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The Italic subfamily is a member of the Centum branch of the Indo-European language family. It includes the Romance languages (among others, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian), and a number of extinct languages.
Italic has two known branches:
- Sabellic, including:
- Oscan, which was spoken in the south-central region of the Italian Peninsula
- Umbrian group, including:
- South Picene, in east-central Italy
- Latino-Faliscan, including:
- Faliscan, which was spoken in the area around Falerii Veteres (modern Civita Castellana) north of the city of Rome and possibly Sardinia
- Latin, which was spoken in west-central Italy. The Roman conquests eventually spread it throughout the empire and beyond
- Romance languages, the descendants of Latin
The Italic speakers were not native to Italy, but migrated into the Italian Peninsula in the course of the 2nd millennium BC, and were apparently related to the Celtic tribes that roamed over a large part of Western Europe at the time. Archaeologically, the Appenine culture (inhumations) enters the Italian Peninsula from ca. 1350 BC, east to west; the Iron Age reaches Italy from ca. 1100 BC, with the Villanovan culture (cremating), intruding north to south. Before the Italic arrival, Italy was populated primarily by non-Indo-European groups (perhaps including the Etruscans). The first settlement on the Palatine hill dates to ca. 750 BC, settlements on the Quirinal to 720 BC (see Founding of Rome).
The ancient Venetic language, as revealed by its inscriptions (including complete sentences), was also closely related to the Italic languages and is sometimes even classified as Italic. However, since it also shares similarities with other Western Indo-European branches (particularly Germanic), some linguists prefer to consider it an independent Indo-European language.
The Italic languages are first attested in writing from Umbrian and Faliscan inscriptions dating to the 7th century BC. The alphabets used are based on the Old Italic alphabet, which is itself based on the Greek alphabet. The Italic languages themselves show minor influence from the Etruscan and somewhat more from the Ancient Greek languages.
As Rome extended its political dominion over the whole of the Italian Peninsula, so too did Latin become dominant over the other Italic languages, which ceased to be spoken perhaps sometime in the 1st century AD. From so-called Vulgar Latin the Romance languages emerged.