A couple of days ago, Kristina Killgrove asked me a very intriguing question: where can you learn a bit of Oscan online?
I had no answer to this, other than to say that Buck’s Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian is old enough to exist in PDF form online. But as soon as I thought about Kristina’s question, I realised how inadequate this answer was. I know plenty of archaeologists and historians interested in pre-Roman Italy – not least those who have dug Samnite sites – but the bar to learning any Oscan is very high.
Grammars, including Buck’s, tend to take an Indo-European perspective – useful if you’re a linguist, but a big barrier if you’re not. Buck translates lots of words into Latin, rather than English, and certainly explains all the grammar via Latin. There is an Oscan dictionary – Untermann’s Wörterbuch des Oskisch-Umbrischen – but it’s in German and, in any case, seems to be unavailable currently. Crawford’s 2011 Imagines Italicae is an amazing resource for looking up individual inscriptions, but is not a language primer (and it seems to have disappeared again after the briefest of spells on JSTOR).
How do most people learn Oscan? Either we delve into something like Buck, or we rely on helpful lecturers, supervisors and colleagues who have put together handouts for seminars, and having access to the latter is a huge privilege. As far as I can see, there are very few handouts available online or in any textbooks on ancient Italy.
So I was inspired to create, I hope, something approximating what Kristina was after – a brief introductory course in the Oscan language, available for free online, using the language tables and vocab lists I made for myself when I was doing my master’s, plus lots of photos from my various travels. I called it SALAVS, after the Oscan word for ‘hello’ or ‘greetings’, channelling the language textbooks of my youth, which were all called things like Salut!
I’ve now added five lessons which, I think, cover all the basics for reading the vast majority of short Oscan inscriptions. I’ve included exercises for the reader to try for themselves, and flashcards for the vocabulary from each lesson. I hope I can add to this in future with more advanced lessons looking at individual inscriptions in more depth, as this is really the best way to build familiarity and vocabulary.
For now – the lessons are out there for anyone to use and, surprisingly, over 2000 unique users have had a look in the first 48 hours. (And at least 35 people have speedily made it to Lesson 4.) I hope this will be a helpful resource, and I look forward to hearing how you all make use of it. I particularly admired Amanda’s determination to finally channel Ennius: