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Celtic language


Celtic languages are a branch of the Indo-European languages. They were spoken across western Europe in ancient times, but are now limitedto 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:

These four groups are traditionally split into two branches, but there are two competing schemata. The first links Gaulishwith Brythonic in a P-Celtic node, leaving Celtiberian and Goidelic together as Q-Celtic. Thedifferences between P and Q languages are most easily seen in the word for son, mac in Q (hard K sound) and mapin P languages.

The alternative schema links Goidelic and Brythonic together as an Insular Celtic branch, leaving Gaulish andCeltiberian as Continental Celtic. According to this system, the development from Q to P might have occurredindependently. The proponents of the Insular Celtic hypothesis point to other shared innovations among Insular Celtic languages,including inflected prepositions and VSO word order.

(Note: Breton is closely related to Cornish and is thus classified with Insular Celtic. Brittany is known tohave been settled from Britain in historical times. Some elements of Breton mayoriginate in the Continental Celtic languages, however these would have the status of borrowings, much like Gaulish borrowings in French .)

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

Within the Indo-European family, the Celtic languages have sometimesbeen placed with the Italic languages in a commonCelto-Italic (or Italo-Celtic) subfamily.

Characteristics of Celtic Languages

Although there are many differences between the individual Celtic languages they do show many family resemblances. While noneof these characteristics is necessarily unique to the Celtic languages, there are few if any other languages which possess themall. They include:

Ná bac le mac an bhacaigh is ní bhacfaidh mac an bhacaigh leat.
Not pay-attention to son the beggar's and nor will-pay-attention son the beggar's to-you.

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

pedwar ar bymtheg ar bedwar hugain
four on fifteen on four twenties

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

See also


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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