|Ethnicity||Originally the Italic peoples|
|Originally the Italian peninsula and parts of modern day Austria and Switzerland, today southern Europe, Latin America, France, Romania, Canada, and the official languages of half the countries of Africa.|
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 languages was Latin, the official language of ancient Rome, which conquered the other Italic peoples before the common era. 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 language shift from the other Italic languages) diversified into the Romance languages, which are the only Italic languages natively spoken today.
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 Sicel. These long-extinct languages are known only from inscriptions in archaeological finds.
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. 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 the others, see Romance studies.
All 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.
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).
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, though proponents such as Rix would later reject the idea, and the unitary theory remains dominant in contemporary scholarship.
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". 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", from which Celtic split off first, then Venetic, before the remainder, Italic, split into Latino-Faliscan and Sabellian.
Italic peoples probably moved towards the Italian Peninsula during the second half of the 2nd millennium BC, gradually reaching the southern regions. 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).
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(s) 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 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.
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.
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. 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 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 most widely accepted version of the Italo-Celtic hypothesis.[undue weight? ]
General and specific characteristics of the pre-Roman Italic languages:
The most distinctive feature of the Italic languages is the development of the PIE voiced aspirated stops. In initial position, *b?-, *d?- and *g- merged to /f-/, while *g?- became /h-/, although Latin also has *g?- > /v-/ and /g-/ in special environments.
In medial position, all voiced aspirated stops have a distinct reflex in Latin, with different outcome for -*g?- and *g- 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 *-?-, *-ð-, *-?- and *-- in Proto-Italic.
|initial position||medial position|
The voiceless and plain voiced stops (*p, *t, *k, *k?; *b, *d, *g, *g?) remained unchanged in Latin, except for the minor shift of *g? > /v/. In Osco-Umbrian, the labiovelars *k? and *g? became the labial stops /p/ and /b/, e.g. Oscan pis 'who?' (cf. Latin quis) and bivus 'alive (nom.pl.)' (cf. Latin vivus).
In grammar there are basically three innovations shared by the Osco-Umbrian and the Latino-Faliscan languages:
In turn, these shared innovations are one of the main arguments in favour of an Italic group, questioned by other authors.
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:
|'1'||*ounos||?nus||*un?s, acc. *unu||*
|'2'||du||*du?||du?||*dos, f. *duas||
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.
Similar to Celtic languages, the Italic languages are also divided into P- and Q-branches, depending on the reflex of Proto-Indo-European *k?. In the languages of the Osco-Umbrian branch, *k? gave p, whereas the languages of the Latino-Faliscan branch preserved it (Latin qu [k?]).