Proto-Celtic language

Proto-Celtic
Geographic
distribution:
Europe
Linguistic classification: Indo-European
  • Proto-Celtic
Subdivisions:

Contents

The Proto-Celtic language, also called Common Celtic, is the reconstructed ancestor language of all the known Celtic languages. Its lexis can be confidently reconstructed on the basis of the comparative method of historical linguistics. Proto-Celtic is a branch of the Western Indo-European languages, with the other branches Italic languages, Germanic languages and the Balto-Slavic group. The exact relationships between these branches are under discussion. The Hallstatt culture, on the western fringes of the Urnfield in the early 1st millennium BC, may be the archaeological correlate of the first distinguishable Proto-Celtic language.

The reconstruction of Proto-Celtic is currently being undertaken. While Continental Celtic presents much substantiation for phonology, and some for morphology, recorded material is still too scanty to allow a secure reconstruction of syntax. Although some complete sentences are recorded in Gaulish and Celtiberian, the oldest substantial Celtic literature is found in Old Irish, the earliest recorded of the Insular Celtic languages.

Phonological reconstruction

Consonants

The phonological changes from Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Celtic consonants may be summarised as follows. (An asterisk [*] prior to a letter or word designates that the phoneme or lexeme is not attested but is a hypothetical, reconstructed form).

PIE Proto-Celtic Example
*p *ɸ *ph₂tēr > *ɸatīr 'father'
*t *t *treyes > *trīs 'three'
*k, ḱ *k *kan- > *kan- 'sing'
*ḱm̥tom > *kantom 'hundred'
* * *kʷetwr̥ > *kʷetwar 'four'
*b *b *dʰub-no- > *dubno- 'deep'
*d *d *derk- > *derk- 'see'
*g, ǵ *g *gli- > *gli- 'to glue'
*ǵenu- > *genu- 'jaw'
* *b *gʷen- > *ben- 'woman'
* *b *bʰer- > *ber- 'carry'
* *d *dʰeh₁- > *dī- 'suck'
*gʰ, ǵʰ *g *gʰabʰ- > *gab- 'take'
*ǵʰelH-ro- > *galaro- 'sickness'
*gʷʰ * *gʷʰn̥- > *gʷan- 'kill, wound'
*s *s *seno- > *seno- 'old'
*m *m *meh₂tēr > *mātīr 'mother'
*n *n *nepōt- > *neɸūt- 'nephew'
*l *l *ligʰ- > *lig- 'lick'
*r *r *rēǵ-s > *rīgs 'king'
*y *y *yuwn̥ko- > *yuwanko- 'young'
*w *w *wlati- > *wlati- 'dominion'

In contrast to the parent language, Proto-Celtic does not use aspiration as a feature for distinguishing phonemes. So the Proto-Indo-European voiced aspirated stops *, *, *gʰ/ǵʰ merged with *b, *d, *g/ǵ. The voiced aspirate labiovelar *gʷʰ did not merge with *, though: plain * became *b in Proto-Celtic, while aspirated *gʷʰ became *. Thus, PIE *gʷen- 'woman' became Old Irish ben and Welsh benyw, but PIE *gʷʰn̥- 'to kill, to wound' became Old Irish gonaid and Welsh gwanu.

Proto-Indo-European *p was lost in Proto-Celtic, apparently going through the stages *ɸ (as in the table above) and *h (perhaps attested by the toponym Hercynia if this is of Celtic origin) before being lost completely word-initially and between vowels. Adjacent to consonants, Proto-Celtic *ɸ underwent different changes: the clusters *ɸs and *ɸt became *xs and *xt respectively already in Proto-Celtic. PIE *sp- became Old Irish s and Brythonic f; while Schrijver 1995, p. 348 argues there was an intermediate stage *sɸ- (in which *ɸ remained an independent phoneme until after Proto-Insular Celtic had diverged into Goidelic and Brythonic), McCone 1996, pp. 44–45 finds it more economical to believe that *sp- remained unchanged in PC, that is, the change *p to *ɸ did not happen when *s preceded. (Similarly, Grimm's law did not apply to *p, t, k after *s in Germanic.)

Proto-Celtic Old Irish Welsh
*laɸs- > *laxs- 'shine' las-aid llach-ar
*seɸtam > *sextam 'seven' secht saith
*sɸeret- or *speret- 'heel' seir ffêr

In Gaulish and the Brythonic languages, a new *p sound has arisen as a reflex of the Proto-Indo-European * phoneme. Consequently one finds Gaulish petuar[ios], Welsh pedwar "four", compared to Old Irish *cethair and Latin quattuor. Insofar as this new /p/ fills the space in the phoneme inventory which was lost by the disappearance of the equivalent stop in PIE, we may think of this as a chain shift.

