The Italic languages are a branch of the Indo-European language family, whose earliest known members were spoken in the Italian peninsula in the first millennium BC. The best-known member is Latin, the only language of the group that survived into the common era. All other Italic languages became extinct by the 1st century BC, when their speakers were assimilated into the Roman Empire and switched to some form of Latin. Those extinct members are known only from inscriptions in archaeological finds.
|Originally Italy, parts of Austria and Switzerland, today mainly southern Europe, maximum extent worldwide intermittent (most of the Americas. Official languages of half the countries in Africa and parts of Oceania).|
Besides Latin, the known languages from that time period that are usually considered "Italic" include Umbrian and Oscan (or Osco-Umbrian), Faliscan, and South Picene. Other Indo-European languages once spoken in the peninsula, whose inclusion in the Italic branch is still disputed, are Aequian, Vestinian, Venetic, and Sicel.
In the first millenium 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 non-Indo-European ones, such as 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. However, the source of those migrations and the history of the languages in the peninsula are still the 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.
The Romance languages, being descended from Latin, are also part of the Italic branch. With over 800 million native speakers, they make Italic the second most widely spoken branch of the Indo-European family, after the Indo-Iranian languages. However, there are profound linguistic differences between Romance and the other pre-Roman Italic languages, such as the loss of the grammatical case system.
History of the conceptEdit
Some authors use the term "Italic" to include all languages spoken in the Italian region in antiquity, independently of their linguistic classification. In this broad sense, the Italic languages would include also languages that are usually assigned to in other branches of Indo-European, such as Ionic Greek, Messapian, Illyrian, Gaulish and Lepontic (the last two being Celtic languages); as well as non-Indo-European ones like Etruscan, Rhaetian, and North Picene
Other authors, however, reserve the expression of "Italic languages" only for Indo-European languages spoken in ancient times exclusively in Italy and which do not clearly belong to other broad Indo-European families, thus excluding all of the above.
Initially, historical linguists had generally assumed that the various Indo-European languages specific to ancient Italy belonged to a single branch of the family, parallel for example to that of Celtic or Germanic. The founder of this hypothesis is considered Antoine Meillet (1866-1936).
However, this unitary scheme has been criticized by, among others, Alois Walde (1869–1924), Vittore Pisani (1899–1990) and Giacomo Devoto (1897–1974), who proposed a classification of the Italic languages into two distinct Indo-European branches. This view has gained acceptance in the second half of the 1900s, although the exact processes of formation and penetration into Italy remain the object of research by.
History of the languagesEdit
The languages of Italy in the Iron AgeEdit
At the start of the Iron Age, around 700 BC, Ionian Greek settlers from Euboea established colonies along the coast of southern Italy. 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 language in Sardinia. Those languages have left detectable imprint in the Italic ones.
The following language groups, which were (or may have been) subgroups of the Italic languages, have their existence attested in the Italian peninsula in the 1st millennium BC, by inscriptions and historical sources. The classification follows mostly F. Villar.
- Latino-Faliscan or Western Italic languages: These languages were spoken in a fairly small territory est of the Apennines, spanning from about 50 km north to about 40 km south of Rome, and west from it to the coast.
- Faliscan, which was spoken in the area around Falerii Veteres (modern Civita Castellana) north of the city of Rome
- Latin, which was spoken in west-central Italy. It is the only ancient Italic language that survived into the common era. It was originally used (from the 8th century BC) by the tribe of the Latins, which inhabited the region of Latium around Rome. By the 5th century BCE, it was still confined to that territory. It was closely related to the Faliscan language spoken just north of Rome.
- Osco-Umbrian, Sabellian, or Eastern Italic languages:
- Oscan, which was spoken in the south-central region of the Italian Peninsula. It was the language of the Samnites and was probably not yet extinct until the first centuries of our era. It is attested by a couple hundred inscriptions, along with some personal names.
- Umbrian (not to be confused with the modern Umbrian dialect of Italian) was spoken in the north-central region of Italy. It is best evidenced by the "Iguvine Tablets" found at Gubbio, which consist of religious texts inscribed in bronze around 200 BC.
- Marsian, the language of the Marsi
- South Picene was spoken in east-central Italy. It survives in inscriptions dating from the 7th century BC, among the oldest found in the peninsula. The language was clearly Indo-European (for example, matereif patereif = Latin matribus patribus, "mothers and fathers"), but it remains mostly untranslatable. (It has no obvious relation to the neighboring North Picene language, who has not even been established to be Indo-European).
