Home > B. The Living Artifact > The Celts & their Languages

The Celts & their Languages

File:The Dying Gaul.jpg

As RT begins to explore the history and significance of the surviving Celtic languages in Europe, it seems wise to remember the origins of the Celts.

Behind the leprechauns, 4-leaf clovers, and pots of gold lies a very different memory: of a warrior nation spreading out from its homeland in central Europe during the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. to overrun all of western and southern Europe, including modern France, Spain, Great Britain, and Ireland. The Celtic tribes moved eastward as well, crossing the Bosporus and establishing a federation of tribes in Galatia (north-central Anatolia).

Under their leader, Brennus, the Celts sacked Rome in 390 B.C. But the subsequent expansion of Rome and the arrival of German-speaking tribes in the east (during the second half of the 1st millenium B.C.) gradually pushed the Celts into the western edge of Europe, finally leaving them in control of the northern and western parts of the British Isles only.

The Celts at their origins spoke Proto-Celtic, but after their conquests, the language divided into four sub-families: Gaulish, Hispano-Celtic, Brythonic, and Goedelic. It is the Brythonic and Goedelic branches of the Celts that settled in the British Islands; nothing has been conclusively established about the time of arrival of the Brythons and Goedels, but a widespread theory links the Brythons with the Gauls and the Goedels with the Hispano-Celts. A principal difference between Brythonic and Goedelic is their use of the letters P and Q.

Irish, Manx, and Scottish-Gaelic are Goedelic; Welsh, Cornish, and Breton are Brythonic.


Images: StatueThe Dying Gaul, 3rd-2nd cent. B.C.; sculptor, possibly Epigonus; Capitoline Museum. WikiCmns; CC 2.0 Generic; Author, Xuan Che. Map: Spread of the Celts; WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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  1. March 19, 2013 at 10:05 pm

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