The Cisalpine Celtic Languages

From Lexicon Leponticum
Jump to navigationJump to search

This page is a work in progress. Improving and refining the criteria by which we can distinguish Lepontic from Cisalpine Gaulish is one of the main goals of LexLep; information will be added as the current revision phase (see The Project) is progressing.

Definition of "Lepontic"

Lepontic is a Celtic language that is attested in ca. 150 short inscriptions found in the North Italian lake region, and in the Swiss Canton Ticino. The inscriptions date from the 6th to the 1st centuries B.C. and they contain the earliest written testimonies of any Celtic language. According to the traditional definition, the inscriptions are all written in a local variant of the North Italic alphabet, usually called "Lepontic alphabet" or "Lugano alphabet". The attested Lepontic lexicon consists of only a few hundred items. (Cf. Uhlich 1999: 277; Uhlich 2007: 373 f.; De Marinis & Biaggio Simona 2000, Eska 2006 for basic information.)

Based on the linguistic evidence – though very fragmentary –, it is possible to establish distinctive analytical features for a linguistic classification. For some scholars, Lepontic is but an archaic and remote dialect of the Gaulish language (e.g., McCone 1996: 68 f.). In this project, however, we follow the opinion that Lepontic is a separate Celtic language with distinctive phonological and morphological features, albeit closely related to Gaulish (cf. Uhlich's argumentation in Uhlich 1999 and 2007).

For the classification of the Lepontic inscriptions, several factors have to be considered: linguistic aspects, chronological aspects, and geographical aspects.

Linguistic Aspects

Provisional catalogue of criteria for ascribing a word to Lepontic:

  1. all Celtic inscriptions with date before approx. 400 B.C. in the area of the North-Italian lakes
  2. en < *n̥C (vs. an in Gaulish)
  3. -m < *-m# (vs. -n in Gaulish)
  4. acc. pl. -eś, e.g. siteś?
  5. use of patronymic suffix -alo/ā- (vs. -ikno/ā- in Gaulish)
  6. gen. sg. of o-stems in -oiso? (vs. in Gaulish)
  7. 3sg pret. dedū (vs. dede in Gaulish); 3sg pret. in -ite (vs. -itu(s) in Gaulish)?
  8. special vocabulary: pala

Exclusive innovations shared with Cisalpine Gaulish (and not shared by Gaulish):

  1. *nd > nn (e.g. ande- > ane-)
  2. *nT > nT (e.g. *kom-bogios > -ko-pokios)
  3. *xs > ss (e.g. *eks- > es- in esopnos)

*nd > nn

Words in Cisalpine Celtic inscriptions in which etymological */nd/ is spelled with nu (preliminary list):

  1. anarekartos /andarekartos/ (if first element is ande-)
  2. anareuiśeos /andareu̯itseos/ (if first element is ande-)
  3. anokopokios /andokombogios/ (if first element is ando-)
  4. anteśilu /andtetsillū/ (if first element is ande-)
  5. esanekoti /esandekottī/ (ande-)
  6. alkouinos /alkou̯indos/ (u̯ind-)
  7. uini /u̯indī/ (if base is u̯ind-)
  8. raneni /randenī/ (if base is rand-)

The consistent spelling of etymological */nd/ with simple nu, most notably in alkouinos and a number of names with the prefix ande-, was seen by Lejeune 1971: 24 f. as evidence for an assimilation of /n/ to the homorganic consonant in this position. The issue is discussed in detail by Uhlich 2007: 384–387, who observes that many of the examples are uncertain (1–4 rather privative an-?), and that none of them are from unambiguously Lepontic contexts, but judges the cumulative evidence to be sufficient to support a sound change */nd/ > /nn/ (possibly eventually > /n/) in (Late) Lepontic and Cisalpine Gaulish. However, an explanation of why Lepontic and Cisalpine Gaulish should share a sound change to the exclusion of Transalpine Gaulish remains to be explained. It must also be observed that, in etymologically Celtic names attested in Roman inscriptions from Northern Italy, /d/ in the cluster /nd/ appears to be spelled consistently – a thorough investigation is in order, but a search of Untermann 1959, 1960 and 1961 yields e.g. anderoudos, andoblatio, andouarto, blanda, blandius, condexua, manduilla, uindillus and uindonus. On the other hand, it is difficult to see how the non-spelling of /d/ could be a purely orthographical rule, as has been argued for the non-spelling of /n/ in the cluster /nt/, which has parallels in other alphabetic scripts (see Uhlich 2007: 387–405). We suspend judgement for the time being; in forms which (may) contain etymological */nd/, both phonemes are reflected in the LexLep's phonemic analysis.

