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date: 19 April 2018

Umbrian language

Umbrian was the language of Sabellic populations in central Italy, including Umbria (see Umbrians) and neighbouring areas to the south that were occupied by the Volsci, Marsi, and Sabini. The bulk of scholarly knowledge of Umbrian comes from the Iguvine Tables (see fig. 1 and TABULAE IGUVINAE).

Umbrian languageClick to view larger

Figure 1. One of the Iguvine Tables. Palazzo dei Consoli, Gubbio, Italy.

Photo by Paola Severi Michelangeli, Creative Commons License, CC0.

The remaining material consists of about fifty mostly very short inscriptions from the 7th through the 1st centuries bce. A Volscian lex sacra of several lines, found at Velletri but probably stemming from elsewhere, is also noteworthy, as is the extreme age of the so-called Paleo-Umbrian material mostly from the 7th century.

Umbrian is distinguished from Oscan, probably its closest relative, by many phonological developments that have, in their aggregate, generally obscured the resemblance of its vocabulary to cognates elsewhere in Italic. Many consonant clusters were simplified; s was rhotacized to r both between vowels and, by the later period, also word-finally after a vowel; diphthongs were monophthongized; intervocalic d was rhotacized to a sound written rs or ř; and initial l- became v-. Some words showing these processes include aitu (= agito, “he shall move”), muta (multa, “fine”), umtu (unguito, “he shall anoint”), sir (sis, “may you be”), sve (suae, “his/her own”), and Vuvçis (Lucius). A peculiar perfect stem-formant in -nki- (becoming -ns-) is found only in Umbrian (e.g., purdinsust, “he shall have offered”). Of morphosyntactic interest are the several clitic postpositions (e.g., -ku(m), -co(m) “at,” -per “for,” and -en “in”), of which only -en is found in Oscan; thus termnuco (“at the boundary”) and totaper iiouina (“for the Iguvine state”).


Buck, Carl Darling. A Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian. 2d ed. Boston: Ginn, 1928.Find this resource:

Crawford, Michael H., ed. Imagines Italicae. A Corpus of Italic Inscriptions. London: Institute of Classical Studies, 2011.Find this resource:

Poultney, James W. The Bronze Tables of Iguvium. Baltimore: American Philological Association, 1959.Find this resource:

Rix, Helmut. Sabellische Texte. Heidelberg, Germany: C. Winter, 2002.Find this resource:

Wallace, Rex E. The Sabellic Languages of Ancient Italy. Munich: Lincom Europa, 2007.Find this resource:

Weiss, Michael L. Language and Ritual in Sabellic Italy. The Ritual Complex of the Third and Fourth Tabulae Iguvinae. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010.Find this resource:

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