Main linguistic 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 by the Carthaginians
coexisted with the indigenous and non-Italic Paleo-Sardinian
, or Nuragic
The Italic languages form a branch of the Indo-European language family, whose earliest known members were spoken in the Italian peninsula in the first millennium BC. The most important of the ancient languages was Latin, the official language of the Roman Empire, which conquered the other Italic peoples before the common era. The other Italic languages became extinct in the first centuries CE as their speakers were assimilated into the Roman Empire and shifted to some form of Latin. Between the third and eighth centuries CE, Vulgar Latin (perhaps influenced by language-shift from the other Italic languages) diversified into the Romance languages, which are the only Italic languages natively spoken today.
Besides Latin, the known ancient Italic languages are Faliscan (the closest to Latin), Umbrian and Oscan (or Osco-Umbrian), and South Picene. Other Indo-European languages once spoken in the peninsula, whose inclusion in the Italic branch is disputed, are Aequian, Vestinian, Venetic and Sicel. These long-extinct languages are known only from inscriptions in archaeological finds.
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 at least one non-Indo-European one, 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
With over 800 million native speakers, the Romance languages make Italic the second-most-widely spoken branch of the Indo-European family, after Indo-Iranian. However, in academia the ancient Italic languages form a separate field of study from the medieval and modern Romance languages. This article focuses on the ancient languages. For the others, see Romance studies.
All Italic languages (including Romance) are generally written in Old Italic scripts (or the descendant Latin alphabet and its adaptations), which descend from the alphabet used to write the non-Italic Etruscan language, and ultimately from the Greek alphabet.
History of the concept
Historical linguists have generally concluded that the ancient Indo-European languages of the Italian peninsula, that were not identifiable as belonging to other branches of Indo-European such as Greek, all belonged to a single branch of the family, parallel for example to Celtic and Germanic. The founder of this theory is Antoine Meillet (1866–1936).
This unitary theory has been criticized by, among others, Alois Walde (1869–1924),
Vittore Pisani (1899–1990) and Giacomo Devoto (1897–1974), who proposed that the Latino-Faliscan and Osco-Umbrian languages constituted two distinct branches of Indo-European. This view gained acceptance in the second half of the 1900s, though proponents such as Rix would later reject the idea, and the unitary theory remains dominant.