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Oscan, the language of the Samnites (particularly the Osci tribe), is in the Sabellic branch of the Italic language family, which is a branch of Indo-European that also includes Umbrian, Latin, and Faliscan.
It was spoken in Samnium and in Campania, as well as in Lucania, Ager Bruttius (modern Calabria) and Abruzzo. Oscan is known from inscriptions beginning in the 5th century BC. The most important Oscan inscriptions are the Tabula Bantina and the Cippus Abellanus. Oscan was written in the Latin and Greek alphabets, as well as in a variety of the Old Italic alphabet.
Dialects of Oscan include Samnite, Marrucine, Paelignan, Vestinian, Sabine, and Marsian.
Oscan had much in common with Latin, though there are also many striking differences, and many common word-groups in Latin were absent and 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 wants, desires', English cognate 'yearns') as opposed to Latin ''vult'' (id.). Latin ''locus'' (place) was absent and represented by the hapax ''slaagid'' (place), that Italian linguist Alberto Manco has recently referred to a local surviving toponym
[Alberto Manco, "Oscan *sla(a)gi-", at http://openarchive.unior.it/157/1/Oscan__sla(a)gi-.pdf, Naples, Università L’Orientale, 2009.].
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.
The native Oscan alphabet and a transliteration are as follows.
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 ''IÍ''.
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 ''oυ'' are saved to denote monophthongs /í/ and /uu/ in the native alphabet. Other times, ''ει'' and ''oυ'' are used to denote diphthongs, in which case ''o'' denotes the /uu/ 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'' remains unchanged.
Long ''ī'' becomes the sound of ''i''.
Short ''o'' remains mostly unchanged, written ''ú''. Before a final ''-m'', ''o'' becomes 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)
svaí píd herieset
avúm tereí púd
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