Lombardic language

Lombardic or Langobardic is an extinct West Germanic language that was spoken by the Lombards (Langobardi), the Germanic people who settled in Italy in the sixth century. It was already rapidly declining by the seventh century because the invaders quickly adopted the Latin vernacular spoken by the local Roman population. Lombardic may have been in use in scattered areas until as late as c. 1000 AD. A number of place names in the Lombardy Region in Northern Italy and items of Lombard vocabulary derive from Lombardic.

RegionPannonia and Italy
Extinct11th century
Runic script, Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3lng
Italien zur Langobardenzeit.jpg
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Lombardic is a "Trümmersprache" (literally, "rubble-language"), that is, a language preserved in only fragmentary form: there are no texts in Lombardic, only individual words and personal names cited in Latin law codes, histories and charters. As a result, there are many aspects of the language about which nothing is known.[1][2]


Lombardic is classified as part of the Elbe Germanic (Upper German) group of West Germanic languages, most closely related to its geographical neighbours Alemannic and Bavarian. This is consistent with the accounts of classical historians, and indeed with the archaeological evidence of Langobardic settlement along the river Elbe.[3]

In view of the lack of Lombardic texts and the narrow scope of the attested Lombardic vocabulary — almost entirely nouns in the nominative case and proper names — the classification rests entirely on phonology. Here the clear evidence of the Second Sound Shift shows that the language must be High German, rather than North Sea Germanic or East Germanic, as some earlier scholars proposed.[4]

The Lombardic CorpusEdit

The main evidence for Lombardic comes from contemporary documents written in Latin, where (a) individual Lombardic terms are cited and (b) people with Lombardic names are mentioned. There are also a small number of inscriptions, a handful of which use the Runic alphabet. Additional information about the vocabulary of Lombardic comes from later-attested loan words into Italian and its diialects, as well as a large number of Italian place names of Lombardic origin (see below).

The documentary sources fall into three catgories:[5]

  1. Lombardic law codes
  2. Narrative histories
  3. Administrative documents of the Lombard kingdom such as charters.



The vowel system of Lombardic is very conservative and largely preserves the Proto-Germanic system.[6] The three main vowel developments characteristic of other Upper German dialects are lacking in Lombardic.

  • There is no evidence of the Primary Umlaut of /a/, which is prevalent in OHG, e.g. Lombardic camphio = OHG chemphio ("champion").[7].
  • The diphthongs /ai/ and /au/ are preserved, whereas in other Old High German dialects they become /ei/ and /au/ or are monophthongized to /e:/ and /o:/ in certain phonetic contexts. Examples: Lgb. schuldhais = OHG scultheizo ("mayor");[8] Lgb. rairaub = OHG rêroup ("body snatching");[9] Lgb. launegild = OHG lôngelt ("payment").[10]
  • The mid long vowels /e:/ and /o:/, which are diphthongized in OHG to /ea~ia / and /uo:/ respectively, remain unchanged in Lombardic. Examples: Lgb. mêta = OHG miata ("price");[11] Lgb. plôvum = OHG phluog ("plough"). [12]


Lombardic participated in, and indeed shows some of the earliest evidence for, the High German consonant shift. The Historia Langobardorum of Paulus Diaconus mentions a duke Zaban of 574, showing /t/ shifted to /ts/. The term stolesazo (ablative)[13] (the second element is cognate with English seat) in the Edictum Rothari shows the same shift. Many names in the Lombard royal families show shifted consonants, particularly /b/ > /p/ in the following name components:

  • -bert > -pert: Aripert, Godepert
  • -berg > -perg: Gundperga (daughter of King Agilulf)
  • -brand > -prand: Ansprand, Liutprand

This sound change left two different sets of names in the Italian language: palco (< Lombardic palk, "beam") vs. balcone (< longobard balk, "wood platform"); panca (< Lombardic panka) vs. banca (Lombardic banka, "bench").[14]


It is not possible to say with certainty when the Lombardic language died out and there are divergent views on the issue.[15] It seems certain that it was in decline even before the end of the Lombardic kingdom in 774, though it may have survived longer in Northern areas, with their denser Lombardic settlement.[16][17] In any case, the Lombard host which had invaded Italy was not monolingual: in addition to a sizeable body of Saxons, there were also "Gepids, Bulgars, Sarmatians, Pannonians, Suevi, Noricans and so on" (Historia Langobardorum, II, 26).[18]

In the areas of Italy setlled by the Lombards, "there followed a rapid mixing of Roman and barbarian, especially among the population settled on the land."[19] The Lombard conversion from Arianism to Roman Catholicism in the 7th century will have removed a major barrier to the integration of the two populations.[20][21] By the 8th century speakers of Lombardic were bilingual, adopting the local Gallo-Italic language.[1]