The terms P-Celtic and Q-Celtic are useful when we wish to group the Celtic languages according to the way they handle this one phoneme. However a simple division into P- and Q-Celtic may be untenable, as it does not do justice to the evidence of the ancient Continental Celtic languages. The large number of unusual shared innovations among the Insular Celtic languages are often also presented as evidence against a P-Celtic vs Q-Celtic division, but they may instead reflect a common substratum influence from the pre-Celtic languages of Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall and Wales,[1], in which case they would be irrelevant to Celtic language classification.

Q-Celtic languages may also have /p/ in loan words, though in some early borrowings from Welsh into Irish /k/ was used by sound substitution, as in Gaelic Cothrige, an early form of "Padraig". Gaelic póg "kiss" was a later borrowing (from the second word of the Latin phrase osculum pacis "kiss of peace") at a stage where p was borrowed directly as p, without substituting c.

Vowels

The Proto-Celtic vowel system is highly comparable to that reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European by Antoine Meillet. The following changes are known:

  • Epenthesis in syllabic sonorants.
    • *a is inserted after a syllabic sonorant if a laryngeal and an obstruent follow: *RHC > *RaHC.
    • *i is inserted after syllabic liquids when followed by a stop: *l̥T > *liT, *r̥T > *riT
    • *a is inserted before the remaining syllabic nasals: * > *am, * > *am
    • *a is inserted before the remaining syllabic liquids: * > *al, * > *ar
  • Any remaining laryngeals between consonants become *a.
  • Laryngeals merge with a neighbouring vowel, where *h₂ changes neighbouring *e into *a, and h₃ changes it into *o. When the laryngeal follows the vowel, the vowel is lengthened.
  • Long diphthongs are shortened by shortening the first element:
    • *ēi > *ei, *ēu > *eu
    • *āi > *ai, *āu > *au
    • *ōi > *oi, *ōu > *ou
  • Loss of long mid vowels:
    • *ē > *ī
    • *ō > *ū in final syllables, > *ā elsewhere
  • Loss of diphthongs beginning with *e:
    • *ei > *ē
    • *eu > *ou
  • *uwa > *owa
PIE Proto-Celtic Example
*a, h₂e *a *h₂ebon- > *abon- 'river'
*ā, *eh₂ *ā *bʰreh₂tēr > *brātīr 'brother'
*e, h₁e *e *seno- > *seno- 'old'
*"ə" (any laryngeal H between consonants) *a *ph₂tēr > *ɸatīr 'father'
*ē, eh₁ *ī *wērh₁o- > *wīro- 'true'
*o, Ho, h₃e *o *rotos > *rotos 'wheel'
*ō, eh₃ in final syllable, *ū *nepōt- > *neɸūt- 'nephew'
elsewhere, *ā *deh₃no- > *dāno- 'gift'
*i *i *gʷitu- > *bitu- 'world'
*ī, iH *ī *rīmeh₂ > *rīmā 'number'
*ai, h₂ei, eh₂i *ai *kaikos > *kaikos 'blind'
*seh₂itlo- > *saitlo- 'age'
*(h₁)ei, ēi, eh₁i *ē *deiwos > *dēwos 'god'
*oi, ōi, h₃ei, eh₃i *oi *oinos > *oinos 'one'
*u before wa, o *yuwn̥kos > *yowankos 'young'
elsewhere, *u *srutos > *srutos 'stream'
*ū, uH *ū *ruHneh₂ > *rūnā 'mystery'
*au, h₂eu, eh₂u *au *tausos > *tausos 'silent'
*(h₁)eu, ēu, eh₁u;
*ou, ōu, h₃eu, eh₃u
*ou *teuteh₂ > *toutā 'people'
*gʷōu- > *bou-
* before stops, *li *pl̥th₂nos > *ɸlitanos 'wide'
before other consonants, *al *kl̥yākos > *kalyākos 'rooster'
*r̥ before stops, *ri *bʰr̥ti- > *briti- 'act of bearing; mind'
before other consonants, *ar *mr̥wos > *marwos 'dead'
* *am *dm̥-na- > *damna- 'subdue'
* *an *dn̥t- > *dant- 'tooth'
*l̥H before obstruents, *la *wl̥Hti- > *wlati- 'lordship'
before sonorants, * *pl̥Hmeh₂ > *ɸlāmā 'hand'
*r̥H before obstruents, *ra *mr̥Htom > *mratom 'betrayal'
before sonorants, * *ǵr̥Hnom > **grānom 'grain'
*m̥H *am/mā
(presumably same distribution as above)
(none?)
*n̥H *an or *
(presumably same distribution as above)
probably *gn̥h₃to- > *gnato- 'knowing'

The vowel *"ə" is the so-called "schwa indogermanicum", now interpreted as a laryngeal between two consonants.

