OSCA LINGUA, or Oscan, the name given by the Romans to the language of (i) the Samnite tribes, and (2) the inhabitants of Campania (excluding the Greek colonies) from the 4th century B.C. onwards. We know from inscriptions that it extended southwards over the whole of the Peninsula, except its two extreme projections (see Bruttii and Messapii) covering the districts known as Lucania and Frcntanum, and the greater part of Apulia (see Lucania, Frentani, Apulia). Northward, a very similar dialect was spoken in the Central Apennine region by the Paeligni, Vestini (q.v.) and others. But there is some probability that both in the North and in the South the dialect spoken varied slightly from what we may call the standard or central Oscan of Samnium. There can also be no reasonable doubt, though doubt has strangely been raised, that the popular farces at Rome called Atellanae were acted in Oscan; Strabo (v. p. 233) records this most explicitly as a curious survival.
This name, for what ought probably to be called the Samnite or Safine speech, is due to historical causes, but is, in fact, incorrect. The Osci proper were not Samnites, but the Italic, Pre-Tuscan and Pre-Greek inhabitants of Campania. This is the sense in which Strabo regularly uses the name Ὄσκοι (ψf. V. 247), so that it is quite possible that we should connect them with the other tribes whose Ethnica were formed with the -co- suffix and with the plebs of Rome (see Volsci and Rome).
For further evidence as to the history of the names Osci, Opsci, Opici, see R. S. Conway, The Italic Dialects, p. 149.
The chief monuments of the language, as spoken in Campania, come from Pompeii, Nola, Capua and Cumae (q.v.). From the two towns last mentioned we have the interesting group of heraldic inscriptions known as Iovilae (q.v.), and two interesting curses inscribed on lead plates and, so to speak, posted in graves, for conveyance to the deities of the Underworld. One of these may be quoted as a typical specimen of the Oscan of Campania:
From the memnim-Curse:-
statiis gaviis nep fatium nep deıͤkum putıͤans;
luvkis uhtavis nuͦvellum velliam
nep deıͤkum nep fatıͤum putıͤad,
nep memnim nep ulam sıͤfei heriiad.
“(Lucius Octauius, Statius Gauius neue memorare neue indicare possint. Lucius Octauius Nouellum Velliam neue memorare neue indicare possit, neue monument um neue sepulcrum (?) sibi adipiscatur.”)
The language as spoken in Samnium may be illustrated by a few sentences from the Tabula Agnonensis, now in the British Museum:—
statuͦs puͦs set huͦrtin kerrıͤiıͤm;
diuͦveıͤ verehasiuͦıͤ statif, diuͦveıͤ regatureıͤ statıͤf,
herekluͦıͤ kerrıͤiuͦi statıͤf, patanaıͤ piıͤstıͤaıͤ statıͤf,
deıͤvaıͤ genetaıͤ statıͤf. aasaıͤ purasiaıͤ saahtuͦm
tefuͦrum alttreıͤ putereıͤpıͤd akeneıͤ sakahıͤter.
fluusasiaıͤs az huͦrtuͦm sakarater;
pernaıͤ kerrıͤiaıͤ statıͤf, ammaıͤ kerrlıͤaıͤ statıͤf,
fluusaıͤ kerrıͤiaıͤ statıͤf, evkluıͤ patereıͤ statıͤf.
(“Qui erecti sunt in horto Cereali. Ioui uigiliarum patrono (?) statua, Ioui Rectori statua, Herculi Cereali statua, Pandae Πιστίᾳ (?) statua, Diuae Genetae statua. In ara ignea crematio sancta altero quoque festo (an ‘anno’?) sancitur (an ‘sanciatur’?). Deabus Floralibus iuxta hortum sacratur (an ‘sacrantur’?): Anteuortae (?) Cereali statua, Nutrici Cereali statua. Florae Cereali statua, Mercurio patri statua.”)
