Main language groups in Iron-Age Italy and environs. Some of those languages have left very little evidence, and their classification is quite uncertain. The Punic language brought to Sardinia coexisted with the indigenous Paleo-Sardinian, or Nuragic.
The Italic languages are a branch of the Indo-European language family, whose earliest known members were spoken in the Italian peninsula in the first millennium BC. The best-known member is Latin, the only language of the group that survived into the common era. All other Italic languages became extinct by the 1st century BC, when their speakers were assimilated into the Roman Empire and switched to some form of Latin. Those extinct members are known only from inscriptions in archaeological finds.
Besides Latin, the known languages from that time period that are usually considered "Italic" include Umbrian and Oscan (or Osco-Umbrian), Faliscan, and South Picene. Other Indo-European languages once spoken in the peninsula, whose inclusion in the Italic branch is still disputed, are Aequian, Vestinian, Venetic, and Sicel.
In the first millennium BC, several other non-Italic languages were spoken in the peninsula, including members of other branches of Indo-European (such as Celtic and Greek) as well as non-Indo-European ones, such as Etruscan.
It is generally believed that those 1st millennium Italic languages descend from Indo-European languages brought by migrants to the peninsula sometime in the 2nd millennium BC.Proto-Italic language after its arrival in the region, or whether the migrants brought two or more Indo-European languages that were only distantly related.
However, the source of those migrations and the history of the languages in the peninsula are still the matter of debate among historians. In particular, it is debated whether the ancient Italic languages all descended from a single
The Romance languages, being descended from Latin, are also part of the Italic branch. With over 800 million native speakers, they make Italic the second most widely spoken branch of the Indo-European family, after the Indo-Iranian languages. However, there are profound linguistic differences between Romance and the other pre-Roman Italic languages, such as the loss of the grammatical case system.
History of the concept
Some authors use the term "Italic" to include all languages spoken in the Italian region in antiquity, independently of their linguistic classification. In this broad sense, the Italic languages would include also languages that are usually assigned to in other branches of Indo-European, such as Ionic Greek, Messapian, Illyrian, Gaulish and Lepontic (the last two being Celtic languages); as well as non-Indo-European ones like Etruscan, Rhaetian, and North Picene
Other authors, however, reserve the expression of "Italic languages" only for Indo-European languages spoken in ancient times exclusively in Italy and which do not clearly belong to other broad Indo-European families, thus excluding all of the above.
Initially, historical linguists had generally assumed that the various Indo-European languages specific to ancient Italy belonged to a single branch of the family, parallel for example to that of Celtic or Germanic. The founder of this hypothesis is considered Antoine Meillet (1866-1936).
However, this unitary scheme has been criticized by, among others, Alois Walde (1869–1924),
Vittore Pisani (1899–1990) and Giacomo Devoto (1897–1974), who proposed a classification of the Italic languages into two distinct Indo-European branches. This view has gained acceptance in the second half of the 1900s, although the exact processes of formation and penetration into Italy remain the object of research by.