Morphology

Nouns

The morphology (structure) of nouns and adjectives demonstrates no arresting alterations from the parent language. Proto-Celtic is believed to have had nouns in three genders, three numbers and five to eight cases. The genders were the normal masculine, feminine and neuter, the three numbers were singular, plural and dual. The number of cases is a subject of contention:[1] while Old Irish may have only five, the evidence from Continental Celtic is considered[by whom?] rather unambiguous despite appeals to archaic retentions or morphological leveling. These cases were nominative, vocative, accusative, dative, genitive, ablative, locative and instrumental.

Nouns fall into nine or so declensions, depending on the stem. There are *o-stems, *ā-stems, *i-stems, *u-stems, dental stems, velar stems, nasal stems, *r-stems and *s-stems.

*o-stem nouns

  • wiros 'man' (masculine)
Singular Dual Plural
Nominative *wiros *wirou *wiroi
Vocative *wire *wirou *wirūs
Accusative *wirom *wirou *wirūs
Genitive *wiri *wirūs *wirom
Dative *wirūi *wirobom *wirobo
Ablative *wirū *wirobim *wirobi
Instrumental *wirū *wirobim *wirūs
Locative *wirei *wirou *wirobi
  • dūnom 'stronghold' (neuter)
Singular Dual Plural
Nominative *dūnom *dūnou *dūnā
Vocative *dūnom *dūnou *dūnā
Accusative *dūnom *dūnou *dūnā
Genitive *dūni *dūnūs *dūnom
Dative *dūnūi *dūnobom *dūnobo
Ablative *dūnū *dūnobim *dūnobi
Instrumental *dūnū *dūnobim *dūnūs
Locative *dūnei *dūnou *dūnobi

*ā-stem nouns

E.g. *alisā 'alder tree' (feminine?)

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative *alisā *alisai *alisās
Vocative *alisa *alisai *alisās
Accusative *alisām *alisai *alisās
Genitive *alisās *alisajous *alisānom
Dative *alisāi *alisābom *alisābo
Ablative *alisī *alisābim *alisābi
Instrumental *alisī *alisābim *alisābi
Locative *alisāi *alisābim *alisābi

E.g. *kumbās 'coombe' (masculine)

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative *kumbā *kumbai *kumbās
Vocative *kumba *kumbai *kumbās
Accusative *kumbām *kumbai *kumbās
Genitive *kumbās *kumbajous *kumbānom
Dative *kumbāi *kumbābom *kumbābo
Ablative *kumbī *kumbābim *kumbābi
Instrumental *kumbī *kumbābim *kumbābi
Locative *kumbāi *kumbābim *kumbābi

*u-stem nouns

E.g. *matus 'he-bear' (masculine)

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative *matus *matou *matowes
Vocative *matu *matou *matowes
Accusative *matum *matou *matūs
Genitive *matous *matowou *matujom
Dative *matou *matoubom *matoubo
Ablative *matū *matoubim *matoubi
Instrumental *matū *matoubim *matoubi
Locative *matū *matoubim *matoubi

E.g. *dānu 'valley river' (neuter?)

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative *dānu *dānou *dānwā
Vocative *dānu *dānou *dānwā
Accusative *dānu *dānou *dānwā
Genitive *dānous *dānowou *dānujom
Dative *dānou *dānoubom *dānoubo
Ablative *dānū *dānoubim *dānoubi
Instrumental *dānū *dānoubim *dānoubi
Locative *dānū *dānoubim *dānoubi

*i-stems

E.g. *albis 'alp' (masculine?)

