Proto-Italic language

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The Proto-Italic language is the ancestor of the Italic languages, including notably Latin. It is not directly attested in writing, but has been reconstructed to some degree through the comparative method. Proto-Italic descended from the earlier Proto-Indo-European language.



Proto-Italic consonants
Bilabial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Labial–velar
Nasal m n (ŋ)
Plosive p  b t  d k  ɡ kʷ  ɡʷ
Fricative ɸ  (β) θ?  ð? s  (z) x  (ɣ) xʷ?  ɣʷ?
Trill r
Approximant j w
Lateral l
  • [ŋ] was an allophone of /n/ before a velar consonant.
  • The voiced fricatives [β], [ð], [ɣ], [ɣʷ] and [z] were in complementary distribution with word-initial voiceless fricatives [ɸ], [θ], [x], [xʷ] and [s], and were thus originally simply allophones of each other. However, at some point in the Proto-Italic period, the allophony was somewhat disrupted by the loss of the voiceless allophones [xʷ] and [θ], which merged with [ɸ]. Scholars disagree on whether to reconstruct Proto-Italic with the phonemes /xʷ ~ ɣʷ/ and /θ ~ ð/ still present (hence assuming that the merger with [ɸ] was a later areal change that spread across all extant dialects, possibly occurring simultaneous with or after the loss of the corresponding voiced fricatives), or to reconstruct Proto-Italic with the phonemes' voiceless allophones merged into /ɸ ~ β/, and their voiced allophones becoming independent phonemes /ð/, /ɣʷ/. Both of these sounds are relatively uncommon cross-linguistically, and eventually they were eliminated in all later languages, but differently in each.


Short vowels
Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e (ə) o
Open a
Long vowels
Front Central Back
  • /ə/ was perhaps not a true phoneme, but was inserted before consonants as a prop vowel. It can be reconstructed based on the outcome of the Proto-Indo-European syllabic nasals *m̥ and *n̥, which appear in Latin as *em, *en or *im, *in, but also as *am, *an in Osco-Umbrian alongside *em, *en. Thus, it appears necessary to reconstruct /ə/ as a distinct sound.

Proto-Italic had the following diphthongs:

  • Short: *ai, *ei, *oi, *au, *ou
  • Long: *āi, *ēi, *ōi

Osthoff's law remained productive in Proto-Italic. This caused long vowels to shorten when they were followed by a sonorant and another consonant in the same syllable: VːRC > VRC. As the long diphthongs were also VːR sequences, they could only occur word-finally, and were shortened elsewhere. Long vowels were also shortened before word-final *-m. This is the cause of the many occurrences of short -a- in, for example, the endings of the ā-stems or of ā-verbs.


Proto-Italic words had a fixed stress on the first syllable of the word. This stress pattern probably remained in most descendants. In Latin, it remained during the Old Latin period, after which it was replaced with the "Classical" penultimate stress pattern.



Nouns could have one of three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. They declined for seven of the eight Proto-Indo-European cases: nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative, ablative and locative. The instrumental case had been lost. Nouns also declined for number in singular and plural. The dual number was no longer distinguished, although a few remnants (like Latin duo, ambō) still preserved some form of the inherited dual inflection.


This is the "second declension" of Latin. It descends from the Proto-Indo-European thematic declension. Most nouns in this class were masculine or neuter, but there may have been some feminine nouns as well.

o-stem declension[1]
*agros[2] m.
*jugom[2] n.
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative *agros *agrōs
*jugom *jugā
Vocative *agre *agrōs
*jugom *jugā
Accusative *agrom *agrons *jugom *jugā
Genitive *agrosjo
*agrom *jugosjo
Dative *agrōi *agrois *jugōi *jugois
Ablative *agrōd *agrois *jugōd *jugois
Locative *agroi?
*agrois *jugoi?
  • The genitive singular in *-ī is of unknown origin, but is found in both Italic and Celtic. It mostly ousted the older (presumably inherited) genitive in *-osjo in Latin. The older form is found in a few inscriptions, such as popliosio valesiosio on the Lapis Satricanus. It is also continued in some pronominal genitives, such as cuius < *kʷojjo-s < *kʷosjo, with -s added by analogy with the consonant stem genitive in -os.[3] In Osco-Umbrian, neither ending survives, being replaced with *-eis, the i-stem ending.
  • The nominative plural was originally *-ōs for nouns and adjectives, and *-oi for pronominal forms. The distribution in Proto-Italic is unclear, but both endings certainly still existed. The *-ōs ending was replaced altogether in Latin in favour of *-oi, whence the classical . In Osco-Umbrian, the reverse happened, where *-oi was replaced with *-ōs, whence Oscan -ús, Umbrian -us.
  • In Old Latin, the genitive plural was still generally -om, later -um. It was then reformed based on the ā-stem form *-āzom, giving the classical -ōrum.


