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The Celtic languages.
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Primary source: Cambridge encyclopaedia of language.
The Celtic languages are divided into two classes: Insular and Continental
Continental Celtic languages are no longer spoken, but consisted of:
Celtiberian (Spain), Gaulish (Swiss/Northern Italian variant known
as Lepontic) and Galatian in Turkey(!).
Galatian was spoken until about the 5th century.
Lepontic turns out to be P-Celtic. Celtiberian turns out to be Q-Celtic, the split occuring prior to the 7th Century BC.
Insular Celtic is divided into:
P-Celtic, also called Brythonic or British
Q-Celtic, also called Goidelic or Gaelic
P-Celtic consists of:
Cumbric (extinct), Welsh, Cornish, Breton
Breton and Cornish were apparantly mutually intelligible until
the 15th century
Q-Celtic consists of:
Irish, Scots Gaelic, Manx
These languages are almost mutually intelligible today.
i.e. Donegal Irish and Islay Scots Gaelic are quite close.
The word Gaelic is pronounced "Gaylik" when talking about Irish Gaelic or Manx Gaelic; the modern preference is to pronounce it "Gallic" when talking about Scots Gaelic (this being much closer to the pronunciation of "Gaidhlig" which is what this language calls itself).
Historically in Scotland in both English and Scots the word was pronounced the same as for the other two languages. Indeed some Scots Acts spell the word "Gaylick". Therefore for an non-Gaelic speaker to use this pronunciation is not "wrong", just not as currently preferred in Scotland.
The most ancient remnants of a celtic dialect in written form have been
found in northern Italy (Sesto Calende, ~600 b.C., Castelletto Ticino,
~575-550 b.C.). It is a relatively recent acquisition that these (Lepontic)
inscription are actually written in a celtic dialect (Lejeune, "Lepontica",
There were two waves of invasions to the British Isles which gave rise
to the P/Q variaties we have today. The first invasion was to Ireland
in the 4th century BC, probably from Western France. This variant
became Gaelic and spread from Ireland to the Isle of Man and Scotland.
The second invasion (P-Celtic) was to southern England and Wales and
from there (in 5th century AD) to Brittany. Celtic languages have also
spread from Britain. 150 Welsh speakers started a Welsh colony in
Patagonia in 1865, and there is also a Scots Gaelic community in Cape
Breton Island, Nova Scotia. (about 1,000 speakers today). Breton is
not classified as continental Celtic because it came to Brittany from
Britain. There was a Gaelic speaking community in the Carolinas
but this died out in the early 20th century.
The p-q-phenomenon is found in Italic (compare the Latin quattor,
'four', with the Oscan petora), and certain linguists claim that there
was an Italo-Celtic people by the end of the 21st century BC. However,
the similarities are merely coincidental, e.g. the future tense in
Irish (root + b + ending) and Latin (root + f + ending), or that
passive verbs end with -r (previously believed to be a characteristic
of Italic and Celtic, but later found in Hittite and Tocharian (both
Pictish: The Picts were Celts but spoke a mixture of languages. They
spoke a pre-Celtic language for ritualistic purposes (source: Prof
Derek Thompson - "Why Gaelic matters"), and Pictish at other times.
Pictish is mentioned The Cambridge Encyclopedia of language as possibly
being Celtic or possibly being a non-Indo-European isolate like Basque
although the evidence seems to indicate that it was Indo-European.
Thompson says "It is clear from the evidence of place names that there
was much common ground between [Brythonic] and the Celtic constituent
Many of the Scottish Island names including Arran, Skye, Lewis and Jura
are Pictish. For more information on placenames: (W.F.H. Nicolaisen
"Scottish Place Names", Batsford, London 1976).
Celtic FAQ > FAQ Contents > The Celtic languages. > Top
Q-HTML V3.4 by Craig Cockburn created this page on 13-Jun-2012 at 22:51:54