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative *albis *albī *albejes
Vocative *albis *albī *albejes
Accusative *albim *albī *albīs
Genitive *albeis *albjous *albjom
Dative *albei *albibom *albibo
Ablative *albī *albibim *albibi
Instrumental *albī *albibim *albibi
Locative *albī *albibim *albibi

E.g. *rīganīs 'queen' (feminine)

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative *rīganīs *rīganī *rīganes
Vocative *rīganīs *rīganī *rīganes
Accusative *rīganīm *rīganī *rīganīs
Genitive *rīganos *rīganou *rīganom
Dative *rīganei *rīganībom *rīganībo
Ablative *rīganī *rīganībim *rīganībi
Instrumental *rīganī *rīganībim *rīganībi
Locative *rīganī *rīganībim *rīganībi

E.g. *blawi 'hair' (neuter?)

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative *blawi *blawī *blawjā
Vocative *blawi *blawī *blawjā
Accusative *blawi *blawī *blawjā
Genitive *blaweis *blawjous *blawjom
Dative *blawei *blawibom *blawibo
Ablative *blawī *blawibim *blawibi
Instrumental *blawī *blawibim *blawibi
Locative *blawī *blawibim *blawibi

Velar and dental stems

Before the *-s of the nominative singular, a velar consonant was neutralised to *-x-: *rīg- "king" > *rīxs. Likewise, final *-d became *-t-: *druwid- "druid" > *druwits.

E.g. rīxs 'king' (masculine)

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative *rīxs *rīge *rīges
Vocative *rīxs *rīge *rīges
Accusative *rīgem *rīge *rīgas
Genitive *rīgos *rīgou *rīgom
Dative *rīgei *rīgobom *rīgobo
Ablative *rīgī *rīgobim *rīgobi
Instrumental *rīge *rīgobim *rīgobi
Locative *rīgi *rīgobim *rīgobi

E.g. *druwits 'druid' (masculine)

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative *druwits *druwide *druwides
Vocative *druwits *druwide *druwides
Accusative *druwidem *druwide *druwidas
Genitive *druwidos *druwidou *druwidom
Dative *druwidei *druwidobom *druwidobo
Ablative *druwidī *druwidobim *druwidobi
Instrumental *druwide *druwidobim *druwidobi
Locative *druwidi *druwidobim *druwidobi

E.g. *karnuxs 'carnyx' (masculine?)

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative *karnuxs *karnuke *karnukes
Vocative *karnuxs *karnuke *karnukes
Accusative *karnukem *karnuke *karnukas
Genitive *karnukos *karnukou *karnukom
Dative *karnukei *karnukobom *karnukobo
Ablative *karnukī *karnukobim *karnukobi
Instrumental *karnuke *karnukobim *karnukobi
Locative *karnuki *karnukobim *karnukobi

E.g. *dants 'tooth' (masculine)

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative *dants *dante *dantes
Vocative *dants *dante *dantes
Accusative *dantem *dante *dantas
Genitive *dantos *dantou *dantom
Dative *dantei *dantobom *dantobo
Ablative *dantī *dantobim *dantobi
Instrumental *dante *dantobim *dantobi
Locative *danti *dantobim *dantobi

Nasal stems

Generally, nasal stems end in *-on-, this becomes *-ū in the nominative singular: *abon-- "river" > *abū.

E.g. *abū 'river' (feminine)

Number Nominative Vocative Accusative Genitive Dative Ablative Instrumental Locative
Singular *abū *abū *abonem *abonos *abonei *abonī *abone *aboni
Dual *abone *abone *abone *abonou *abonobom *abonobim *abonobim *abonobim
Plural *abones *abones *abonas *abonom *abonobo *abonobi *abonobi *abonobi

E.g. *kangsmã 'step' (masculine)

Number Nominative Vocative Accusative Genitive Dative Ablative Instrumental Locative
Singular *kangsmã *kangsmã *kangsmanem *kangsmanos *kangsmanei *kangsmanī *kangsmane *kangsmani
Dual *kangsmane *kangsmane *kangsmane *kangsmanou *kangsmanobom *kangsmanobim *kangsmanobim *kangsmanobim
Plural *kangsmanes *kangsmanes *kangsmanas *kangsmanom *kangsmanobo *kangsmanobi *kangsmanobi *kangsmanobi

*s-stem nouns

Generally, *s-stems end in *-es-, which becomes *-os in the nominative singular: *teges- 'house' > *tegos.

