Katherine McDonald (2015) Oscan in Southern Italy and Sicily: Evaluating Language Contact in a Fragmentary Corpus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Publication date: 1st October 2015.


In pre-Roman Italy and Sicily, dozens of languages and writing systems competed and interacted, and bilingualism was the norm. Using frameworks from epigraphy, archaeology and the sociolinguistics of language contact, this book explores the relationship between Greek and Oscan, two of the most widely spoken languages in the south of the peninsula. Dr McDonald undertakes a new analysis of the entire corpus of South Oscan texts written in Lucania, Bruttium and Messana, including dedications, curse tablets, laws, funerary texts and graffiti. She demonstrates that genre and domain are critical to understanding where and when Greek was used within Oscan-speaking communities, and how ancient bilinguals exploited the social meaning of their languages in their writing. This book also offers a cutting-edge example of how to build the fullest possible picture of bilingualism in fragmentary languages across the ancient world.

Table of Contents:

1. Introduction
2. Bilingualism and language contact in written texts
3. Alphabets, orthography and epigraphy
4. Dedicatory inscriptions
5. Curse tablets [download as PDF]
6. Legal and official texts
7. Shorter texts: funerary inscriptions, graffiti and signatures
8. Conclusions
Appendix 1. Datings of inscriptions
Appendix 2. Catalogue of sites.

You can download Chapter 5 ‘Curse tablets’ here (opens PDF). You can also read a preview at Google Books.

If you are interested in buying a hardback or ebook version of this book, it is available now from Cambridge University Press and Cambridge CORE. If you are in the UK, you can support your local book shop by purchasing through Hive. Other retailers include: Amazon, ABE books,  Waterstones, and Foyles.

You can also check whether this book is in your local academic library using Copac or Worldcat.


Review by Manuela Anelli for the Ancient History Bulletin. “This volume is the first thorough study on the interaction between Oscan and Greek based on the written evidence, but it can also be regarded as an up-to-date collection of the South Oscan inscriptions. […] We believe that this book will be a reference work for anyone interested either in South Oscan epigraphy or in language contact phenomena of the ancient world.”

Review by Kanehiro Nishimura for the Classical Review. “M. has certainly succeeded in establishing her work as an indispensable touchstone for future studies of ancient Italy and beyond.”

Review by Francesca Murano for Journal of Roman Studies. “In sum, M. offers a detailed account of the linguistic and cultural complexity present in southern Italy in the second half of the first millennium BC – a subject not previously investigated in its entirety. […] M.’s book will be a work of reference for future studies of Oscan and language contact.”

Review by Loredana Cappelletti for Graeco-Latina Brunensia. “Senza dubbio è un libro importante, dotato di un giusto approccio, dal momento che non solo l’evidenza epigrafica offre diretta testimonianza della diffusa, peculiare pluralità linguistica, multilinguistica o bilinguistica, propria dei comparti regionali meridionali dell’Italia antica, ma essa sola è in grado di restituire un prezioso spaccato, storico politico e sociale, della quotidianità formale e informale delle comunità, della loro composizione etnica e delle relazioni interne ed esterne dei rispettivi abitanti. […] In definitiva, e concludo a mia volta, l’A. ha realizzato un’opera interessante, con intento e risultati innovativi, selezionando, raggruppando e discutendo la documentazione osco-greca in modo organico e chiaro.”