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We consider Lepontic a separate Celtic language of Northern Italy closely related to Gaulish. Please consult the Lepontic grammar pages as well: Morphology, North Italic Script, Phonology, Syntax

Definition of "Lepontic"

Lepontic is a Celtic language that is attested in ca. 150 short inscriptions found in the North Italian lake region, and in the Swiss Canton Ticino. The inscriptions date from the 6th to the 1st centuries B.C. and they contain the earliest written testimonies of any Celtic language. According to the traditional definition the inscriptions are all written in a local variant of the North Italic alphabet, usually called Lepontic or Lugano alphabet. The attested Lepontic lexicon consists of only a few hundred items. (cf. Uhlich 1999, 277; Uhlich 2007, 373-374; De Marinis & Biaggio Simona 2000, and Eska 2006 for basic information.)

Based on the linguistic evidence – though very fragmentary –, it is possible to establish distinctive analytical features for a linguistic classification. For some scholars, Lepontic is but an archaic and remote dialect of the Gaulish language (e.g., McCone 1996: 68–69). In this project, however, we follow the opinion that Lepontic is a separate Celtic language with distinctive phonological and morphological features, albeit closely related to Gaulish (cf. Uhlich's argumentation in Uhlich 1999 and 2007).

For the classification of the Lepontic inscriptions several factors have to be considered: linguistic aspects, chronological aspects, and geographical aspects.

Linguistic Aspects

Provisional catalogue of criteria for ascribing a word to Lepontic:

  1. all Celtic inscriptions with date before approx. 400 B.C. in the area of the North-Italian lakes
  2. en < *n̥C (vs. an in Gaulish)
  3. -m < *-m# (vs. -n in Gaulish)
  4. acc. pl. -eś, e.g. siteś?
  5. use of patronymic suffix -alo/ā- (vs. -ikno/ā- in Gaulish)
  6. gen. sg. of o-stems in -oiso? (vs. in Gaulish)
  7. 3sg pret. dedū (vs. dede in Gaulish); 3sg pret. in -ite (vs. -itu(s) in Gaulish)?
  8. special vocabulary: pala

Exclusive innovations shared with Cisalpine Gaulish (and not shared by Gaulish):

  1. *nd > nn (e.g. ande- > ane-)
  2. *nT > nT (e.g. *kom-bogios > -ko-pokios)
  3. *xs > ss (e.g. *eks- > es- in esopnos)

Chronological aspects

For the classification of Lepontic inscriptions chronological aspects should be taken into account additionally to the linguistic criteria. For this the dating of the inscriptions derived from their palaeographic and archaeological context is vital (cf. Uhlich 1999, 282-283).

Uhlich divides the epigraphic evidence into three chronologically distinct periods (cf. Uhlich 2007: 379, 406-407; Uhlich 1999: 290-292, 300-301). In LexLep all inscriptions that correspond to Uhlich's Early Lepontic phase have been classified as Lepontic. Starting with the Middle Lepontic period the distinction between Lepontic and Cisalpine Gaulish is often ambiguous.

Dating Phase Archaeological context of the inscriptions Attestations
approx. 600 - 400 BC Lepontic (Uhlich: Early Lepontic) Golasecca Culture phases II - III ("pre-gaulish period") BG·1, CO·2, CO·6, CO·9, CO·10, CO·11, CO·12, CO·13, CO·15, CO·16, CO·20, CO·21, CO·24, CO·25, CO·29, CO·30, CO·31, CO·47, CO·48, CO·49, CO·53, CO·54, CO·55, CO·56.1, CO·56.2, CO·57, CO·58, CO·59, CO·60, CO·69, CO·70, CO·71, CO·72, CO·73, NO·1, NO·2, TI·1, TI·27.1, TI·32, TI·33, TI·34.1, TI·36.3, VA·3, VA·4.1, VA·4.2, VA·4.3, VA·6
approx. 400 - 200 BC Lepontic (Uhlich: Middle Lepontic)/
Cisalpine Gaulish
Latène context with continuing Golasecca influence, Latène B - C 1 ("gaulish period") In revision
approx. 200 - 1 BC Cisalpine Gaulish/
(Uhlich: Late Lepontic)
Latène context phases C 1 - D ("roman period") In revision

Geographical Aspects

The core area of the Lepontic inscriptions can be delimited to the area around the Lake of Lugano, the Lake Maggiore, and the south-western tip of the Lake of Como (cf. Schrijver 2008: 123-124).

Lejeune states that "Lepontic" inscriptions are concentrated within 50 km around Lugano (Lejeune 1971: 6-7, cf. pl. 1). The following map of sites included in Lexicon Leponticum shows the arbitrariness of this delimitation to the south and south-east. (By clicking on the icons marking the sites the distance to Lugano will be displayed.)
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Early Inscriptions before 390 BC: Geographical Overview

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Marker 030.png Lepontic (47); Marker 060.png Inscriptions in Cisalpine Gaulish language (0)

Further References

This list is not a comprehensive collection of relevant literature. It is a first result of the research work in progress.