E.g. *tegos 'house' (masculine)

Number Nominative Vocative Accusative Genitive Dative Ablative Instrumental Locative
Singular *tegos *tegos *tegesem *tegesos *tegesei *tegesī *tegese *tegesi
Dual *tegese *tegese *tegese *tegesou *tegesobom *tegesobim *tegesobim *tegesobim
Plural *tegeses *tegeses *tegesas *tegesom *tegesobo *tegesobi *tegesobi *tegesobi

*r-stem nouns

  • r-stems are rare and principally confined to names of relatives. Typically they end in *-ter-, which becomes *-tīr in the nominative and *-tr- in all other cases aside from the accusative: *φater- 'father' > *φatīr, *φatros.

E.g. *φatīr 'father' (masculine)

Number Nominative Vocative Accusative Genitive Dative Ablative Instrumental Locative
Singular *φatīr *φatīr *φater *φatros *φatrei *φatrī *φatre *φatri
Dual *φatre *φatre *φatre *φatrou *φatrobom *φatrobim *φatrobim *φatrobim
Plural *φatres *φatres *φatras *φatrom *φatrobo *φatrobi *φatrobi *φatrobi

E.g. *mātīr 'mother' (feminine)

Number Nominative Vocative Accusative Genitive Dative Ablative Instrumental Locative
Singular *mātīr *mātīr *māter *mātros *mātrei *mātrī *mātre *mātri
Dual *mātre *mātre *mātre *mātrou *mātrobom *mātrobim *mātrobim *mātrobim
Plural *mātres *mātres *mātras *mātrom *mātrobo *mātrobi *mātrobi *mātrobi

Verbs

From comparison between early Old Irish and Gaulish forms it seems that Continental and Insular Celtic verbs were to develop differently and so the study of Irish and Welsh may have unduly weighted past opinion of proto-Celtic verbal morphology.[citation needed] It can be inferred from Gaulish and Celtiberian as well as Insular Celtic that the proto-Celtic verb had at least three moods:

  • indicative — seen in e.g. 1st sg. Gaulish delgu ("I hold") Old Irish tongu ("I swear")
  • imperative — seen in e.g. 3rd sg. Celtiberian usabituz, Gaulish appisetu
  • subjunctive — seen in e.g. 3rd sg. Gaulish buetid ("may he be") Celtiberian asekati

and four tenses:

  • present — seen in e.g. Gaulish uediíu-mi ("I pray") Celtiberian zizonti ("they sow")
  • preterite — seen in e.g. 3rd sg. Gaulish sioxti, Lepontic KariTe
  • imperfect — perhaps in Celtiberian kombalkez, atibion
  • future — seen in e.g. 3rd sg. Gaulish bissiet, Old Irish bieid ("he shall be")

A probable optative mood also features in Gaulish (tixsintor) and an infinitive (with a characteristic ending -unei) in Celtiberian.[2][3]

Dating

The date when Proto-Celtic became a separate language is controversial. In the past an association with particular archaeological cultures had been assumed, then the method of glottochronology was used. Both are not satisfactory for many reasons. In the last decade or so a number of groups have addressed this question using modern computational methods, with differing results. Gray and Atkinson estimated a date of 6100 BP (4100 BCE) while Forster and Toth suggest a date of 8100 BP (6100 BCE), but such early dates are not generally accepted. Both these dates are subject to considerable estimating uncertainty, perhaps +/-1500 years. In the Paleolithic Continuity Theory Celtic is proposed to have emerged from the Iberian refuge after the Last Glacial Maximum, but this theory is not generally accepted.

Proto-Celtic may have been spoken to as late as 800 BCE, see Celtic languages.

See also

References

  1. ^ Pedersen, Holger (1913). Vergleichende Grammatik der keltischen Sprachen, 2. Band, Bedeutungslehre (Wortlehre). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. ISBN 3-525-26119-5. 
  2. ^ Stefan Schumacher, Die keltischen Primärverben. Ein vergleichendes, etymologisches und morpholo-gisches Lexikon Institut für Sprachen und Literaturen der Univer-sität, Innsbruck (2003) (German)
  3. ^ Pierre-Yves Lambert, La langue gauloise. Description linguistique, commentaire d'inscriptions choisies Paris: Errance (2003) (French)

External links

The Leiden University has compiled etymological dictionaries of various IE languages, a project supervised by Alexander Lubotsky and which includes a Proto-Celtic dictionary by Ranko Matasović. Unfortunately, those dictionaries published by Brill in the Leiden series have been removed from the University databases for copyright reasons. However, somebody has made an Excel file from Matasović's dictionary and uploaded on Google Docs.

Alternatively, a reference for Proto-Celtic vocabulary is provided by the University of Wales at the following sites:


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