This class represents the "first declension" of Latin. It derives primarily from Proto-Indo-European nouns in *-eh₂-, and contained mostly feminine nouns, but maybe a few masculines.

ā-stem declension[4]
*toutā[2] f.
"people, populace"
Singular Plural
Nominative *toutā *toutās
Vocative *toutā *toutās
Accusative *toutām *toutans
Genitive *toutās *toutāzom
Dative *toutāi *toutais
Ablative *toutād *toutais
Locative *toutāi *toutais
  • The accusative singular ending would have been *-am originally, due to shortening of long vowels before final *-m. However, a long vowel is found in the attested forms. This long vowel most likely arose by analogy with the other endings that have a long vowel.[5]
  • The genitive plural ending was originally a pronominal form, PIE *-eh₂-soHom.

Consonant stems

This class contained nouns with stems ending in a variety of consonants. They included root nouns, n-stems, r-stems, s-stems and t-stems among others. They are grouped in Latin under the "third declension", which also includes the i-stems, originally a distinct class.

Masculine and feminine nouns declined alike, while neuters had different forms in the nominative/accusative/vocative.

Consonant stem declension[6]
*sniks[2] f.
*kord[2] n.
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative *sniks *sniɣʷes *kord *kordā
Vocative *sniks *sniɣʷes *kord *kordā
Accusative *sniɣʷəm *sniɣʷəns *kord *kordā
Genitive *sniɣʷes
*sniɣʷom *kordes
Dative *sniɣʷei *sniɣʷ(?)βos *kordei *kord(?)βos
Ablative *sniɣʷi
*sniɣʷ(?)βos *kordi
Locative *sniɣʷi *sniɣʷ(?)βos *kordi *kord(?)βos

Nouns in this class often had a somewhat irregular nominative singular form. This created several subtypes, based on the final consonant of the stem.

  • For most consonant stem nouns, the ending of the nominative/vocative singular was -s for masculine and feminine nouns. This ending would cause devoicing, delabialisation and/or hardening of the stem-final consonant, as seen in *sniks above. Neuter nouns had no ending.
  • n-stems generally had the ending *-ō, with the infix *-on- (or maybe *-en-) in the other cases. Neuters had *-ən in the nom/voc/acc singular, while the stem of the remaining forms is unclear.
  • r-stems had *-ēr, alternating with *-(e)r-. The alternation in vowel length was lost in Latin, but is preserved in Oscan.
  • s-stems had *-ōs (for masculines and feminines) or *-os (for neuters). This alternated with *-ez- (or maybe *-oz- in some masculine/feminine nouns) in the other forms.
  • The r/n-stems were a small group of neuter nouns. These had *-or in the nominative/vocative/accusative singular, but *-(e)n- in the remaining forms.

Other notes:

  • The genitive singular had two possible endings. Both are attested side by side in Old Latin, although the ending -es/-is may also be from the i-stems (see below). In Osco-Umbrian, only the i-stem ending -eis is found.
  • The Latin masculine nominative plural ending -ēs (with a long vowel) was taken from the i-stems.
  • The neuter nominative/vocative/accusative plural originally had short *-a as the ending, or lengthening of the vowel before the final consonant. Already in Italic, this was replaced with the o-stem ending *-ā.
  • The genitive (and ablative/locative?) plural ending would have originally been added directly to the stem, with no intervening vowel. In Latin, there is an intervening -e- or -i-, while in Osco-Umbrian the ending is replaced altogether. It's not clear what the Proto-Italic situation was.


This class represents the nouns of the Latin "third declension" that had the genitive plural ending -ium (rather than -um). In Latin, the consonant stems gradually merged with this class. This process continued into the historical era; e.g. in Caesar's time (c. 50 BC) the i-stems still had a distinct accusative plural ending -īs, but this was replaced with the consonant-stem ending -ēs by the time of Augustus (c. 1 AD). In Proto-Italic, as in the other Italic languages, i-stems were still very much a distinct type and showed no clear signs of merging.

Masculine and feminine nouns declined alike, while neuters had different forms in the nominative/accusative/vocative.

