|Ancient south and central Italy
|1st millennium BC-1st millennium AD
The Osco-Umbrian, Sabellic or Sabellian languages are an extinct group of Italic languages, the Indo-European languages that were spoken in Central and Southern Italy by the Osco-Umbrians before being replaced by Latin, as the power of Ancient Rome expanded. Their written attestations developed from the middle of the 1st millennium BC to the early centuries of the 1st millennium AD. The languages are known almost exclusively from inscriptions, principally of Oscan and Umbrian, but there are also some Osco-Umbrian loanwords in Latin. Besides the two major branches of Oscan and Umbrian (and their dialects), South Picene may represent a third branch of Sabellic. The whole linguistic Sabellic area, however, might be considered a dialect continuum. Paucity of evidence from most of the "minor dialects" contributes to the difficulty of making these determinations.
Main article: Italic languages
Following an original theory by Antoine Meillet, the Osco-Umbrian languages were traditionally considered a branch of the Italic languages, a language family that grouped Latin and Faliscan together with several other related languages. However, this unitary scheme was criticized by, among others, Alois Walde, Vittore Pisani and Giacomo Devoto, who proposed a classification of the Italic languages into two distinct Indo-European branches. This view gained some acceptance in the second half of the 20th century, although the exact processes of formation and penetration into Italy remains the object of research. However, proponents such as Rix would later reject the idea, and the unitary theory (proposing the descent of all Italic languages from a unique common ancestor) remains dominant. In any case, it is plausible that the spread of all those languages took place through progressive inflows of Indo-European populations of eastern origin, with Osci and Umbri reaching the Italian peninsula after Latins and Falisci, but before Iapygians and Messapians.
These languages were spoken in Samnium and in Campania, partly in Apulia, Lucania and Bruttium, as well as by the Mamertines in the Sicilian colony of Messana (Messina).
Sabellic was originally the collective ethnonym of the Italic people who inhabited central and southern Italy at the time of Roman expansion. The name was later used by Theodor Mommsen in his Unteritalische Dialekte to describe the pre-Roman dialects of Central Italy that were neither Oscan nor Umbrian.
The term is currently used for the Osco-Umbrian languages as a whole. The word "Sabellic" was once applied to all such minor languages, Osco-Umbrian or not. North Picene was included, even though it remains unclear whether it is related.
The Osco-Umbrian languages or dialects of which testimony is preserved are:
Little-documented variants collectively known as "Sabellic dialects" are ascribed without much evidence to the two main groups. Some authors doubt such traditional classification, placing, for example, Aequian and Vestinian in opposite branches, instead of grouping them together.
The Osco-Umbrian languages were fusional inflected languages with about 5 different morphological cases in the singular, similar to those of Latin.
Although the Osco-Umbrian languages are far more poorly attested than Latin, a corpus of a few thousand words' worth of inscriptions has allowed linguists to deduce some cladistic innovations and retentions. For example, while Proto-Indo-European aspirates appear as b, d and h/g between vowels in Latin (medius < *medʰyos), the aspirates all appear in Sabellic as f (Oscan mefiai < *medʰyos). In addition, while Latin retained the Proto-Indo-European labiovelar series ("Q-Italic"), the Osco-Umbrian languages merged them with the labials ("P-Italic"): Latin quattuor, Oscan petora.