- Sabine in Lazio and the central Apennines
The following languages are believed to be part of the Italic branch or branches, but their classification is uncertain:
- Venetic was spoken in the northeast of the peninsula, the present Veneto region, by the Adriatic Veneti. It survives in a couple hundred short inscriptions that were written from the sixth century BC until the first century BC. It is definitely Indo-European, but its place in the family is still debated, since it has similarities to the Germanic as well as to other Italic languages. Some linguists classify as Italic, while others see it as a separate branch of Indo-European. There is toponymic evidence linking the Veneti with the Liburnian tribes of the Adriatic in the Balkans.
The following languages may be Italic, but there is too little data to tell:
- Sicel was a language spoken in eastern Sicily by the Sicels, known only from a few inscriptions. Connections to the Latin languages have been proposed.
- Sicanian spoken in western Sicily by the Sicani
Many other Iron-Age peoples of Italy are known from historical sources, but nothing is known about their languages:
The differences between Latin and Osco-Umbrian are as obvious as its similarities.
The largest language in southern Italy, except Ionic Greek spoken in the Greek colonies, was Messapian, known due to 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.
Timeline of LatinEdit
In the history of Latin of ancient times, there are several periods:
- From the archaic period, several inscriptions of the 6th to the 4th centuries BC, fragments of the oldest laws, fragments from the sacral anthem of the Salii, the anthem of the Arval Brethren were preserved.
- In the pre-classical period (3rd and 2nd centuries BC), the literary Latin language (the comedies of Plautus and Terence, the agricultural treatise of Cato the Elder, fragments of works by a number of other authors) was based on the dialect of Rome.
- The period of classical ("golden") Latin (1st century BC, the development of vocabulary, the development of terminology, the elimination of old morphological doublets, the flowering of literature: Cicero, Caesar, Sallust, Virgil, Horace, Ovid) was particularly distinguished.
- During the period of classical ("silver") Latin, the phonetic, morphological and spelling norms were finally formed.
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.
The period of late Latin (2nd to 6th centuries) is characterised by a gap between written and folk-spoken language: the regional differentiation of the people's Latin was accelerated, the formation of Romance languages, finally separated by the 9th century, began on its basis; written Latin continued to be used for a long time in the administrative sphere, religion, diplomacy, trade, school, medicine, science, literature, and remains the language of the Catholic Church and the official language of the Vatican City.
Prehistory of ItalyEdit
The Pleistocene glaciations caused the human populations of central and northern Europe to migrate southwards. At the height of the last Ice Age (about 35,000 to 13,000 BC), the sea level was about 120 meters below its present state, which radically changed the geography of the Mediterranean.
Agriculture reached the peninsula from the Middle East between 7000 and 6000 BC, marking the start of the Neolithic. The seminomadic hunter-gathering lifestyle was replaced by a sedentary society, with large fortified villages and an economy based on agriculture and animal husbandry. While raised primarily as a source of meat, by 3000 BC domesticated animals were being exploited for traction (of plows and carts) and other product such as milk and wool. The making of wine and olive oil was learned from Greece by about that time.
Metallurgy also spread though the Mediterranean at this time, first of copper around 3000 BC, then bronze around 2300 BC. Use of the latter for weapons, armor, and other artifacts marks the beginning of the Bronze Age. Around 700 BC, the development of iron smelting and steelmaking marked the beginning of the Iron Age in the region.
The main debate concerning the origin of the Italic languages mirrors that on the origins of the Greek ones, except that there is no record of any "early Italic" to play the role of Mycenaean Greek.
All we know 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.
An extreme view of some linguists and historians is that there is no such thing as "the Italic branch" of Indo-European. Namely, there never was a unique "Proto-Italic", whose diversification resulted in those languages. Some linguists, like Silvestri and Rix, further argue that no common Proto-Italic can be reconstructed such that (1) its phonological system may have developed into those of Latin and Osco-Umbrian through consistent phonetic changes, and (2) its phonology and morphology can be consistently derived from those of Proto-Indo-European.
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 and/or in different epochs. That view stems in part from the difficulty in identifying a common Italic homeland in prehistory, 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, as in the Italo-Celtic theory.