*məntis[2] f.
*mari[2] n.
"sea, lake"
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative *məntis *məntēs *mari *mar (-īā?)
Vocative *məntis *məntēs *mari *mar (-īā?)
Accusative *məntim *məntins *mari *mar (-īā?)
Genitive *mənteis
*məntjom *mareis
Dative *məntēi *məntiβos *marēi *mariβos
Ablative *məntīd *məntiβos *marīd *mariβos
Locative *məntei *məntiβos *marei *mariβos
  • There were apparently two different forms for the genitive singular. The form -eis is found in Osco-Umbrian. However, -es appears in early Latin, while there is no sign of *-eis. This could reflect the consonant-stem ending, but it could also come from *-jes.[8] Compare also *-wos of the u-stems, which is attested in Old Latin, and may represent a parallel formation.
  • The original form of the neuter nominative/vocative/accusative plural was *-ī. Already in Italic, this was extended by adding the o-stem ending to it.


The u-stems form what is the "fourth declension" in Latin. They were historically parallel to the i-stems, and still showed many similar forms, with j/i being replaced with w/u. However, sound changes had made them somewhat different over time.

*portus[2] m.
"harbour, port"
*kornu/ū[2] n.
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative *portus *portous?
*kornu? (-ū?) *korn (-ūā?)
Vocative *portus *portous?
*kornu? (-ū?) *korn (-ūā?)
Accusative *portum *portuns *kornu? (-ū?) *korn (-ūā?)
Genitive *portous
*portwom *kornous
Dative *portowei *portuβos *kornowei *kornuβos
Ablative *portūd *portuβos *kornūd *kornuβos
Locative *portowi? *portuβos *kornowi? *kornuβos
  • The neuter nominative/vocative/accusative singular must have originally been short *-u, but in Latin only long is found. It is unclear what the origin of this could be. It may be a remnant of a dual ending, considering that neuter u-stems were rare, and the few that survived tended to occur in pairs.[10]
  • Like the i-stems, the u-stems had two possible types of genitive singular ending, with an unclear distribution. *-ous is found in Oscan, and it is also the origin of the usual Latin ending -ūs. However, the Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus inscription attests senatvos, and the ending -uis (from *-wes) is also found in a few sources.[11]
  • The masculine/feminine nominative/vocative plural is not securely reconstructable. Latin -ūs seems to reflect *-ous, but from PIE *-ewes the form *-owes (Latin *-uis) would be expected. The ending is not attested in Osco-Umbrian or Old Latin, which might have otherwise given conclusive evidence.[12]
  • The original form of the neuter nominative/vocative/accusative plural was *-ū. Already in Italic, this was extended by adding the o-stem ending to it, like in the i-stems.


Adjectives inflected much the same as nouns. Unlike nouns, adjectives did not have inherent genders. Instead, they inflected for all three genders, taking on the same gender-form as the noun they referred to.

Adjectives followed the same inflectional classes of nouns. The largest were the o/ā-stem adjectives (which inflected as o-stems in the masculine and neuter, and as ā-stems in the feminine), and the i-stems. Present active participles of verbs (in *-nts) and the comparative forms of adjectives (in *-jōs) inflected as consonant stems. There were also u-stem adjectives originally, but they had been converted to i-stems by adding i-stem endings onto the existing u-stem, thus giving the nominative singular *-wis.




A list of regular phonetic changes from Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Italic follows. Because Latin is the only well-attested Italic language, it forms the main source for the reconstruction of Proto-Italic. It is therefore not always clear whether certain changes apply to all of Italic, or only to Latin, because of lack of conclusive evidence.


  • Palatovelars merged with plain velars, a change termed centumization.
    • *ḱ > *k
    • *ǵ > *g
    • *ǵʰ > *gʰ
  • *p...kʷ > *kʷ...kʷ, a change also found in Celtic.
  • Labiovelars lose their labialisation before a consonant: *kʷC, *gʷC, *gʷʰC > *kC, *gC, *gʰC.
  • Obstruent consonants become (unaspirated) voiceless before another voiceless consonant (usually *s or *t).
  • Voiced aspirates become fricatives. Word-initially, they become voiceless, while they are allophonically voiced word-medially. Judging from Oscan evidence, they apparently remained fricatives even after a nasal consonant. In most other Italic languages they developed into stops later in that position.
    • *bʰ > *f [ɸ] (medially *β)
    • *dʰ > *θ (medially *ð)
    • *gʰ > *x (medially *ɣ)
    • *ɡʷʰ > *xʷ (medially *ɣʷ)
  • *s was also allophonically voiced to *z word-medially.[13]
  • *sr, *zr > *θr, *ðr.[clarification needed]
  • *θ, *xʷ > *f. Found in Venetic vhagsto/hvagsto (compare Latin faciō). The voiced allophones *ð and *ɣʷ remained distinct from *β in Latin and Venetic, but also merged in Osco-Umbrian.
  • *tl > *kl word-medially.[13]

Vowels and sonorants

  • *l̥, *r̥ > *ol, *or[14]
  • *m̥, *n̥ > *əm, *ən (see above on "Vowels")
  • *j is lost between vowels. The resulting vowels in hiatus contract into a long vowel if the two vowels are the same.
  • *ew > *ow.[14]
  • *o > *a before labials and *l.


