Celtic languages

Essay by Blue_Phoenix066 August 2005

download word file, 3 pages 5.0

Celtic languages are the languages descended from Proto-Celtic, both those spoken by the ancient Celts, and those used by their modern descendants, the Gaels, Welsh, Cornish and 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:

Gaulish and its close relatives, Lepontic and Galatian. These languages were once spoken in a wide arc from France to Turkey and from the Netherlands to northern Italy.

Celtiberian, anciently spoken in the Iberian peninsula, namely in the areas of modern Portugal, Galicia, Asturias, Aragón and León.

Goidelic, including Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx.

Brythonic, including Welsh, Breton, Cornish, Cumbric, the hypothetical Ivernic, and possibly Pictish

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


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 difference between P and Q languages is the treatment of Proto-Celtic *kw, which became *p in the P-Celtic languages but *k in Goidelic. An example is the Proto-Celtic verb root *kwrin- "to buy", which became pryn- in Welsh but cren- in Old Irish.

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...