The linguist Calvert Watkins suggested, among the ten major groups, a four-way division of East, West, North and South Indo-European. He considered them to be "dialectical divisions within Proto-Indo-European which go back to a period long before the speakers arrived in their historical areas of attestation". It is not to be considered a nodular grouping; in other words, there was not necessarily any common Western Indo-European serving as a node from which the subgroups branched, but a hypothesised similarity between the dialects of Proto-Indo-European that developed into the recognised families. Although generally regarded as a single branch that diversified from a Common or Proto-Italic stage, after the Proto-Indo-European period, some authors doubt this common affiliation. All the Italic languages share a number of common isoglosses; thus, all of them are centum languages that do not present palatalization of the Indo-European (palatal) velars /*k, *kʷ, *g, *gʰ, *gʰʷ/. The Romance languages present a later palatalization of Latin phonemes /k, g/, although only before phonemes /ɛ, e, i/.
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 "as good a guess as anyone's".
Gray and Atkinson come up by using their Bayesian phylogenetic model that the Italic branch separated from the Germanic branch 5500 years ago, roughly the start of the Bronze Age.
General and specific characteristics of the pre-Roman Italic languages:
- in phonetics: the greatest archaism of Oscan (in comparison with Latin and Umbrian), manifested in the preservation in all positions of old diphthongs ai, oi, ei, ou, in the absence of rhotacism, the absence of sibilants, 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 force (in Latin, it was reconstructed in the historical period), which led to syncopation and the reduction of vowels of unstressed syllables;
- in morphology: 5 declensions and 4 conjugations; reduplication and lengthening of the root vowel; preservation of the locative in Osco-Umbrian; differences in the formation of the future tense, perfect tense and the infinitive; the use of postpositions in the Osco-Umbrian;
- in the syntax: many convergences; In Osco-Umbrian, impersonal constructions, parataxis, partitive genitive, genitive of time and genitive relationships are more often used;
- in the lexicon: a significant number of lexemes inherited from Proto-Indo-European; the presence of words unique to the western area of Indo-European linguistic community; the presence of Osco-Umbrian lexemes, which do not have a correspondence in Latin; borrowing from Etruscan, etc., unknown pre-Indo-European languages of Italy, a large number of borrowings from Greek.
- Evolution of labial stops: *p > p, *b > b, *bʰ- > f-, -*bʰ- > -b-, (-f-)
- Evolution of alveolar stops: *t > t, *d > d. Latin, for example, has *d > l, as in PIE *dngʰʷa > lingua or archaic Latin *odor > olor, olere.
- Evolution of aspirated stops at the beginning of a word: *bʰ- > f-, -*dʰ- > f-.
- Evolution of velars: *k > k (‹c›), *g > g, *gʰ- > h-
- *kʷ > kʷ (‹qu›) / k (‹c›), *gʷ > v/g/f
- Evolution of liquids: *l > l and *r > r.
- Evolution of non-syllabic nasals: *Vm > Vm, *mV > mV, *Vn > Vn, *nV > nV (here V denotes any vowel) and the syllabic nasals: *Cm(C) > Cem(C) and *Cn(C) > Cen(C) (here C represents any consonant).
- Evolution of semivowels: *w > v, *y > i.
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)
- A suffix in the imperfect indicative *-fā- (Oscan fufans 'they were', Latin was given a sound in -ba- as in portabant 'they had').
- A suffix to derive 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').
In turn, these shared innovations are one of the main arguments in favour of an Italic group, questioned by other authors.
In addition, Latin and other Italic languages have an innovative future form derived from -bho, -bhis, -bhit, .... This form appears for example in the Latin form amabo et amabis 'I shall love and you shall love' and in the Faliscan form cra carefo ('tomorrow I will not have', Latin crās carēbo).
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:
|*dwō (m. nom.)
*dwōs (m. ac.)
The asterisk indicates reconstructed forms based on indirect linguistic evidence and not forms directly attested in any inscription.
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.
P-Italic and Q-Italic languagesEdit
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Similar to Celtic languages, the Italic languages are also divided into P- and Q-branches, depending on the fate of the pre-Indo-European *kʷ. In the languages of the Osco-Umbrian branch, *kʷ gave p, whereas the languages of the Latino-Faliscan branch preserved it (Latin qu [kʷ]) or simplified it into w (Latin uapor 'steam' < PIE *kʷapor-).
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|For a list of words relating to Italic languages, see the Italic languages category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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