Proto-Italic language

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   ɡʷ
Fricative ɸ  (β) θ?  ð? s  (z) x  (ɣ) xʷ?  ɣʷ?
Trill r
Approximant j w
Lateral l


Short vowels
Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e (ə) o
Open a
Long vowels
Front Central Back

Proto-Italic had the following diphthongs:

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?


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

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.

Other notes:


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


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


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 (a pre-PI change), or only to Latin (a post-PI change), because of lack of conclusive evidence.


Vowels and sonorants


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:

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


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.

PItal Pre-O-U Oscan Umbrian Pre-Latin Latin
*-ns *-ns -ss -f *-ns -s
*-nts *-nts -ns
*-nt *-nts -ns


  1. Sihler 1995, pp. 256–265.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 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. 1 2 Silvestri 1998, p. 326
  14. 1 2 Silvestri 1998, p. 325
  15. Bakkum 2009, pp. 58–61.
  16. 1 2 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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