Language of the week: Volscian

It’s not often that the Language of the Week(TM) discusses a language where the entire extant corpus fits in a blog post, but Volscian is a good example. What we know of Volscian is the following 4 lines:

deue declune statom. sepis atahus, pis uelestrom
façia esaristrom se bim asif, uesclis uinu arpatitu
sepis toticu couehriu sepu, ferom pihom estu.
ec se cosuties ma ca tafanies medix sistiatiens.

A picture of the tablet (the Tabula Veliterna) is available here, from the Naple National Archaeological Museum.

Volscian is a Sabellic language – that is, it’sItalic (related to Latin) but within that subgroup of Indo-European it’s more closely related to Oscan and Umbrian than to Latin. It shares a number of sounds with Oscan and/or Umbrian which Latin does not undergo, for example. Pis in the inscription is Latin quis ‘what’ – sepis = siquis ‘anyone’. Wikipedia makes some suggestions about their origins.

This site has a translation of the text. Looking at it from the Latin point of view, it seems a fairly accurate translation. One thing that stands out is the first word: deue. Latin [famously] doesn’t have a vocative singular for the word for god, whereas this is variously taken as a masculine singular vocative agreeing with Declune (the god Declunus) or a presumably nom/voc feminine singular related to Decluna. innaresting.

This language is particularly appropriate given the comments at Sandra Chung’s LSA plenary on us [i.e. the profession] perhaps needing to walk away from the languages with small corpora and concentrating on the large understudied languages. More on that in another post. Suffice it to say that even with four lines there’s plenty of interesting stuff to be said, and while we’d hope for more, 4 lines is much better than no lines.

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