It remains to notice briefly (1) the chief characteristics which mark off the Osco-Umbrian, or, as they might more conveniently be termed, the Safine group of dialects, from the Latinian, and (2) the features which distinguish Oscan and the dialects most closely allied to it, e.g. North-Oscan (see Paeligni), from the Umbrian or (more strictly) Iguvine dialect (see Iguvium).
(A.) Phonology.—1. The conversion of the Indo-European velars into labials, e.g. Oscan and Umbrian pis = Lat. quis, Osc. Umb. pod = Lat. quod.
Umb. petiur-pursus = Lat. quadrupedibus; Osc. kombened = Lat. convēnit, from the Indo-European root *guem-, Eng. come, Sanskrit gam-; Umb. accusative bum = Sanskrit gām, Eng. cow, the Lat. bos, bouis having been borrowed from some Safine dialect, since the pure Latin form would have been *uōs.
2. The extrusion or syncope (a) of short vowels in the second syllable of a word, e.g. Oscan opsā-, Umbrian osā-, from an Italic stem *opesā-, “to work, build,” cf. Lat. opera, “work,” and operāri (although this verb appears in Latin to have been invented only at a late period); Osc. actud, Umb. aitu = Lat. agito; Umb. mersto- from Italic *medesto-, “iustus,” beside Lat. modestus. (b) Of short vowels before final s, Osc. huͦrz (pronounced horts) = Lat. hortus; Umb. ikuvins = Lat. Iguuinus; Osc. nom. pl. humuns, O. Lat. homōnes; Umb. abl. pl. avis for *avifos = Lat. auibus.
3. The preservation of s before n, m and l (whereas in Latin it is lost with “compensatory lengthening” of the previous vowel when the change is medial): Umb. ahesnes, abl. pl. = Lat. ahenis; Paelignian prismu (nom. sing, fem.) = Lat. prima; Osc. Slabiis = Lat. Labius.
4. Instead of Lat. -nd- we have in Osco-Umbrian nn—which the Umbrian poet Plautus reproduces as a vulgarism in the well-known line (Miles Glor., v. 14, I. 1399), distennite hominem, et dispennite; hence the gerundives, Osc. opsannam = Lat. operandam. So Umbrian pihaner, from pihanneis (gen. sing. masc), equivalent to Lat. piandi. It is not certain what the original group of sounds was which appears in the shape of -nn- in Osco-Umbrian and -nd- in Latin, nor whether this group of sounds, whatever it was (possibly -ni̯-), became -nd- before it became -nn-.
5. Final ā became o in both Oscan (uͦ) and Umbrian (often written u), e.g. Oscan vıͤuͦ = Lat. uia; Umb. adro (nom. pl. neut.) = Lat. atra.
6. Italic ē became closer in Osco-Umbrian; in the Oscan alphabet it is denoted by a special sign ꜔, which is best reproduced by ıͤ (although the misleading symbol í with an accent upon it is frequently used). In the Umbrian alphabet (see Iguvium) it is variously written e and i, and in the Latin alphabet, when used to write Oscan and Umbrian, we have e, i, and occasionally even ei, e.g. Osc. lıͤgatuͦıͤs = Lat. legatis, but ligis (in Latin alphabet) = Lat. legibus; Umb. tref and trif = Lat. tres; N. Osc. sefei = Lat. sibi.
7. An original short i in Osco-Umbrian became identical in quality, though not in quantity, with the vowel just described, and is written with just the same symbols in all the alphabets, e.g. Osc. pıͤd, Umb. ped- = Lat. quid.
8. Precisely analogous changes happened with Italic ō and ĭ; the resulting vowel being denoted in Oscan alphabet both by u and by uͦ (Vͦ), in Umbrian alphabet by u, in Latin alphabet by o.
It is well to add here one or two other characteristics in which Oscan alone is more primitive, not merely than Latin, but even than Umbrian.
(a) Oscan retains s between vowels, whereas in both Latin and Umbrian it became r. In Oscan it seems to have become voiced, as it is represented by z in Latin alphabet, e.g. gen. pl. fem. egmazum, “rerum”; ezum, in Oscan alphabet esom, pres. infin. “esse.”
