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Oscan language

Not to be confused with Old Scandinavian, sometimes abbreviated 'OScan'.
Denarius of Marsican Confederation with Oscan legend
Native to Samnium, Campania, Lucania, Calabria and Abruzzo
Region south and south-central Italy
Era attested 5th–1st century BCE[1]
Old Italic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3 osc
Linguist list
Approximate distribution of languages in Iron Age Italy during the 6th century BCE

Oscan is an extinct language of southern Italy. The language is also the namesake of the language group to which it belonged.

Oscan was spoken by a number of tribes, including the Samnites,[2] the Aurunci (Ausones), and the Sidicini. The latter two tribes were often grouped under the name "Osci". The Oscan group is part of the Osco-Umbrian or Sabellic family, and includes the Oscan language and three variants (Hernican, Marrucinian and Paelignian) known only from inscriptions left by the Hernici, Marrucini and Paeligni, minor tribes of eastern central Italy. The language was spoken from approximately 500 BCE to 100 CE.[3]


  • Evidence 1
  • General characteristics 2
  • Writing system 3
  • History of sounds 4
    • Vowels 4.1
      • Monophthongs 4.1.1
        • A
        • E
        • I
        • O
        • U
      • Diphthongs 4.1.2
  • Example of an Oscan text (the Cippus Abellanus) 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Bibliography 8
  • External links 9


Oscan is known from inscriptions dating as far back as the 5th century BCE. The most important Oscan inscriptions are the Tabula Bantina, the Oscan Tablet or Tabula Osca[4] and the Cippus Abellanus.

General characteristics

Oscan had much in common with Latin, though there are also many striking differences, and many common word-groups in Latin were absent or represented by entirely different forms. For example, Latin volo, velle, volui, and other such forms from the Proto-Indo-European root *wel ('to will') were represented by words derived from *gher ('to desire'): Oscan herest ('he shall want, he shall desire', English cognate 'yearn') as opposed to Latin vult (id.). Latin locus (place) was absent and represented by the hapax slaagid (place), which Italian linguist Alberto Manco has recently referred to a local surviving toponym.[5]

In phonology, Oscan also showed differences from Latin: Oscan 'p' in place of Latin 'qu' (Osc. pis, Lat. quis) (similar to the P-Celtic/Q-Celtic change in the Celtic languages); 'b' in place of Latin 'v'; medial 'f' in contrast to Latin 'b' or 'd' (Osc. mefiai, Lat. mediae). .

Oscan is considered the most conservative of all the known Italic languages, and among attested Indo-European languages it is rivaled only by Greek in the retention of the inherited vowel system with the diphthongs intact.

Writing system

Oscan was written in the Latin and Greek alphabets, as well as in a variety of the Old Italic alphabet.

The native Oscan alphabet and a transliteration are as follows.
𐌀 𐌁 𐌂 𐌃 𐌄 𐌅 𐌆 𐌇 𐌉 𐌊 𐌋 𐌌 𐌍 𐌐 𐌑 𐌓 𐌔 𐌕 𐌖 𐌚 𐌞 𐌝

The Z is pronounced [ts]. The letters Ú and Í are graphically derived from U and I, and do not appear in the oldest writings. The Ú represents an o-sound, and Í is a tense [ẹ]. Doubling of vowels was used to denote length; the exception is a long I which is written .

Sometimes Oscan was written in the Latin or Greek alphabet.

When it was written in the Latin alphabet, then the Z does not represent [ts] but instead [z], which is not written differently from [s] in the native alphabet.

Heta, together with a lowercase variant designed for modern typography.
When Oscan was written in the Greek alphabet, it used an alphabet identical to the standard, with the addition of Heta for the sound [h] and another letter for the sound denoted in the native alphabet by V. The letters η and ω do not indicate quantity. Sometimes, the clusters ηι and ωϝ denote the diphthongs /ei/ and /ou/ respectively while ει and are saved to denote monophthongs /iː/ and /uː/ in the native alphabet. Other times, ει and are used to denote diphthongs, in which case o denotes the /uː/ sound.

History of sounds

This history denotes the changes that took place from Italic to Oscan, starting with the Italic sound.


Vowels are regularly lengthened before ns and nct (in the latter of which the n is lost) and possibly before nf and nx as well. Anaptyxis, the development of a vowel between a liquid or nasal and another consonant, preceding or following, occurs frequently in Oscan. If the other consonant precedes, the new vowel is the same as that of the preceding vowel. If the other consonant follows, the new vowel is the same as that of the following vowel.



Short a remains in all positions. Long ā remains in an initial or medial position. Final ā starts to sound similar to [ɔː] so that it is written ú or, rarely, u.


Short e generally remains unchanged. Before a labial in a medial syllable, it becomes u or i. Before another vowel, e becomes í. Long ē becomes the sound of í or íí.


Short i becomes the sound of í. Long ī remains unchanged and is spelt with i.


Short o remains mostly unchanged, written ú. Before a final -m, o becomes pronounced like u. Long ō becomes the sound of u or uu.


Short u generally remains unchanged. After t, d, n, the sound becomes that of iu. Long ū generally remains unchanged. It may have changed to an ī sound for final syllables.


The sounds of diphthongs remain unchanged.

Example of an Oscan text (the Cippus Abellanus)

The Oscan language in the 5th century BCE.

ekkum svaí píd herieset
trííbarak avúm tereí púd
liímítúm pernúm púís
herekleís fíísnú mefiíst,ú
ehtrad feíhúss pús
herekleís fíísnam amfr
et, pert víam pússtíst
paí íp íst, pústin slagím
senateís suveís tangi
núd tríbarakavúm lí
kítud. íním íúk tríba
rakkiuf pam núvlanús
tríbarakattuset íúk trí
barakkiuf íním úíttiuf
abellanúm estud. avt
púst feíhúís pús físnam am
fret, eíseí tereí nep abel
lanús nep núvlanús pídum
tríbarakattíns. avt the
savrúm púd eseí tereí íst,
pún patensíns, múíníkad tan
ginúd patensíns, íním píd eíseí
thesavreí púkkapíd eestit
aíttíúm alttram alttrús
herríns. avt anter slagím
abellanam íním núvlanam
súllad víú uruvú íst . edú
eísaí víaí mefiaí teremen
niú staíet.

See also


  1. ^ Oscan at MultiTree on the Linguist List
  2. ^ Davide Monaco. "Samnites The People". Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  3. ^ "Oscan". Ancient Scripts. Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Alberto Manco, "Sull’osco *slagi-", AIΩN Linguistica 28, 2006.


  • Buck, Carl Darling (2007) [1904]. A Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian with a Collection of Inscriptions and a Glossary. Internet Archive. 
  • Salvucci, Claudio R (1999). "A Vocabulary of Oscan Including the Oscan and Samnite Glosses". Southampton, Pennsylvania: Evolution Publishing and Manufacturing Co. 

External links

  • Hare, JB (2005). "Oscan". wordgumbo. Retrieved 21 August 2010. 
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