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Italic languages

Italic languages, subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages that may be divided into two groups. The first group consists of the ancient Italic languages and dialects that were once spoken in Italy. The most important of these were Latin, Faliscan, Oscan, and Umbrian; Latin was the only one to survive antiquity (see Latin language). From Latin are derived the Romance languages, which in turn comprise the second (or medieval and modern) group of the Italic subfamily; they include Catalan, Sardinian, French, Italian, Portuguese, Occitan, Rhaeto-Romanic, Romanian, and Spanish. The ancient Italic languages, with the exception of Latin, are now preserved chiefly in inscriptions, although occasional references in ancient authors and a number of proper and place names furnish added evidence. Latin, however, is amply recorded in numerous literary works as well as in inscriptions. The earliest existing inscription in an Italic language is in Latin and goes back to the 5th or 6th cent. B.C. At first the use of Latin was limited to Rome and the area around it, but the Romans spread their language throughout Italy and eventually over their vast empire. Faliscan, which is closely related to Latin, was once prevalent in an area in S Etruria, which is N of Rome. It is thought that people speaking Latin and Faliscan first entered and settled in Italy before or about 1000 B.C. and that the speakers of Oscan and Umbrian probably arrived somewhat later. Umbrian, which was current in the region of Umbria in central Italy NE of Rome, was superseded by Latin in time. Oscan was spoken in central and S Italy and NE Sicily. It too was finally absorbed by Latin. In general, the texts and records of the ancient Italic languages, including Latin, are written in alphabets that can be traced back to the Greek alphabet, often by way of the Etruscan alphabet. See Indo-European.

See J. Whatmough, The Foundations of Italy (1937); R. S. Conway, The Italic Dialects (2 vol., 1897, repr. 1967).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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