Rahul Sharma (Editor)

Oscan language

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Writing system  Old Italic alphabet
ISO 639-3  osc
Oscan language

Native to  Samnium, Campania, Lucania, Calabria and Abruzzo
Region  south and south-central Italy
Era  attested 5th–1st century BC
Language family  Indo-European Italic Osco-Umbrian (Sabellic) Oscan

Oscan is an extinct Indo-European language of southern Italy. The language is also the namesake of the language group to which it belonged. As a member of the Italic languages, Oscan is therefore a sister language to Latin and Umbrian.


Oscan was spoken by a number of tribes, including the Samnites, 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 BC to AD 100.


Oscan is known from inscriptions dating as far back as the 5th century BC. The most important Oscan inscriptions are the Tabula Bantina, the Oscan Tablet or Tabula Osca 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.

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 Z of the native alphabet is pronounced [ts]. The letters Ú and Í are "differentiations" of 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 but a long I is written .

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

Oscan written with the Greek alphabet was identical to the standard alphabet with the addition of two letters, one for the native alphabet's H and one for its 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/ of the native alphabet. Other times, ει and are used to denote diphthongs, in which case o denotes the /uː/ 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 most 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 and before another vowel, e becomes í. Long ē becomes the sound of í or íí.


Short i becomes written í. Long ī is spelt with i but when written with doubling as a mark of length with .


Short o remains mostly unchanged, written ú; before a final -m, o becomes more like u. Long ō becomes denoted by 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.


In Oscan, S between vowels did not undergo rhotacism as it did in Latin; but it was voiced, becoming the sound /z/. However, between vowels, the original cluster rs developed either to a simple r with lengthening on the preceding vowel, or to a long rr (as in Latin), and at the end of a word, original rs becomes r just as in Latin. Unlike in Latin, the s is not dropped from the consonant clusters sm, sn, sl.

Example of an Oscan text

Taken from the Cippus Abellanus:

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.


Oscan language Wikipedia