The Celtic languages


The Celtic languages

Primary source: Cambridge encyclopedia 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 variant known as Lepontic)
Galatian in Turkey(!). Galatian was spoken until about the 5th century

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)
Breton and Cornish were apparantly mutually intelligible until the 15th century.

Q-Celtic consists of:

Scots Gaelic
These languages are almost mutually intelligible today. i.e. Donegal Irish and Islay Scots Gaelic are quite close.
In Scotland, Gaelic is pronounced "Gallic" when talking in English, in Ireland and Man it is pronounced "Gaelic"

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.

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. Thompson says "It is clear from the evidence of place names that there was much common ground between [Brythonic] and the Celtic constituent of Pictish". There is some debate as to whether Pictish was non IE or not, as there is so little information available on it.

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).

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