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Celtic languages

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Celtic languages are the languages spoken by the ancient Celts and their modern descendants, the Gaels, the Welsh, and the Bretons. They are a branch of the Indo-European language family. They were spoken across western Europe during the 1st millennium BC, but are now limited to a few enclaves in the British Isles and on the peninsula of Brittany in France.

There are four main groups of Celtic languages, of which the first two are now long extinct:

Note that the Breton is not Gaulish, but closely related to Cornish and is thus a member of Insular Celtic. Brittany is known to have been settled from Britain in historical times.

The separation of these groups probably occurred around 1000 BC. The early Celts are commonly associated with the archaeological Urnfield culture.

Contents

Classification

There are two competing schemata of categorization. The traditional scheme links Gaulish with Brythonic in a P-Celtic node, leaving Goidelic as Q-Celtic. The differences between P and Q languages are most easily seen in the word for son, mac in Q (hard K sound) and map in P languages.

With the discovery of the Botorrita tablets in the 1970s, it became clear that the Celtiberian language, about which virtually nothing was known previously, is also Q-Celtic. This gave rise to the alternative schema linking Goidelic and Brythonic together as an Insular Celtic branch, and Gaulish and Celtiberian as Continental Celtic. According to this system, the development from Q to P might have occurred independently or areally. The proponents of the Insular Celtic hypothesis point to other shared innovations among Insular Celtic languages, including inflected prepositions, VSO word order, and the lenition of intervocalic to , a nasalized voiced bilabial fricative (an extremely rare sound). There is, however, no assumption that the Continental Celtic languages descend from a common "Proto-Continental Celtic" ancestor. Rather, Celtiberian is usually considered the first branch to split from Proto-Celtic, and the remaining group would later have split into Gaulish and Insular Celtic.

There are legitimate scholarly arguments in favour of both the Insular Celtic hypothesis and the P-Celtic hypothesis. Proponents of each schema dispute the accuracy and usefulness of the other's categories. Since the realization that Celtiberian is Q-Celtic in the 1970s, the division into Insular and Continental Celtic is the more widespread opinion.

It should, however, be remembered that this dispute is purely academic in that they concern the relationship between modern-day groups of languages and groups that are now extinct. No serious authority disputes that the Celtic languages spoken at present divide into Goidelic and Brythonic clusters. When referring only to the modern Celtic languages, 'Q-Celtic' and 'P-Celtic' may be taken as synonymous with Goidelic and Brythonic, respectively (although this terminology usually implies acceptance of the overall P-Celtic hypothesis).

Within the Indo-European family, the Celtic languages have sometimes been placed with the Italic languages in a common "Italo-Celtic" subfamily, a hypothesis that is now largely obsolete.

Characteristics of Celtic Languages

Although there are many differences between the individual Celtic languages, they do show many family resemblances. While none of these characteristics is necessarily unique to the Celtic languages, there are few if any other languages which possess them all. They include:

Examples:
Nᠢac le mac an bhacaigh is n�hacfaidh mac an bhacaigh leat. (Irish example)
(Literal translation) Don't bother with son the beggar's and not will-bother son the beggar's with-you.

  • bhacaigh is the genitive of bacach. The i is the genitive inflection; the bh is a mutation.
  • leat is the second person form of the preposition le.
  • The order is VSO in the second half.

pedwar ar bymtheg a phedwar ugain (Welsh example)
four on fifteen and four twenties

  • bymtheg is a mutated form of pymtheg, which is pump five plus deg ten. Likewise, phedwar is mutated from pedwar.
  • The multiples of ten are deg, ugain, deg ar hugain, deugain, hanner cant, trigain, deg a thrigain, pedwar ugain, deg a phedwar ugain, cant.

See also

External links

References

Gray, R. and Atkinson, Q.D. 2003. Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin. Nature. 426:435-439.

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