Even as use of the language declined, Lombardic personal names remained popular, though they gradually lost their connection to the source language, adopting Latin endings. The 8th century also saw the development of hybrid names with both Lombardic and Latin elements. By this time occurrence of both Lombardic and Latin names within a single family "is so widespread that such cases make up the majority throughout Lombard Italy".[22]

Explicit evidence of the death of Lombardic comes in the late 10th century: the Salerno Chronicle mentions the "German language which the Lombards previously spoke" (lingua todesca, quod olim Langobardi loquebantur). But some knowledge of Lombardic remained: the Salerno chronicler nonetheless knows that the Lombardic term stoleseyz includes an element which means "sitting" (sedendo).[23] As late as 1003, a charter uses the Lombardic term scarnafol ("filthy fellow") as an insult.[24]

Influence on ItalianEdit

Loan wordsEdit

At least 280 Italian words have been identified as Lombardic loans, though there is wide local variation and some are found only in areas settled by the Lombards.[25] One problem in detecting Lombardic loans is that they are not always readily distinguishable from Gothic, the language of the previous Germanic rulers of Italy. In many cases, it is only evidence of the Second Sound Shift, which did not affect Gothic, that guarantees a Lombardic source for a loanword.[26] However, the Sound Shift is equally present in Alemannic and Bavarian, which are also potential sources of loans into Northern Italian varieties at this period.[27]

The surviving loans are mostly terms from everyday life, while the legal terms found in the Lombardic laws have generally not been preserved.[28] Examples:[29]

  • anca, "hip" < lgb. hanka
  • balcone, "balcony", and palco, "shelf" < lgb. balk
  • bussare, "knock" < lgb bauʒʒan
  • faida, "blood feud" <lgb. faihida
  • fante, "footsoldier" < lgb. "fanþ(j)o"
  • graffiare, "scratch" < lgb. grîfan ("to grab")
  • guancia "cheek", < lgb wangja
  • gufo, "owl" < lgb. gôfjan ("cry out")
  • lesto, "fast" < lgb. list ("cleverness")
  • melma, "mud" < lgb. melm
  • nocca "knuckle" < lgb. knohha
  • panca "bench" < lgb. banka, panka
  • russare, "snore" < lgb. hrûʒʒan
  • scaglia, "scale, skin" < lgb. skalja
  • taccola "jackdaw" < lgb tâhhala
  • zazzera "mop of hair" < lgb. zazza

The Lombard language is a distinct Romance language spoken in Northern Italy and Switzerland. It, too, has loans from Lombardic. Examples include:[30]{sfn|Sizzi|2014}}

  • bicer, "glass"< lgb. bikar
  • scossà, "apron" < lgb. skauz

Place namesEdit

When the Lombards settled in Italy they had no previous acquaintance with Latin, with the result that the earliest Lombard settlements received Lombardic names.[31] There are a number of distinct types of name.

Each Lombard duke was the lord of a group of military clans, who were settled in the area he ruled. The Lombardic term for such a clan was fara, and it has given its name (or the variant farra) to a number of Italian settlements, including:[31]

Many settlements took their names from Lombardic personal names. For example the Lombardic name Gairo ("spear") is the source of: Noci Garrioni (Cremona), Garin (Turin), Garini (Cuneo and Alessandria), Carengo (Novara), Ghiringhello (Verona), Gairilo (Brescia), Ghirla, (Verona), Garlasco (Pavia), Garleri (Porto Maurizio), and Garlazzolo (Pavia).[32] Gamillscheg counts over 700 of these.[33]

In many cases a Lombard personal name was appended to the Latin word for a natural feature.[34] Thus Latin collis ("hill") appears coupled with, for example, lgb. Alibert in Colle-Alberti (Florence, Pisa), lgb. Gunzo in Collegonzi (Florence), and Raginwald in Collerinaldo (Aquila).[35]

Finally, there are over 30 Lombardic common nouns which have formed the basis for Italian place names, including:[36]

  • Lgb. berga ("mountain") > Berghi (Trient), Berga (Vicenza), Valperga (Turin)
  • Lgb. skuldhaizo ("mayor") > Scaldasole (Pavia), Casale di Scodosia (Padua)
  • Lgb. stôdigard ("stud farm") > Stoerda (Novara) (cf. Stuttgart).



