Italic languages

The Italic subfamily is a member of the Indo-European language family's Centum branch. It includes the Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian, etc.), and a number of extinct languages of the Italian Peninsula, including Latin, Umbrian, and Oscan.

Phonetic changes

A partial list of regular phonetic changes from Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Italic:

  • Palatovelars merge with plain velars
    • ḱ > k
    • ǵʱ > ɡʱ
    • ǵ > ɡ
  • Voiced labiovelars unround or lenite
    • ɡʱʷ > ɡʱ
    • ɡʷ > ɡ or w
  • Voiced aspirates become first unvoiced, then fricativize
    • bʱ > pʰ > ɸ > f
    • dʱ > tʰ > θ
    • ɡʱ > kʰ > x
  • s > θ before r; unchanged elsewhere

  • Resonants and remaining stops unchanged

Further changes occurred during the evolution of the individual Italic languages, such as f > b between vowels and θ > f in Latin.

Irregular changes include p > kʷ in e.g. Latin quinque, "five", from PIE *penkʷe, and Latin coquere, "to cook", from PIE *pekʷ-''.


The Italic family has two known branches:

The Italic speakers were not native to Italy, but migrated into the Italian Peninsula in the course of the 2nd millennium BC and were apparently related to the Celtic tribes that roamed over a large part of Western Europe at the time. Archaeologically, the Apennine culture (inhumations) enters the Italian Peninsula from ca. 1350 BC, east to west. Before the Italic arrival, Italy was populated primarily by non-Indo-European groups (perhaps including the Etruscans). The first settlement on the Palatine hill dates to ca. 750 BC, settlements on the Quirinal to 720 BC (see Founding of Rome).

The ancient Venetic language, as revealed by its inscriptions (including complete sentences), was also closely related to the Italic languages and is sometimes even classified as Italic. However, since it also shares similarities with other Western Indo-European branches (particularly Germanic), some linguists prefer to consider it an independent Indo-European language.

The Italic languages are first attested in writing from Umbrian and Faliscan inscriptions dating to the 7th century BC. The alphabets used are based on the Old Italic alphabet, which is itself based on the Greek alphabet. The Italic languages themselves show minor influence from the Etruscan and somewhat more from the Ancient Greek languages.

As Rome extended its political dominion over the whole of the Italian Peninsula, Latin became dominant over the other Italic languages, which ceased to be spoken perhaps sometime in the 1st century AD. From so-called Vulgar Latin the Romance languages emerged.

See also


  • Ernst Pulgram: Tongues of Italy, Prehistory and History
  • Rix, Helmut (2004). Ausgliederung und Aufgliederung der italischen Sprachen. Languages in Prehistoric Europe. ISBN 3-8253-1449-9

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