For the linguistic aspects compare Uhlich 2007: 375-377, 382-394, 402-405, Uhlich 1999: 278-281, Schmidt 1980: 180-186, Lejeune 1971: 375, 380-1, 397, 413-4, 423, 462-3, 470, 476, RIG: II 1, 6, Granucci 1975: esp. 226-229 (literature list concerning the linguistic classification of Lepontic and the problems concerning Lepontic; see also p. 224-229: bibliography of works on Lepontic, Lepontic Inscriptions, Lepontic Script, the problematics of Lepontic and commentaries; p. 229-231: classification of Lepontic inscriptions; p. 231-248: renewed corpus). A short overview is given in De Bernardo Stempel 2012.

For a discussion regarding the denomination of the language group see Lejeune 1972 (esp. p. 260-263), Devoto 1972



Bachellery 1972 Édouard Bachellery, "Le celtique continental", Études Celtiques 13 (1972), 29-59.
Bonfante 1979 Giuliano Bonfante, "Il Retico, il Leponzio, il Ligure, il Gallico, il Sardo, il Corso", Atti dei Colloqui Lincei ( = Le Iscrizioni Prelatine in Italia; Roma, marzo 1977) 39 (1979).
De Bernardo Stempel 2012 Patrizia De Bernardo Stempel, "Lepontisch", in: Susanne Sievers, Otto H. Urban, Peter C. Ramsl eds., Lexikon zur keltischen Archäologie [= Mitteilungen der Prähistorischen Kommission 73], Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 2012. (2 volumes), 1154-1157.
De Hoz 1992 Javier de Hoz, "Lepontic, Celt-Iberian Gaulish and the Archaeological Evidence", Études celtiques 29 (1992), 223-240.
De Marinis & Biaggio Simona 2000 Raffaele Carlo De Marinis, Simonetta Biaggio Simona (Eds.), I Leponti tra mito e realtà, Locarno: Gruppo Archeologia Ticino 2000.
De Marinis 1988 Raffaele Carlo De Marinis, "Liguri e Celto-Liguri", in: Anna Maria Chieco Bianchi et al. (Eds.), Italia Omnium terrarum alunna. La civilta' dei Veneti, Reti, Liguri, Celti, Piceni, Umbri, Latini, Campani e Lapigi, Milano: Scheiwiller 1988, 159-259.
De Marinis 1991 Raffaele Carlo De Marinis, "I Celti Golasecchiani", in: Sabatino Moscati, Otto Hermann Frey, Venceslas Kruta, Barry Raftery, Miklòs Szabò (Eds.), I Celti. Catalogo della mostra di palazzo Grassi, Milano: Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, Bompiani, Sonzogno, Etas 1991, 93-102.
Devoto 1956 Giacomo Devoto, "Criteri Linguistici e Criteri Archeologici nella Definizione del Problema Gallico", CELTICA 3 (1956), 324-331.
Devoto 1972 Giacomo Devoto, "Quanti Italici", Studi Etruschi 40 (1972), 247-257.
Dottin 1918 Georges Dottin, La langue gauloise. grammaire, textes et glossaire [= Collection pour l’étude des antiquités nationales 2], Paris: Klincksieck 1920.
Eichner 1989 Heiner Eichner, "Die Erschliessung des Altkeltischen", Erlanger Forschungen A 49 (1989), 9-56.
Eska 1998 Joseph Francis Eska, "The linguistic position of Lepontic", in: Benjamin K. Bergin, Madelaine C. Plauché, Ashlee C. Bailey (Eds.), Proceedings of the Twenty-fourth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society. Special Session on Indo-European Subgrouping and Internal Relations, Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Linguistics Society 1998, 2-11.
Eska 2006 Joseph Francis Eska, "The genitive plural desinence in Celtic and dialect geography", Die Sprache 46/2 (2006), 229-235.
Evans 1972 David Ellis Evans, "A Comparison of the Formation of Some Continental and Early Insular Celtic Personal Names", Études Celtiques 13 (1972-1973), 171-193.
Giussani 1902 Antonio Giussani, "L' Iscrizione Nord-Etrusca di Tesserete e le Altre Iscrizioni Preromane del Nostro Territorio", Rivista Archeologica della Provincia di Como 46 (1902), 25-67.
Granucci 1975 Fiorenza Granucci, "Leponzio", Studi Etruschi 43/3 (1975), 224-248.
Krahe 1936 Hans Krahe, "Ligurisch und Indogermanisch", in: Helmut Arntz (Ed.), Germanen und Indogermanen, Festschrift für Hermann Hirt, Wiesbaden: Helmut Arntz 1936. (3 volumes), Vol. 2, 241-255.
Kretschmer 1905 Paul Kretschmer, "Die Inschriften von Ornavasso und die ligurische Sprache", Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung auf dem Gebiete der indogermanischen Sprachen 38 (1905), 97-128.
Lambert 1994 Pierre-Yves Lambert, La langue gauloise, Paris: Errance 1994.
Lejeune 1971 Michel Lejeune, Lepontica, Paris: Société d'Édition "Les Belles Lettres" 1971. (reprint of the article "Documents gaulois et para-gaulois de Cisalpine", Études Celtiques 12/2, 1970-1, pp. 357-500)
Lejeune 1972 Michel Lejeune, "Un problème de nomenclature: Lépontiens et Lépontique", Studi Etruschi 40 (1972), 259-270.