(b) Oscan retains the diphthongs ai, ei, oi, on (representing both original eu and ou) and au even in unaccented syllables, e.g. abl. pl. feıͤhuͦıͤs, “muris”; dat. pi. diumpaıͤs, “lymphis”; infin. deicum “dicere.”
(c) Oscan retains final, d, e.g. abl. masc. sing, dolud = Lat. dolo.
(B.) Morphology.—I. In nouns. (a) Considerable levelling has taken place between the consonantal and the -o- stems; thus the gen. sing. masc. of Osc. teerom (neut. = Lat. “terra”) is teereis, just like that of the consonantal stem tangin-, gen. tanginels. Conversely we have the abl. tanginud on the pattern of o- stem ablatives, like dolud. (b) In the ā-stems and the e-stems we have several primitive forms which are obscured in Latin, e.g. gen. sing. fem. eituas, “pecuniae”; gen. pi. masc. Nuͦvlanuͦm, “Nolanorum”; and the locative is still a living case in both declensions, e.g. Osc. tereıͤ “in terra,” vıͤaıͤ “in via.”
II. In verbs. (a) The formation of the infinitive in -um-, e.g. Osc. ezum, Umb. erom, “esse”; opsaum, “operari, facere” (cf. art Latin Language, § 32). (b) The formation of the future, and future perfect indicative respectively, with stems in -es- and -us-; Oscan didest, “dahit”; deivast, “iurabit]”; censaze (n)l, “censebunt”; Umb. ferest, “feret”; fut. perf. Osc. fefacust, “fecerit”; Osc. and Umb. fust, “fuerit”; Vmb. fakust, “ieccrit,” fakurent, “fecerint”; furent, “fuerint.” (c) Several new methods of forming the perfect from vowel stems, e.g. the Oscan and Umbrian -f- perfects. Osc. 1st sing. perf. manafum, “mandaui”; 3rd sing, aamanaffed, “mandauit, imperauit”; 3rd pi. Osc. fufens, “fuerunt” (cf. Umb. perf. subj. passive impersonal pihafei, “piatum sit”). One other formation occurs frequently in Oscan (from ā- verbs), whose origin is obscure, in this the perfect characteristic is -tt-, e.g. pruͦfatted, “probauit.” (d) The peculiar and interesting impersonal or semi-personal forms which ultimately developed into a full passive, e.g. Osc. sakrafıͤr, “sacrauerit aliquis” governing an accusative; Umb. ferar, “ferat aliquis” (see the section on the passive under Latin Language).
(C.) Syntax.—It may be said generally that there are very few if any peculiarities in the syntax of the Oscan and Umbrian inscriptions as compared with Latin usage, though a large number of familiar Latin idioms appear, such as the abl. absolute; the abl. of circumstance, the genitive in judicial phrases, the use of the neut. adj. as an abstract substantive, e.g. Oscan ualaemom touticom, “optimum publicum,” i.e. “optima rei publicae ratio.” In verbal forms the same use of the gerundive combined with the noun to represent the total verbal action, e.g. Umb. ocrer pehaner paca, “arcis piandae causa”; the usual sequence of tenses, e.g. the imperfect subj. in Oratio Obliqua representing the fut. indic. in Oratio Recta (see Cippus Abellamus b 23, 25); and finally the use of the perf. subj. in Oscan in prohibitions (nep fefacid, “neue fecerit”), but also in positive commands (Osc. sakrafir[?], see above).
Fuller accounts of the dialects in all these aspects will be found most exhaustively in Von Planta, Grammatik der Oskisch-umbrischen Dialekte (Strassburg, 1892-1897). Less fully, but very clearly and acutely in C. D. Buck's Oscan and Umbrian Grammar (Boston, U.S.A., 1904). R. S. Conway, The Italic Dialects, vol. ii. (Cambridge, 1897), gives a fuller account of the alphabets and their history, a Conspectus of the Accidence and an account of the Syntax at some length. (R. S. C.)