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Sicel language

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Sicel language, language spoken by the ancient Siculi (Sicels) in Italy and Sicily. The language is known from four inscriptions dating from the 3rd century BC and from several coins dating from the 6th and 5th centuries BC.

After the Greek settlements in Sicily, the Siculi became Hellenized and substituted Greek for their original language. Scholars believe Sicel to have been an Indo-European language, primarily on the basis of the word esti, “is” (Latin: est; Greek: esti), and the grammatical endings of some words.

Linguistic studies have suggested that the Sicels may have spoken an Indo-European language and occupied eastern Sicily as well as southernmost Italy whereas the Elymi (Greek Elymoi) and Sicani (Greek: Sikanoi) inhabited central and western Sicily. It is likely that the Sicani spoke a non-Indo-European language, the classification of their language remains uncertain. Conversely, the Elymian language is generally accepted to have been an Indo-European language, though its exact classification within the family is unclear.f Some consider it related to Ligurian, while others to the Italic languages. Of the Sicel language the little that is known is derived from glosses of ancient writers and from a very few inscriptions, not all of which are demonstrably Sicel. It is thought that the Sicels did not employ writing until they were influenced by the Greek colonists. Several Sicel inscriptions have been found to date: Mendolito (Adrano), Centuripe, Poira, Paternò‑Civita, Paliké (Rocchicella di Mineo), Montagna di Ramacca, Licodia Eubea, Ragusa Ibla, Sciri Sottano, Monte Casasia, Castiglione di Ragusa, Terravecchia di Grammichele, Morgantina, Montagna di Marzo (Piazza Armerina), and Terravecchia di Cuti. The first inscription discovered, of ninety-nine Greek letters, was found on a spouted jug found in 1824 at Centuripe; it uses a Greek alphabet of the 6th or 5th century BC. It reads: “nunustentimimarustainamiemitomestiduromnanepos duromiemtomestiveliomnedemponitantomeredesuino brtome…” There have been various attempts at interpreting it (e.g. V. Pisani 1963, G. Radke 1996) with no sure results. Another long Sicel inscription was found in Montagna di Marzo: “tamuraabesakedqoiaveseurumakesagepipokedlutimbe levopomanatesemaidarnakeibureitamomiaetiurela” The best evidence for Sicel having been of Indo-European derivation is the verb form pibe “drink”, a second-person singular present imperative active exactly cognate with Latin bibe (and Sanskrit piba, etc.). Membership in the Italic branch, perhaps even close to Latino-Faliscan, cannot be ruled out: Varro states that Sicel was strictly allied to Latin as many words sounded almost identical and had the same meaning, such as oncia, lytra, moeton (Lat. mutuum)
Sicel
Sicula
RegionSicily
Eraattested 6th–3rd century BC
Language family
Indo-European
  • (unclassified)
    • Sicel
Writing system
Greek
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