Chronological aspects

For the classification of Lepontic inscriptions chronological aspects should be taken into account additionally to the linguistic criteria. For this the dating of the inscriptions derived from their palaeographic and archaeological context is vital (cf. Uhlich 1999, 282 f.).

Uhlich divides the epigraphic evidence into three chronologically distinct periods (cf. Uhlich 2007: 379, 406 f.; Uhlich 1999: 290-292, 300 f.). In LexLep all inscriptions that correspond to Uhlich's Early Lepontic phase have been classified as Lepontic. Starting with the Middle Lepontic period the distinction between Lepontic and Cisalpine Gaulish is often ambiguous.

Dating Phase Archaeological context of the inscriptions Attestations
approx. 600 - 400 BC Lepontic (Uhlich: Early Lepontic) Golasecca Culture phases II - III ("pre-gaulish period") CO·2, CO·6, CO·9, CO·10, CO·11, CO·12, CO·13, CO·15, CO·16, CO·20, CO·21, CO·24, CO·25, CO·29, CO·30, CO·31, CO·47, CO·48, CO·49, CO·53, CO·54, CO·55, CO·56.1, CO·56.2, CO·69, CO·70, CO·71, CO·72, CO·73, NO·1, VA·6
approx. 400 - 200 BC Lepontic (Uhlich: Middle Lepontic)/
Cisalpine Gaulish
Latène context with continuing Golasecca influence, Latène B - C 1 ("gaulish period") In revision
approx. 200 - 1 BC Cisalpine Gaulish/
(Uhlich: Late Lepontic)
Latène context phases C 1 - D ("roman period") In revision

Only in the early phase (approx. 600–400 BC) the Lepontic sources seem to have the clearly distinctive linguistic features mentioned above. Probably after around 400 BC (this date is mainly based on the historical evidence related to the controversial Gaulish Invasion to northern Italy) the distinct Lepontic linguistic tradition starts being influenced by its related (transalpine) Gaulish counterpart. This influence by the Gaulish language can be clearly identified in the later periods (middle and especially late Lepontic inscriptions devised by Uhlich).

Since a clearcut differentiation of Lepontic and Cisalpine Gaulish is not very clear from the merely linguistic evidence (cf. Uhlich 1999, esp. 280 f., 298), in LexLep we restricted the classification of Lepontic to inscriptions that can be dated earlier than 400 BC.

Geographical Aspects

The core area of the Lepontic inscriptions can be delimited to the area around the Lake of Lugano, the Lake Maggiore, and the south-western tip of the Lake of Como (cf. Schrijver 2008: 123 f.).

Lejeune states that "Lepontic" inscriptions are concentrated within 50 km around Lugano (Lejeune 1971: 6 f., cf. pl. 1). The following map of sites included in Lexicon Leponticum shows the arbitrariness of this delimitation to the south and south-east. (By clicking on the icons marking the sites the distance to Lugano will be displayed.)

Loading map...

Early Inscriptions before 390 BC: Geographical Overview

Loading map...

