Oscan language
Oscan is a term used to describe both an extinct language of southern Italy and the language group to which it belonged.

The Oscan language was spoken by a number of tribes, including the Samnites
Samnium is a Latin exonym for a region of south or south and central Italy in Roman times. The name survives in Italian today, but today's territory comprising it is only a small portion of what it once was. The populations of Samnium were called Samnites by the Romans...

, the Aurunci
The Aurunci were an Italic population which lived in southern Italy from around the 1st millennium BC. Of Indo-European origin, their language belonged to the Oscan group...

, the Sidicini, and the Ausones
The Ausones were an ancient Italic tribe settled in the southern part of Italy. Often confused with the Aurunci, they share with them only a probably common origin.-History:...

. The latter three tribes were often grouped under the name "Osci
The Osci , were an Italic people of Campania and Latium adiectum during Roman times. They spoke the Oscan language, also spoken by the Samnites of Southern Italy. Although the language of the Samnites was called Oscan, the Samnites were never called Osci, or the Osci Samnites...

". 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
The Hernici were an ancient people of Italy, whose territory was in Latium between the Lago di Fucino and the Sacco River , bounded by the Volsci on the south, and by the Aequi and the Marsi on the north....

, Marrucini
The Marrucini were an ancient tribe which occupied a small strip of territory around the ancient Teate , on the east coast of Abruzzo, Italy, limited by the Aterno and Foro Rivers...

 and Paeligni
The Paeligni or Peligni were an Italic people who lived in the Valle Peligna, in what is now Abruzzo, central Italy.-History:The Paeligni are first mentioned as a member of a confederacy which included the Marsi, Marrucini and Vestini, with which the Romans came into conflict in the Second Samnite...

, minor tribes of eastern central Italy. The language was spoken from approximately 500 BCE to 100 CE.


Oscan is known from inscriptions dating as far back as the 5th century BCE. The most important Oscan inscriptions are the Tabula Bantina 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
Proto-Indo-European language
The Proto-Indo-European language is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans...

 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.

In phonology
Phonology is, broadly speaking, the subdiscipline of linguistics concerned with the sounds of language. That is, it is the systematic use of sound to encode meaning in any spoken human language, or the field of linguistics studying this use...

, 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
Celtic languages
The Celtic languages are descended from Proto-Celtic, or "Common Celtic"; a branch of the greater Indo-European language family...

); '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
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 in the retention of the inherited vowel system with the diphthongs intact.

Writing system

Oscan was written in the Latin
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

 and Greek
Greek alphabet
The Greek alphabet is the script that has been used to write the Greek language since at least 730 BC . The alphabet in its classical and modern form consists of 24 letters ordered in sequence from alpha to omega...

An alphabet is a standard set of letters—basic written symbols or graphemes—each of which represents a phoneme in a spoken language, either as it exists now or as it was in the past. There are other systems, such as logographies, in which each character represents a word, morpheme, or semantic...

s, as well as in a variety of the Old Italic alphabet
Old Italic alphabet
Old Italic refers to several now extinct alphabet systems used on the Italian Peninsula in ancient times for various Indo-European languages and non-Indo-European languages...


The native Oscan alphabet and a transliteration are as follows.
𐌀 𐌁 𐌂 𐌃 𐌄 𐌅 𐌆 𐌇 𐌈 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.

If 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.

If it 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 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.

Example of an Oscan text (the Cippus Abellanus)

svaí píd herieset

avúm tereí púd

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.
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