakneu upetu, revestu, puře teřte, (8) eru emantu herte, et pihaklu pune (9) tribřiçu fuiest, akrutu revestu (10) emantu herte...

In Latin: (6-7) ...Hostia solemnis digito, revisito, cum datur, (8) (aliquae) earum accipiantur oportetne, et cum piaculorum (9) ternio fiet, ex agro revisito (10) accipiantur oportetne... [10]

In English: (6-7) Let him select the sacrificial victims, and when they are given over, let him inspect them (8) to see if (any) of them are to be accepted, and in the case of (9) a triple offering, let him inspect them in the country (10) to see if they are to be accepted. [11]

Taken from the Iguvine Tablets, tablet VIa, lines 25-31 (written in the Latin alphabet on the tablet):

(25)...Dei grabouie orer ose persei ocre fisie pir orto est (26) toteme iouine arsmor dersecor subator sent pusei neip heritu. (27) dei crabouie persei tuer perscler uaseto est pesetom est peretom est (28) frosetom est daetom est tuer perscler uirseto auirseto uas est. di grabouie persei mersei esu bue (29) peracrei pihaclu pihafei. di.grabouie pihatu ocre fisei pihatu tota iouina. di.grabouie pihatu ocrer (30) fisier totar iouinar nome nerf arsmo ueiro pequo castruo fri pihatu futu fos pacer pase tua ocre fisi (31) tote iiouine erer nomne erar nomne. di.grabouie saluo seritu ocre fisi salua seritu tota iiouina.

In Latin:

"(25)...Iovi Grabovie huius opere, si in montis Fisie ignis ortus est (26) civitate Iguvina, ritus debiti omissi sunt quasi nec consulto. (27) Iovi Grabovie si in tui sacrifici, vitiatum est, peccatum est, peremptum est, (28) fraudatum est, demptum est, tui sacrifici visum, invisum, vitium est. Iovi Grabovie si ius sit hoc bove (29) optimo piaculo piator. Iovi Grabovie piato montem Fisiem piato civitatem Iguvinam piato montis Fisie piato civitatem (30) Iguvina nomen magistratus, formationes, viros, pecua, castra, fructus, piato esto favens propitius pace tua monti Fisii (31) civitati Iguvinae eius nomini eas nomini. Iovi Grabovie salvum servato montem Fisii salvam servato civitatem Iguvinae.

In English:

"(25)...Jupiter Grabovius, if on the Fisian mount fire has arisen, or if in the (26) nation of Iguvium the owed preparations have been omitted, let it be as if they had been made. (27) Jupiter Grabovius, if in your sacrifice (anything) has been done wrongly, mistaken, transgressed, (28) deceived, left out, (if) in your ritual there is a seen or unseen flaw, Jupiter Grabovius, if it be right for this (29) yearling ox as purificatory offering to be purified, Jupiter Grabovius, purify the Fisian Mount, purify the Iguvine state. Jupiter Grabovius, purify the name of the Fisian Mount (and) of the Iguvine state, purify the magistrates (and) formulations, men (and) cattle, heads (of grain) (and) fruits, Be favorable (and) propitious in your peace to the Fisian Mount, (31) to the Iguvine state, to the name of that, to the name of this. Jupiter Grabovius, keep safe the Fisian Mount, keep safe the Iguvine state."[12]


  1. ^ Umbrian at MultiTree on the Linguist List
  2. ^ a b The tradition born in the 17th century that the tablets were originally nine, and that two, sent to Venice, never came back, must be considered spurious. Paolucci (1966), p. 44
  3. ^ AA. VV. (2004), p. 243
  4. ^ Colby, Frank Moore; Williams, Talcott, eds. (1922). "Italic languages". The New International Encyclopedia. 12. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company. p. 459.
  5. ^ Buck 1904, p. 7
  6. ^ Buck, C.D. A Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian pp. 82-83
  7. ^ Buck, Carl Darling (2007) [1904]. A Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian: With A Collection of Inscriptions and a Glossary. Kessinger Publishing. p. 41. ISBN 978-1432691325.
  8. ^ Buck, Carl Darling (2007) [1904]. A Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian: With A Collection of Inscriptions and a Glossary. Kessinger Publishing. p. 93. ISBN 978-1432691325.
  9. ^ Buck, Carl Darling (2007) [1904]. A Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian: With A Collection of Inscriptions and a Glossary. Kessinger Publishing. p. 74. ISBN 978-1432691325.
  10. ^ Buck, C.D. A Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian p. 260
  11. ^ Buck, C.D. A Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian p. 301
  12. ^ Fortson, Benjamin W. (2010). Indo-European Language and Culture. An Introduction. Second edition, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, p.299.


Further reading[edit]

  • Buck, Carl Darling. 1979. A Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian: With a Collection of Inscriptions and a Glossary. Hildesheim: Olms.
  • ————. 2001. A Vocabulary of Umbrian: Including the Umbrian Glosses. Bristol, PA: Evolution Publishing.
  • Clackson, James. 2015. "Subgrouping in the Sabellian Branch of Indo‐European." Transactions of the Philological Society 113 (1): 4–37.
  • Poultney, James. 1959. The bronze tables of Iguvium. Philological Monographs 18. Baltimore: American Philological Association.
  • Untermann, Jürgen. Wörterbuch des Oskisch-Umbrischen. Heidelberg, Germany: Universitätsverlag C. Winter, 2000.
  • Wallace, Rex E. “Sabellian Languages.” In The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Ancient Languages, ed.Roger D. Woodard, 812–839. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  • Weiss, Michael L. 2010. Language and Ritual In Sabellic Italy: The Ritual Complex of the Third and the Fourth Tabulae Iguvinae. Leiden: Brill.
  • Whatmough, Joshua. "A New Umbrian Inscription of Assisi." Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 50 (1939): 89-93. Accessed May 5, 2020. doi:10.2307/310593.

External links[edit]