Lejeune 1972b Michel Lejeune, "Celtibère et Lépontique", in: Antonio Tovar, Homenaje a Antonio Tovar. ofrecido por sus discípulos, colegas y amigos, Madrid: Gredos 1972, 265-271.
Lejeune 1988 Michel Lejeune, "Textes gallo-étrusques. Textes gallo-latins sur pierre", in: Paul-Marie Duval, Recueil des inscriptions gauloises, Paris: Éditions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique 1988. (4 volumes), Vol. 2, 1.
Marinetti et al. 2000 Anna Marinetti, Aldo Luigi Prosdocimi, Patrizia Solinas, "Il celtico e le legende monetali in alfabeto leponzio", in: Ermanno A. Arslan, Riccardo Carazzetti (Eds.), I Leponti e la moneta. Atti della Giornata di Studio ‘I Leponti e la Moneta’, 16 Novembre 1996, Locarno: Circolo Numismatico Ticinese 2000, 71-119.
McCone 1996 Kim McCone, Towards a relative chronology of ancient and medieval Celtic sound change, Maynooth: St. Patrick’s College, The Dept. of Old Irish 1996.
Meid 1996 Wolfgang Meid, "Zur Syntax des Verbum im Altkeltischen", in: Wolfgang Meid, Peter Anreiter (Eds.), Die größeren altkeltischen Sprachdenkmäler. Akten des Kolloquiums (Innsbruck, 29. April - 3. Mai 1993), Innsbruck: Verlag des Instituts für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck 1996, 257-265.
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Morandi 1999 Alessandro Morandi, "Epigrafia vascolare celtica fra Ticino e Como", Revue Belge de Philologie et d'Histoire 77 (1999), 151-204.
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Motta 1992b Filippo Motta, "Prospettive Attuali della Ricerca sul Celtico Cisalpino", in: Aa. Vv., Comunicazione Tenuta al IX Congresso Internazionale di Studi Celtici, Pisa: 1992. (versione italiana), 311-317.
Pauli 1885 Carl Eugen Pauli, Die Inschriften nordetruskischen Alphabets [= Altitalische Forschungen 1], Leipzig: Hannover Hahn 1885.
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Pellegrini 1983 Giovan Battista Pellegrini, "Osservazioni lessicali sulle lingue preromane dell'Italia Superiore", in: Edoardo Vineis (Ed.), Le Lingue Indoeuropee di Frammentaria Attestazione. Atti del Convegno della Società Italiana di Glottologia e della Indogermanische Gesellschaft ; Udine, 22 - 24 settembre 1981, Pisa: Giardini 1983, 29-64.
Prosdocimi & Solinas 2006 Aldo Luigi Prosdocimi, Patrizia Solinas, Celticità linguistica in Italia prima del 400 a. C.. Documenti e prospettive [= Collection Bibracte 12,2], Glux-en-Glenne: Bibracte, Centre Archéologique Européen 2006, 217-234.
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Prosdocimi 1991 Aldo Luigi Prosdocimi, "Note sul Celtico in Italia", Studi Etruschi 57 (1991), 139-177.
RIG Paul-Marie Duval, Recueil des inscriptions gauloises, Paris: Éditions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique 1988. (4 volumes)
Schmidt 1965 Karl Horst Schmidt, "Die Stellung des Keltischen in frühgeschichtlicher Zeit", Glotta 43 (1965), 151-167.
Schmidt 1980 Karl Horst Schmidt, "Continental Celtic as an aid to the reconstruction of Proto-Celtic", Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung auf dem Gebiete der indogermanischen Sprachen 94 (1980), 172-197.
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Sommer 1914 Ferdinand Sommer, Handbuch der lateinischen Laut- und Formenlehre. eine Einführung in das sprachwissenschaftliche Studium des Lateins, Heidelberg: Winter Verlag 1914.
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Tibiletti Bruno 1978 Maria Grazia Tibiletti Bruno, "Ligure Leponzio e Gallico", in: Aldo Luigi Prosdocimi (Ed.), Lingue e dialetti dell'Italia antica [= Popoli e civiltà dell'Italia antica 6/1], Roma: Biblioteca di Storia Patria 1978, 131-208.
Uhlich 1999 Jürgen Uhlich, "Zur sprachlichen Einordnung des Lepontischen", in: Stefan Zimmer, Rolf Ködderitzsch, Arndt Wigger (Eds.), Akten des zweiten deutschen Keltologensymposiums (Bonn, 2.–4. April 1997) [= Buchreihe der Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 17], Tübingen: Niemeyer 1999, 277-304.
Uhlich 2007 Jürgen Uhlich, "More on the linguistic classification of Lepontic", in: Pierre-Yves Lambert, George-Jean Pinault (eds.), Gaulois et celtique continental [= École pratique des hautes études. Sciences historiques et philologiques. III. Hautes études du monde gréco-romain 39], Genève: Librairie Droz 2007, 373-411.
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