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Classification: Indo-European, Italic, Sabellian. Umbrian belongs to a group of related languages, called Sabellian, that were prevalent in pre-Roman Italy. Umbrian is one of the best attested of them. It was quite similar to Oscan and Volscian (other Sabellian languages), and more distantly related to Latin and Faliscan.

Overview. Umbrian was one of a number of Indo-European languages existent in the Italic peninsula at the beginning of the historical period (700-600 BCE). It was spoken in the central region of the peninsula until it was displaced by Latin at the end of the millennium. It is known by a handful of inscriptions.

Distribution and Status. Umbrian was  the language of Umbria (central Italy), east of the Tiber River valley, in the second half of the last millennium BCE. It became extinct a couple of centuries before Oscan which is attested until the 1st century CE.

Documents. There are about forty Umbrian inscriptions in total. The longest surviving inscription in an Italic language, besides Latin, is contained in the:


  1. Tabulae Iguvinae (Iguvine Tablets), a collection of seven bronze tablets inscribed between the 1st half of the 3rd century BCE and the end of the 2nd century BCE. Discovered near Gubbio (ancient Iguvium), they contain ritual and cultic instructions of a religious brotherhood. The tablets are written in an Umbrian alphabet derived from Etruscan as well as in the Latin script.



Umbrian is more innovative than Oscan in its sound system. Umbrian has two additional fricatives (ʃ, ʐ) but the glottal fricative (h) is weakly articulated and lost in some phonetic contexts. Compared to Oscan, it has two additional vowels (o:, ɔ)

Vowels. Umbrian had 13 simple vowels and 2 diphthongs.

  1. a)Monophthongs (13):



  1. b)Diphthongs (2): ei, ai

Consonants (17).


Script and Orthography

Umbrian was written in a version of the Etruscan-based alphabet. Some late Umbrian inscriptions were written in the Latin alphabet. The Umbrian alphabet lacked  specific signs for [o] and voiced stops.

  1. [o] is represented by u.

  2. the voiced stops didn’t have specific signs: [d] was represented by t; [g] was represented by k. The only exception was [b] but even this could be represented by p.

  3. [ʃ] was represented by ç.

  4. [ʐ] used the delta sign and is transliterated ř.

  5. [w] is transliterated v.

  6. [j] had no independent letter, it employed the same letter as [i].

Morphology. Umbrian, like other Italic languages, was inflective, adding suffixes to nominal and verbal stems to mark a variety of grammatical categories.

  1. Nominal. Nouns, adjectives and pronouns were inflected for case, gender, and number.

  1. case: nominative, vocative, accusative, dative, ablative, genitive, locative.

  1. gender: masculine, feminine, neuter.

  1. number: singular, plural.

  1. pronouns: personal, reflexive, demonstrative, emphatic, interrogative, indefinite, relative.

  2. Personal pronouns were genderless and had forms only for the first and second persons; for the third person demonstrative pronouns were used.

  1. Verbal.

  2. person and number: 1s, 2s, 3s; 1p, 2p, 3p.

  1. tensepresent, imperfect, future, perfect, future perfect.

  2. The finite verb system is divided into two groups, the infectum and the perfectum. Present, imperfect and future tenses are built on the stem of the infectum while the perfect and future perfect on that of the perfectum.

  1. aspect: imperfective that corresponds with the infectum of the present system and perfective that corresponds with the perfectum of the perfect system.

  1. mood: indicative, imperative, subjunctive.

  1. voice: active, medio-passive.

  1. non-finite forms: present infinitives, both active and medio-passive, present and past participles, gerundive.


Word order is predominantly Subject-Object-Verb, but permutations are frequent. Adjectives occupy postnominal position. Numerals and pronominal modifiers are almost invariably placed before the noun. Adjectives and nouns agree in number, gender and case. Verbs agree with their subject in person and number.


Umbrian incorporated loanwords from Greek, Etruscan and Latin.

Basic Vocabulary

one: unu

two: dur

three: tris

five: pompe

six: sesto

nine: nuvime

ten: desen

brother: frater (nom. pl. masc.)

foot:  peri (abl. sg. masc)

fire: pir (nominative/accusative, neuter, sg)

water: utur (nominative/accusative, neuter, sg)

community: totam (accusative, feminine sg)

to be: est

carries: ferest (future, 3rd sg)

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -'Sabellian Languages'. R. E. Wallace. In The Ancient Languages of Europe, 96-123. R. D. Woodard (ed). Cambridge University Press (2008).

  2. -A Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian. C. D Buck. Evolution Publishing (2005, reprinted from Ginn 1928).

  3. -Wörterbuch des Oskisch-Umbrischen. J. Untermann. Carl Winter (2000).

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