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|Region||Northern Mediterranean Coast straddling South-east French and North-east Italian coasts|
|Extinct||after 210 BC|
The Ligurian language was spoken in pre-Roman times and into the Roman era by an ancient people of north-western Italy and south-eastern France known as the Ligures. Very little is known about this language (mainly place names and personal names remain) which is generally believed to have been, in the 1st millennium BCE, Indo-European; it appears to have shared many features with other Indo-European languages, primarily Celtic (Gaulish) and Italic (Latin and the Osco-Umbrian languages).
Relationship with Celtic
Xavier Delamarre argues that Ligurian was a Celtic language, similar to, but not the same as Gaulish. His argument hinges on two points: firstly, the Ligurian place-name Genua (modern Genoa, located near a river mouth) is claimed by Delamarre to derive from PIE *ǵenu-, "chin(bone)". Many Indo-European languages use 'mouth' to mean the part of a river which meets the sea or a lake, but it is only in Celtic that reflexes of PIE *ǵenu- mean 'mouth'. Besides Genua, which is considered Ligurian (Delamarre 2003, p. 177), this is found also in Genava (modern Geneva), which may be Gaulish. However, Genua and Genava may well derive from another PIE root with the form *ǵenu-, which means "knee" (so in Pokorny, IEW ).
Delamarre's second point is Plutarch's mention (Marius 10, 5-6) that during the Battle of Aquae Sextiae in 102 BC, the Ambrones (who may have been a Celtic tribe) began to shout "Ambrones!" as their battle-cry; the Ligurian troops fighting for the Romans, on hearing this cry, found that it was identical to an ancient name in their country which the Ligurians often used when speaking of their descent (outôs kata genos onomazousi Ligues), so they returned the shout, "Ambrones!".
Delamarre points out a risk of circular logic - if it is believed that the Ligurians are non-Celtic, and if many place names and tribal names that classical authors state are Ligurian seem to be Celtic, it is incorrect to discard all the Celtic ones when collecting Ligurian words and to use this edited corpus to demonstrate that Ligurian is non-Celtic or non-Indo-European.
The Ligurian-Celtic question is also discussed by Barruol (1999).
Strabo indicates that the Ligurians were different from the Celts:
As for the Alps... Many tribes (éthnê) occupy these mountains, all Celtic (Keltikà) except the Ligurians; but while these Ligurians belong to a different people (hetero-ethneis), still they are similar to the Celts in their modes of life (bíois).
Ligurian as pre-Indo-European substrate
A theory supported among others by French historian and philologist Marie Henri d'Arbois de Jubainville held that Ligurian was akin to Iberian and descended from a non-Indo-European substrate language once widespread in the western Mediterranean and roughly coterminous with the territory associated with the Cardium Pottery culture of the 6th and 5th millennium BC.
In 1889 and 1894 Jubainville proposed a non-Indo-European substrate language for Corsica, Sardinia, eastern Spain, southern France and western Italy based on the occurrence there of place names ending in -asco, -asca, -usco, -osco, -osca, as well as -inco, -inca. For examples of the Corsican toponymy cited by Jubainville, see Prehistory of Corsica. In Jubainville's view, two languages mentioned by classical authors were survivals from prehistory: Ligurian and Iberian. This choice of languages relies on Seneca the Younger, who spent eight years in exile on Corsica starting in 41 AD and expressed the opinion that the coastal Corsicans were Ligurian but the inlanders were from the Iberian peninsula, most like the Cantabri.
Some of the world's most famous linguists (Paul Kretschmer, Julius Pokorny) then went further with the concept of a Celto-Ligurian substrate. However, the pursuit of this "Ligurian shadow" (Mees' term) came ultimately to nothing definitive.
The main problem with Jubainville's theory is that there is nothing particularly "non-Indo-European" about the place name suffixes associated with a "Ligurian substrate". Suffixes such as -ascum, -asca, -osca, -incus, can just as well be Indo-European. Thus, they prove nothing, unless the associated roots are shown to be pre-Indo-European. The same "characteristically Ligurian" suffixes have been analyzed as Indo-European when occurring in Northern Italy or Southern France. For example, the Ligurian name of the Po, Bodincus, glossed as "bottomless" by Pliny (Hist. Nat., iii. 122), has been analyzed as containing the PIE base *bhu(n)d(h)- seen in Sanskrit budhnah and Avestan buna- "bottom", Greek pythmen "foundation", Latin fundus "bottom", Old Irish bond "sole of the foot" (see also Bodincomagus).
Another problem is the obvious anachronism between the pre-Roman Ligurian language and the Cardium Pottery culture of nearly 5,000 years before. Furthermore, several of the "ancient" suffixes cited by Jubainville, far from representing 7,000-year-old fossils, clearly indicate a continued productivity well into medieval and even modern times. For example, -asco is often found suffixed to a Roman personal name (e.g. Lucinasco, Marinasco, Martinasco, cf. the names Lucinus, Marinus, Martinus), evidently the name of the estate's owner, according to a well-known pattern of late imperial and medieval place name formation. In fact, the same suffix -asco is still used in modern Italian (and -ascu in modern Ligurian) to form gentilics from place names in and around the Roman region of Liguria; e.g. bergamasco from Bergamo, brigasco from Briga and Briga Alta, comasco from Como, mentonasco from Mentone, monegasco from Monaco, ormeasco from Ormea, roiasco from the Val Roia, tendasco from Tenda, urbasco from Urbe, etc. (-asca is, of course, the feminine form).
- Kruta, Venceslas (1991). The Celts. Thames and Hudson. p. 54.
- Kruta, Venceslas (1991). The Celts. Thames and Hudson. p. 55.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, Ligurian language
- Jubainville, H. D'Arbois de (1889, 1894). Les Premiers Habitants de l'Europe d'après les Écrivains de l'Antiquité et les Travaux des Linguistes: Seconde Édition. Paris: Ernest Thorin. pp. V.II, Book II, Chapter 9, Sections 10, 11. (French). Downloadable Google Books.
- Smith, William (1872). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. London: J. Murray. pp. pages 689–692. Downloadable Google Books.
- Mees, Bernard (2003). "A genealogy of stratigraphy theories from the Indo-European west". In Anderson, Henning. Language Contacts in Prehistory: Studies in Stratigraphy. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamin Publishing Company. pp. 11–44. ISBN 1-58811-379-5 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Barruol, G. (1999) Les peuples pré-romains du sud-est de la Gaule - Etude de géographie historique, 2d ed., Paris
- Delamarre, X. (2003). Dictionaire de la Langue Gauloise (2nd ed.). Paris: Editions Errance. ISBN 2-87772-237-6 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- Strabo (1917) The Geography of Strabo I. Horace Jones, translator. Loeb Classical Library. London, William Heineman.