The laryngeals are a class of hypothetical PIE sounds *h₁, *h₂, *h₃ that usually disappeared in late PIE, leaving coloring effects on adjacent vowels. Their disappearance left some distinctive sound combinations in Proto-Italic. In the changes below, the # follows standard practice in denoting a word boundary; that is, # at the beginning denotes word-initial.[15] H denotes any of the three laryngeals.

The simpler Italic developments of laryngeals are shared by many other Indo-European branches:

  • *h₁e > *e, *h₂e > *a, *h₃e > *o
  • *eh₁ > *ē, *eh₂ > *ā, *eh₃ > *ō
  • *H > *a between obstruents
  • Laryngeals are lost word-initially before a consonant.

More characteristic of Italic are the interactions of laryngeals with sonorant consonants. Here, R represents a sonorant, and C a consonant.

  • #HRC > #aRC and CHRC > CaRC, but #HRV > #RV
  • CRHC > CRāC, but CRHV > CaRV
  • CiHC and probably CHiC > CīC


  • General loss of the dual, with only a few relics remaining.[16]
  • Loss of the instrumental case.[16]

Post-Italic developments

Further changes occurred during the evolution of individual Italic languages. This section gives an overview of the most notable changes. For complete lists, see History of Latin and other articles relating to the individual languages.

  • *x debuccalises to [h]. *ɣ similarly becomes [ɦ] between vowels, but remains elsewhere. This change possibly took place within the Proto-Italic period. The result, whether [h] or [ɦ], was written h in all Italic languages.
  • *θ(e)r, *ð(e)r > *f(e)r, *β(e)r in all but Venetic. Compare Venetic louder-obos to Latin līber, Faliscan loifir-ta, Oscan lúvfreis.
  • *β, *ð, *ɣ > Latin b, d, g. In Osco-Umbrian the result is f (probably voiced) for all three. In Faliscan, *β remains a fricative.
  • *ɣʷ > gʷ in Latin, which then develops as below. > f in Osco-Umbrian.
  • *dʷ > b in classical Latin, although still retained in the archaic (see Duenos inscription)
  • *kʷ, *gʷ > p, b in Osco-Umbrian. They are retained in Latino-Faliscan and Venetic. In Latin, *gʷ > v except after *n.
  • *z > r in Classical Latin and Umbrian, but not in Old Latin or Oscan.
  • Final -ā (fem. sg. nom., neut. pl. nom./acc.) > [oː] in Osco-Umbrian,[17][18] but becomes short -a in Latin.
  • Final *-ns (acc. pl. of various noun classes), *-nts (masc. nom. sg. of participles), and *-nt (neut. nom./acc. sg. of participles) developed in complex ways:[19]
PItal Pre-O-U Oscan Umbrian Pre-Latin Latin
*-ns *-ns -ss -f *-ns -s
*-nts *-nts -ns
*-nt *-nts -ns
  • Latin vowel reduction, during the Old Latin period. This merged many of the unstressed short vowels; most dramatically, all short vowels merged (usually to /i/) in open medial syllables. Furthermore, all diphthongs became pure vowels except for *ai and *au (and occasionally *oi) in initial syllables.


  1. Sihler 1995, pp. 256–265.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 de Vaan 2008.
  3. Sihler 1995, p. 387.
  4. Sihler 1995, pp. 266–272.
  5. Sihler 1995, p. 268.
  6. Sihler 1995, pp. 283–286.
  7. Sihler 1995, pp. 315–319.
  8. Sihler 1995, pp. 316–317.
  9. Sihler 1995, pp. 319–327.
  10. Sihler 1995, p. 323.
  11. Sihler 1995, p. 324.
  12. Sihler 1995, pp. 325–326.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Silvestri 1998, p. 326
  14. 14.0 14.1 Silvestri 1998, p. 325
  15. Bakkum 2009, pp. 58–61.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Silvestri 1998, p. 332
  17. Written o in the Latin alphabet, but ú in the native Oscan alphabet, and u or sometimes a in the native Umbrian alphabet. See Sihler 1995:266.
  18. Sihler 1995, p. 266.
  19. Sihler 1995, p. 230.


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