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Umbrian epichoric alphabet (that is, locally adapted from Etruscan alphabet) has a consonant πŒ›, called ers in Unicode Old Italic scripts references. You can see an example of usage of such letter in the sentence I reproduce below, which appears often in Iguvine tablet I. This sentence is translated in the book Le tavole iguvine by Augusto Ancillotti and Romolo Cerri (edizioni Jama Perugia, 1997) as "preghi sulle carni e sui prodotti della terra", that is, "pray over the meats and the products of the earth". You can see the letter πŒ› in the word πŒ”πŒ„1πŒ„πŒ›πŒ€, that means "over the meats":

:πŒ”πŒ„πŒ…πŒ“πŒ€:πŒ”πŒ„1πŒ„πŒ›πŒ€:πŒ–πŒŒπŒ‰πŒπŒ”πŒ„1

I've used the Unicode standard symbols, but in Iguvine tablet I, the aspect of the symbol πŒ… is

Β  Β  Β  Β 

the one of the symbol 𐌌 is

Β  Β  Β  Β 

and 𐌍 looks this way:

Β  Β  Β  Β 

I've reproduced the images of these letters from the above cited book.

According to Wikipedia, letter πŒ›

represents an unknown sound

but such statement is based on Buck's grammar, which is from 1904. I believe probably lots of things have happened since the publication of Buck's grammar, so I wonder if there is any hypothesis on how this letter was pronounced. I've seen it's phonetically transcribed as [rΜ₯] on omniglot.com website, but I don't know if such site is reliable. So, it's believed that it probably had the voiceless alveolar trill sound [rΜ₯]?

2 Answers 2

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According to Rex Wallace, writing a chapter on the Sabellian languages for the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages, "[d]elta was used for a voiced fricative /αΊ“/ (Ε™) rather than the voiced stop /d/, which was represented by tau". He later clarifies that he means a voiced retroflex fricative (IPA ʐ); in his view, Umbrian had three sibilants, IPA /s Κƒ ʐ/.

This is a truly strange inventory; the main evidence for it comes from words attested in both the Umbrian and Latin alphabets, like teΕ™a ~ dirsa "he should give". Historically, it came from Proto-Italic intervocalic *d, and intervocalic *l next to a front vowel, which is probably why Wallace claims it was voiced. But the fact that it's written with rs rather than rz in the Latin alphabet makes me think it could have been a voiceless /Κ‚/ instead. (Or, to put it differently, that Umbrian had no voicing distinctions in its fricatives.)

He cites Meiser 1986:213 ("Lautgeschichte der umbrischen Sprache") which may provide more information.

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I see no strong reason to reconstruct Ε™ as a voiceless alveolar trill. Diachronically, it developed from voiced sounds:

reconstructed *-VdV- and *-VlV[+front]- sequences are continued as (βŸ¨Ε™βŸ© and) ⟨rs⟩ (e.g., *kalΔ“tōd > Umb. kaΕ™etu [Ib 33], kaΕ™itu [III 21], carsitu [VIa 17, VIIa 43] [fut.imp.3sg] β€˜to call’). Also, *-VdVs- is continued as βŸ¨Ε™s⟩, ⟨rs⟩, or ⟨rs⟩ when the vowel preceding *s undergoes syncope

("Umbrian ⟨rs⟩ and ⟨rf⟩: A synchronic and diachronic puzzle", Teigo Onishi, 26 Nov 2021, in Indo-European Linguistics)

"The matter of voice - the Umbrian perspective", by Karin W. Tikkanen (chapter 10 in Understanding Relations between Scripts II: Early alphabets, edited by Philip J. Boyes and Philippa M. Steele), characterizes the change of /d/ to Ε™ as a spirantization (page 186, 191) and sonorization (page 192).

It seems plausible that it could have been a voiced fricative, as mentioned in Draconis's answer, although that seems awkward to use in clusters like Ε™s and Ε™t.

"The πŒ€πŒπŒ‰πŒ…πŒ–πŒŠπŒ‰ Treebank", by Mathieu Dehouck (2022) describes it as "a kind alveolar fricative trill" (page 39).

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    If it's reconstructed as a fricative trill that would also explain the transcription Ε™, which is used for that (afaik) unique sound in Czech.
    – Draconis
    Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 16:12
  • All your references are really very interesting: thanks a lot! It's a curious thing to observe how Poultney translation sometimes differs from that of Ancillotti and Cerri. Even habina (acc. pl.) is understood as "lamb" by Tikkanen, who cites Untermann's Wörterbuch des Oskisch-Umbrischen (2000), whereas in Ancillotti and Cerri it's "scrofe da monta", that is, "breeding sows".
    – Charo
    Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 14:53

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