There are a number of Latin texts that include Lombardic names, and Lombardic legal texts contain terms taken from the legal vocabulary of the vernacular, including:

In 2006, Emilia Denčeva argued that the inscription of the Pernik sword may be Lombardic.[37]


There are two short inscriptions in the Elder Futhark which are regarded as Lombardic.[38]

The Schretzheim bronze capsule, from 540–590:[39][40][41]

  • On the lid: arogis d
  • On the bottom: alaguþleuba dedun
Translation: "Arogis and Alaguth (and) Leuba made (it)"[38]
The Futhark on the Breza half-column

The two fibulae from Bezenye, Hungary, from 510–590.[42][43][44]

  • Fibula A: godahid unj[a] [42]
  • Fibula B: (k?)arsiboda segun [45]
Translation: "Godahi(l)d, (with) sympathy (I?) Arsiboda bless"[38]

There is debate as to whether the inscription on the fifth-century Szabadbattyán belt buckle[46] is Lombardic or Gothic, and the reading is uncertain.[40][47][48] The futhark on the Breza half-column is regarded as either Lombardic or Alemannic.[49]


  1. ^ a b Tischler 1989, p. 195.
  2. ^ Frankovich Onesti 2014, p. 1.
  3. ^ Christie 1995, p. 5.
  4. ^ Maurer 1952, pp. 51–52.
  5. ^ Frankovich Onesti 2014, p. 3.
  6. ^ Mitzka 1951, p. 4.
  7. ^ Bruckener 1897, p. 57.
  8. ^ Bruckener 1897, p. 100.
  9. ^ Bruckener 1897, p. 103.
  10. ^ Bruckener 1897, p. 105.
  11. ^ Bruckener 1897, p. 90.
  12. ^ Bruckener 1897, p. 93.
  13. ^ Edictus rothari, cap. 150: "[…] districtus ab stolesazo."
  14. ^ Giacomo Devoto: Dizionario etimologico.
  15. ^ Frankovich Onesti 2014, p. 9.
  16. ^ Meyer 1877, p. 5.
  17. ^ Gamillscheg 2017, p. 200.
  18. ^ Christie 1995, p. 64.
  19. ^ Todd 2004, p. 246.
  20. ^ Hutterer 1999, pp. 337–338.
  21. ^ Frankovich Onesti 2002, p. 11.
  22. ^ Frankovich Onesti 2002, p. 17.
  23. ^ Bruckner 1896, p. 14.
  24. ^ Nauman & Betz 1962, p. 22.
  25. ^ Gamillscheg 2017, pp. 174-5.
  26. ^ Rohlfs 1947, p. 9.
  27. ^ Gamillscheg 2017, p. 128.
  28. ^ Frankovivh Onesti, p. 3.
  29. ^ Gamillscheg 2017, pp. 129–174, with many other examples.
  30. ^ Ronchee 2015.
  31. ^ a b Gamillscheg 2017, p. 62.
  32. ^ Gamillscheg 2017, p. 92.
  33. ^ Gamillscheg 2017, p. 119.
  34. ^ Gamillscheg 2017, p. 108-119, with a count of 400..
  35. ^ Gamillscheg 2017, p. 112.
  36. ^ Gamillscheg 2017, p. 63-69.
  37. ^ Dentschewa 2006.
  38. ^ a b c Hutterer 1999, p. 341.
  39. ^ Siegmüller 2008a.
  40. ^ a b Naumann & Betz 1962, p. 85.
  41. ^ Looijenga 2003, p. 255.
  42. ^ a b Siegmüller 2008b.
  43. ^ Naumann & Betz 1962, p. 86.
  44. ^ Looijenga 2003, p. 230.
  45. ^ Siegmüller 2008c.
  46. ^ Siegmüller 2008d.
  47. ^ Looijenga 2003, p. 148.
  48. ^ Krause 2014, p. 120.
  49. ^ Krause 2014, p. 285.


  • Bruckner, Wilhelm (1896). Die Sprache der Langobarden. Strassburg: Trübner.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Francovich Onesti, Nicoletta (2000). Vestigia longobarde in Italia (468-774). Lessico e antroponimia (2 ed.). Rome: Artemide. ISBN 9788886291347.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Gamillscheg, Ernst (2017) [First published 1935]. Romania Germanica. 2. Die Ostgoten. Die Langobarden. Die altgermanischen Bestandteile des Ostromanischen. Altgermanisches im Alpenromanischen. de Gruyter. doi:10.1515/9783110827439. ISBN 978-3-11-082743-9.
  • Naumann, Hans; Betz, Werener (1962). Althochdeutsches Elementarbuch (3rd ed.). de Gruyter. p. 22. ISBN 978-3111254845.
  • Rohlfs, Gerhard (1947). "Germanisches Spracherbe in der Romania" (PDF). Sitzungsberichte der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-historische Klasse. 1944-46 (8): 1–39. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  • Tischler, Johann (1989). "Zum Langobardischen". In Beck, Heinrich (ed.). Germanische Rest- und Trümmersprachen. pp. 195–209. ISBN 978-3110119480.
  • Todd, Malcolm (2004). The Early Germans. The Peoples of Europe. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 9781405117142.
  • van der Rhee, F (1970). Die germanischen Wörter in den langobardischen Gesetzen (PhD). Rotterdam: University of Utrecht.

External linksEdit