Faliscan language


Faliscan red-figure vase
Native to ancient Italy
Region Lazio
Extinct about 150 BC
Faliscan, Etruscan, and Latin alphabets
Language codes
ISO 639-3 xfa
Linguist list
Glottolog fali1291[1]

The Faliscan language was the now-extinct Italic language of the ancient Falisci, forming, together with Latin, the Latino-Faliscan languages group of the Italic languages. It seems probable that the language persisted, though being gradually permeated with Latin, until at least 150 BC.


An estimated 355 inscriptions survive, mostly short and dating from the 7th to 2nd centuries BC. Some are written in a variety of the Old Italic alphabet derived from the Etruscan, and are written from right to left, but show some traces of the influence of the Latin alphabet. An inscription to Ceres of c. 600 BC, found in Falerii and usually taken as the oldest example, reads left to right.[2]

A specimen of the language appears written round the edge of a picture on a patera, the genuineness of which is established by the fact that the words were written before the glaze was put on: "foied vino pipafo, cra carefo", i. e. in Latin hodie vinum bibam, cras carebo 'today I will drink wine; tomorrow I won't have any.'[3]

There are remains found in graves, which belong mainly to the period of Etruscan domination and give ample evidence of material prosperity and refinement. Earlier strata have yielded more primitive remains from the Italic epoch. A large number of inscriptions consisting mainly of proper names may be regarded as Etruscan rather than Faliscan, and they have been disregarded in the account of the dialect just given. It should perhaps be mentioned that there was a town Feronia in Sardinia, named probably after their native goddess by Faliscan settlers, from some of whom we have a votive inscription found at S. Maria di Falleri.[4]

Phonetic characteristics

Some of the phonetic characteristics of the Faliscan language are:

  1. The retention of medial f which in Latin became b;
  2. The palatalization of d+ consonant i into some sound denoted merely by i- the central sound of foied, from fo-died;
  3. The loss of final s, at least before certain following sounds (cra beside Latin cras);
  4. The retention of the labiovelars (Fal. cuando = Latin quando; contrast Umbrian pan(n)u);
  5. The assimilation of some final consonants to the initial sound of the next word: "pretod de zenatuo sententiad" (Conway, lib. cit. 321), i.e. in Latin "praetor de senatus sententia" (zenatuo for senatuos, an archaic genitive).

The problem of f/h

The question of irregular, i. e., unexpected developments of PIE voiced aspirates in Faliscan as opposed to the normal Latin rendering, consists in the appearance of both h and f as reflexes of *bh/*dh and *gh: e. g., filea 'daughter' and hileo 'son' versus Latin filius < PIE *dheh1-lyo- and fe 'here' and hec versus Latin hic < PIE *ghey-ke.

In 1991 R. E. Wallace and B. D. Joseph offered an explanation of this phenomenon. They suggested that, while it is documented also in Latin,[5] it is the Faliscan material that provides a clearer picture of the supposed developments.

They remark that the unexpected outcomes are absent from the archaic Faliscan inscriptions and that regular outcomes largely outnumber the irregular ones in the Faliscan epigraphic corpus. The unexpected outcomes show up only in middle and late Faliscan. These are the only instances:

a.  h for expected f:
hileo 'son' M(iddle) F(aliscan)
hirmia (gentilicium) MF (firmio also attested in MF)
hirmio (gentilicium) L(ate) F
holcosio (gentilicium) LF
haba 'a kind of bean' < *bhabo- (cited by grammarian Terentius Scaurus as Faliscan)
b.  f for expected h:
foied 'today' MF < *gho:d d(i)ed
fe 'here' LF < *ghey-ke

Wallace and Joseph suppose that the first change is a natural sound change that can be seen in many languages (e. g. Castillan hijo 'son' from Latin filium 'son' [accusative]), which in Faliscan, though, affected only a limited number of possible candidate words. The second outcome cannot be explained as a sound change and thence they argue it is a hypercorrect form caused by the other development: at a time in which the change from f to h was taking place and awareness of the correct developments was being lost, some speakers started restoring f where it was not etymologically appropriate.[6]


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Faliscan". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. G. C. L. M. Bakkum, The Latin dialect of the Ager Faliscus: 150 years of scholarship, Volume 2, University of Amsterdam Press, 2009, p. 1 for estimated number or inscriptions, p. 393ff. for Ceres inscription, and p. 406 for its general acceptance as the oldest example of Faliscan dialect. googlebooks preview
  3. R. S. Conway, Italic Dialects, p. 312, b
  4. Conway, ib. p. 335.
  5. PIE *bher- > horda for forda, pregnant cow: Varro De re rustica II 5, 6; *ghaydo- fedus for hedus, goat Paulus Festi excerpta p. 84 M.
  6. Rex E. Wallace and Brian D. Joseph "On the Problematic f/h Variation in Faliscan " in Glotta LXIX 1991 pp. 84–93.


Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Falisci.

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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