Volscian language

Infobox Language
script=Old Italic alphabet

Volscian was a Sabellic Italic language, which was spoken by the Volsci and closely related to Oscan and Umbrian.

It is attested in an inscription found in Velitrae (Velletri), dating probably from early in the 3rd century BC; it is cut upon a small bronze plate (now in the Naples Museum), which must have once been fixed to some votive object, dedicated to the god "Declunus" (or the goddess "Decluna"). The language of this inscription is clear enough to show the very marked peculiarities which rank it close beside the language of the Iguvine Tables. It shows on the one hand the labialization of the original velar "q" (Volscian "pis" = Latin "quis"), and on the other hand it palatalizes the guttural "c" before a following "i" (Volscian "facia" Latin "faciat"). Like Umbrian also, but unlike Latin and Oscan, it has degraded all the diphthongs into simple vowels (Volscian "se" parallel to Oscan "svai"; Volscian "deue", Old Latin and Oscan "deiuai" or "deiuoi"). This phenomenon of what might have been taken for a piece of Umbrian text appearing in a district remote from Umbria and hemmed in by Latins on the north and Oscan-speaking Samnites on the south is a most curious feature in the geographical distribution of the Italic dialects, and is clearly the result of some complex historical movements.

In seeking for an explanation we may perhaps trust, at least in part, the evidence of the ethnicon itself: the name "Volsci" belongs to what may be called the "-co-" group of tribal names in the centre, and mainly on the west coast, of Italy, all of whom were subdued by the Romans before the end of the 4th century BC; and many of whom were conquered by the Samnites about a century or more earlier. They are, from south to north, Osci, Aurunci, Hernici, Marruci, Falisci; with these were no doubt associated the original inhabitants of Aricia and of Sidicinum, of Vescia among the Aurunci, and of Labici close to Hernican territory.

The same formative element appears in the adjective "Mons Massicus", and the names Glanica and Marica belonging to the Auruncan district, with Graviscae in south Etruria, and a few other names in central Italy (see "I due strati nella popolazione Indo-Europea dell' Italia Antica," in the "Atti del Congresso Internazionale di Scienze Storieke", Rome, 1903, p. 17). With these names must clearly be judged the forms "Etrusci" and "Tusci", although these forms must not be regarded as anything but the names given to the Etruscans by the folk among whom they settled. Now the historical fortune of these tribes is reflected in several of their names (see Sabini). The Samnite and Roman conquerors tended to impose the form of their own ethnicon, namely the suffix "-no-", upon the tribes they conquered; hence the Marruci became the Marrucini, the Sarici became Aricini, and it seems at least probable that the forms Sidicini, Carecini, and others of this shape are the results of this same process.

The conclusion suggested is that these "-co-" tribes occupied the centre and west coast of Italy at the time of the Etruscan invasion; whereas the "-no-" tribes only reached this part of Italy, or at least only became dominant there, long after the Etruscans had settled in the Peninsula.

It remains, therefore, to ask whether any information can be had about the language of this primitive "-co- " folk, and whether they can be identified as the authors of any of the various archaeological strata now recognized on Italian soil. If the conclusions suggested under Sabini may be accepted as sound we should expect to find the Volsci speaking a language similar to that of the Ligures, whose fondness for the suffix "-sco-" has been noticed, and identical with that spoken by the plebeians of Rome, and that this branch of Indo-European was among those which preserved the original Indo-European Velars from the labialization which befell them in the speech of the Samnites, The language of the inscription of Velitrae offers at first sight a difficulty from this point of view, in the conversion which it shows of "q" to "p"; but it is to be observed that the ethnicon of Velitrae is "Veliternus", and that the people are called on the inscription itself "Velestrom" (genitive plural); so that there is nothingto prevent our assuming that we have here a settlement of Sabines among the Volscian hills, with their language to some extent (e.g. in the matter of the diphthongs and palatals) corrupted by that of the people round about them; just as we have reason to suppose was the case with the Sabine language of the Iguvini, whose very name was later converted into "Iguvinates", the suffix "-ti-" being much more frequent among the "-co-" tribes than among the Sabines.

The name Volsci itself is significant not merely in its suffix; the older "Volusci" clearly contains the word meaning marsh identical with Gr. "helos", since the change of "*velos-" to "*volus-" is phonetically regular in Latin. The name "Marica" ("goddess of the salt-marshes") among the Aurunci appears also both on the coast of Picenum and among the Ligurians; and Stephanus of Byzantium identified the Osci with the Siculi, whom there is reason to suspect were kinsmen of the Ligures. It is remarkable in how many marshy places this "-co-" or "-ca-" suffix is used. Besides the Aurunci and the "dea Marica" and the "intempestaeque Graviscae" ("Aeneis" 10.184), we have the "Ustica cubans" of Horace ("Odes" 1.17.1), the "Hernici" in the Trerus Valley, "Satricum" and "Glanica" in the Pomptine Marshes.


*For the text and fuller account of the Volscian inscription, and for other records of the dialect, see R. S. Conway, "The Italic Dialects", pp. 267 sqq.
*1911 [http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Volsci]

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  • Volscian language —       an Italic language or dialect, closely related to Umbrian and Oscan and more distantly related to Latin and Faliscan. Spoken in central Italy by the Volsci people, neighbours of the Oscan speaking Samnites, Volscian was replaced by Latin in …   Universalium

  • Volscian — [väl′shən] adj. of the Volsci or their language or culture n. 1. a member of the Volsci 2. the Italic language of the Volsci …   English World dictionary

  • Volscian — noun (plural Volscians) Date: 1627 1. a member of the Volsci 2. the Italic language of the Volsci • Volscian adjective …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • volscian — I. ˈvälshən noun ( s) Usage: usually capitalized Etymology: Latin Volsci + English an 1. : a member of the Volsci 2 …   Useful english dictionary

  • Volscian — /vol sheuhn/, adj. 1. of or pertaining to the Volsci or to their language. n. 2. one of the Volsci. [1505 15; < L Volsc(us) of the VOLSCI + IAN] * * * …   Universalium

  • Volscian — noun An Italic language formerly spoken by the Volsci and becoming extinct sometime after the 3rd century BC …   Wiktionary

  • Volscian — ISO 639 3 Code : xvo ISO 639 2/B Code : ISO 639 2/T Code : ISO 639 1 Code : Scope : Individual Language Type : Ancient …   Names of Languages ISO 639-3

  • Volscian — /ˈvɒlskiən/ (say volskeeuhn) adjective 1. of or relating to the Volsci or to their language. –noun 2. one of the Volsci …   Australian English dictionary

  • Umbrian language — Ancient Italic language spoken in central Italy in the last few centuries BC. Umbrian was related closely to Oscan and Volscian and more distantly to Latin. It was displaced by Latin at an unknown date. Modern knowledge of the language is derived …   Universalium

  • Oscan language — Italic language formerly spoken in southern and central Italy, related closely to Umbrian and more distantly to Latin. It was probably the native tongue of the Samnite people of Italy s central mountainous region. Oscan was gradually displaced by …   Universalium

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