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Quick Facts
TypeC&V Alphabetic
GenealogyProto-Sinaitic > Greek
LocationEurope > Italy
Time500 BCE to 100 CE
DirectionRight to Left

Before Rome became the dominant state of the Italic Peninsula and imposed its culture and language on the non-Roman Italic population, there were a bewildering number of ethnic and linguistic groups that thrived in the Peninsula. One of these groups is the Oscans, who occupied the southern part of the Peninsula that were not settled by Greeks.

The Oscan speakers adopted the Etruscan alphabet to write their language. This event probably occurred around the 7th century BCE but the first evidence of the Oscan alphabet did not appear until the 5th century BCE in the form of inscriptions on coins. Because the Oscan language is Indo-European, its phonology is different from that of Etruscan. As a result, many letters not used in Etruscan but inherited from Greek were revived to denote Oscan sounds such as [b], [g], and [d]. Sometimes the u letter is used to denote the [o] sound (which did not exist in Etruscan and therefore there was no letter for it). Also, two new letters were invented during the 4th century BCE, namely í and ú, for the long vowels of [i:] and [u:]. The total tally of letters in the Oscan alphabet is therefore 21.

A note about the previous chart of the Oscan alphabet: The black letter is the Oscan letter, the blue is the traditional Roman transcription of the corresponding Oscan letter, and the red in brackets is the phonetic pronunciation of the Oscan letter.

The Oscan alphabet is written from right to left, a feature preserved in Etruscan but not in Latin. Also, to mark separation between words, a dot is used, as in the following example from Pompeii:

As Rome conquered territory occupied by Oscans, it assimilated the Oscan people into the Roman world. As a consequence, the Oscan ethnic identity and culture disappeared, and the Oscan language ceased to be spoken and written by the end of the 1st century CE.

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