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date: 07 March 2021

South Picene languagelocked

  • Benjamin Fortson


South Picene was the Sabellic language spoken in east-central coastal Italy by a people who called themselves Safinús (Sabines, see Sabini). Examples of the language are found on about two dozen inscriptions, which date mostly from the late 6th centurybce, with a few from the 4th. Almost all are funerary texts for warriors on monumental stelae. The South Picene alphabet was not fully deciphered until the mid-1980s by Anna Marinetti. Her work revealed texts of considerable linguistic and cultural interest. Several are poetic, most famously one that reads, postin viam videtas tetis tokam alies esmen vepses vepeten, meaning approximately “along/behind the road you see the toga/covering of Titus Alis, buried (?) in this tomb.” Its bipartite alliterative phrases and its run of three heptasyllables, each structured 2×2×3, are reminiscent of the Saturnian. Given the paucity and often poor preservation of the remains and difficulties with their interpretation, South Picene morphology and syntax can only be sketched, but it appears to be of the typical Sabellic type; noteworthy is a 3rd person plural, perfect ending in -úh, apparently from *-ont.

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