Marker 030.png Lepontic (31); Marker 060.png Cisalpine Gaulish (0)


The inscriptions that share both the linguistic and chronological features described above, and that can therefore be unambiguously classified as Lepontic, are only a few. In LexLep, we have classified other (mainly fragmentary) inscriptions that have been found in the same area and phase as Lepontic too. The underlying assumption is that the population(s) living in this region within the 6th and 1st centuries BC wrote mainly in this (official) language. We assume that a small Celtic-speaking population has been living in the region of the northern-Italian lakes before the Gaulish Invasion in the beginning of the 4th century BC, and without experiencing (linguistic) influence by the Gaulish speaking populations north of the Alps. Therefore we considered for our classification of Lepontic only the inscriptions within the area in close vicinity to the north-Italian lakes (similar to the area depicted by Lejeune 1972).

Inscriptions between 390 and 200 BC

Loading map...

Marker 030.png Lepontic (4); Marker 060.png Cisalpine Gaulish (0)

Late Inscriptions after 200 BC

Loading map...

Marker 030.png Lepontic (31); Marker 060.png Cisalpine Gaulish (13)

Further references

This list is not a comprehensive collection of relevant literature. It is a first result of the research work in progress.

For the linguistic aspects compare Uhlich 2007: 375-377, 382-394, 402-405, Uhlich 1999: 278-281, Schmidt 1980: 180-186, Lejeune 1971: 375, 380-1, 397, 413-4, 423, 462-3, 470, 476, RIG: II 1, 6, Granucci 1975: esp. 226-229 (literature list concerning the linguistic classification of Lepontic and the problems concerning Lepontic; see also p. 224-229: bibliography of works on Lepontic, Lepontic Inscriptions, Lepontic Script, the problematics of Lepontic and commentaries; p. 229-231: classification of Lepontic inscriptions; p. 231-248: renewed corpus). A short overview is given in De Bernardo Stempel 2012.

For a discussion regarding the denomination of the language group see Lejeune 1972: esp. 260-263) and Devoto 1972.

Definition of "Cisalpine Gaulish"

Some inscriptions in Northern Italy are ascribed to a second "Celtic entity" that shares some features with Lepontic (cf. RIG II 1, 6; Lejeune 1971: 385, Uhlich 1999, 277, 280-281; Uhlich 2007, 374, 376-377).

Linguistic aspects

Provisional catalogue of criteria for ascribing a word to Cisalpine Gaulish (vs. Lepontic):

  1. Date after 400 B.C.
  2. *-m# > -n# Acc. sg. (vs. preserved Acc. sg. -m in Lepontic, e.g. palam)
  3. use of patronymic suffix -ikno/ā- (vs. -alo/ā- in Lepontic)
  4. stem karni- (attested in (transalpine) Gaulish: inscription from Saignon, France)
  5. 3sg/pl pret. in -itu(s) (e.g. karnitu, karnitus; vs. -ite in Lepontic, e.g. karite/kalite)?

Distinguishing criteria from (transalpine) Gaulish (shared by Lepontic):

  1. *nd > nn (e.g. ande- > ane-)
  2. *nT > nT (e.g. *kom-bogios > -ko-pokios)
  3. *xs > ss (e.g. *eks- > es- in esopnos)

For inscriptions from Gallia Cisalpina, see Schmidt 1980: 177

Definition of "Ligurian"

Preliminary collection of evidence for sound change in the corpus (plus spelling stuff)

Ending -oi where we don't expect a plural:

Evidence for the loss of /p/:

Evidence for /k/ > /p/:

Evidence for /g/ > /b/:

Evidence for /ei/ > /ē/:

Evidence for /eu/ > /ou/ > /ō/:

Evidence for /e/ > /i/:

Evidence for /ē/ > /ī/:

Evidence for unstressed /i/ > /e/:

Evidence for /u̯o/- > /u̯a/:

Evidence for the assimilation of /χs/:

Evidence for tau gallicum:

Evidence for non-spelling of the nasal before homorganic consonant:

Evidence for non-spelling of geminates:

Evidence for the loss of final -s (GPN: 397 f.):

Evidence for -Vmn- > -Vu̯n-: