Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.

Celtic Languages

Celtic Languages, a main branch of the Aryan family, which was one of the first to be detached from the parent stem, and which holds a somewhat intermediate position between the Italic and Teutonic branches, but with closer relations to Italic (Latin) than to any other. From the remotest times Celtic is already found split into two well-marked divisions, which differ more from one another than, for instance, the high and low divisions of the Teutonic branch. These divisions, known as the Gadhaelic (Gaelic) and Kymric, have persisted throughout the historic period, and have left traces of their presence in the geographical nomenclature of the regions traversed by the Celtic tribes during their migrations to their present homes in the extreme west of Europe. The differences are both phonetic and structural, Gaelic, the elder branch, lying in both respects nearer to the primitive Aryan tongue than Kymric. Thus Gaelic preserves the organic guttural kw (qu), k, which in certain positions becomes p of b in Kymric. The change, which has been attributed to the influence of non-Aryan languages on the younger branch, is seen in the Kymric map, ap (Ap John, Ap Thomas), answering to the Gaelic mac (son), as in Macdonald, MacConnell, etc. So, also, Gaelic cen (pron. ken, head), as in Kin-sale, becomes pen, ben in Kymric, as in the Italian A-pen-nines, the Portuguese Pen-inha, and the British Pen-nines, all meaning white (snowy) head. These and similar examples, such as Ben-Lomond, Ben-Nevis, Penryn, and the word pempedula (quinquefolium, cinque-foil), preserved from the old Gaulish of Central France, show that the Kymric-speaking peoples were more widespread than the Gaels, or else that the latter were displaced by the former, as happened in Wales, Cornwall, and South Britain generally. The reverse process took place in North Britain, where the Picts (Kymric) were gradually displaced by the Scots (Gaels from Ireland). Including the Gaulish, which survives in a few scarcely deciphered inscriptions, the two groups comprise altogether seven members as under: -

- Irish, chiefly in Connaught and West Munster .. 880,000
- Erse (Gaelic), Scottish Highlands .. 230,000
- Manx, Isle of Man .. 2,000

- Gaulish, Central France, extinct .. -
- Kymraeg (Welsh), Wales and Monmouth .. 950,000
- Cornish, Cornwall, extinct .. -
- Brezonek(Low Breton), West Brittany .. 600,000

Total of Celtic speech (1890) 2,662,000

Throughout the historic period Celtic speech has been continually yielding to the other members of the Aryan family, and especially to the Italic and Teutonic. Since the second or third century of the new era it has ceased to be heard in Asia Minor, where it had been introduced by the Galatians (Gauls) in 278 B.C. It has long been extinct in Bohemia, Switzerland, North Italy, and (except Brittany) in France, in all of which regions it was current less than 2,000 years ago. In the fifth and sixth centuries it surrendered most of its British domain to the Teutons (Angles, Saxons, Frisians, etc.), and in the tenth century was driven by the Norsemen from Iceland, which island is known to have been first peopled by immigrants from Ireland. It disappeared from Cumberland ("Land of the Kymri") two or three hundred years ago, and died out in Cornwall towards the close of the last century. Since then its territory in Wales has remained somewhat stationary, but in Scotland and Ireland has been greatly contracted. Gadhaelic was reduced to writing probably in Pagan times, and written in the so-called Ogham, character, which in Ireland was replaced with the introduction of Christianity in the 5th century by an alphabet of sixteen letters derived from the Roman. Kymric has always been written in the Roman, and its earliest extant literary monuments, if glosses can be called such, date from the 8th or 9th century. Gadhaelic, which possesses a copious literature (poetry, chronicles, legendary history, religious treatises), has almost ceased to be written for the last 200 years, and of all Celtic tongues Kymraeg alone continues to be cultivated (poetry, periodical literature, religious tracts, miscellaneous writings). It will probably survive, a last fragment of primaeval Celtic speech, long after the elder branch has died out. Thanks to the ease with which compound words are formed, both are extremely rich, full of poetic imagery, sonorous and even musical, despite the uncouth appearance of their orthographic systems. This is due to the marked predominance of the vocal and liquid sounds over the consonants, which are themselves uttered more softly or carelessly than in any other Aryan language. Between vowels they tend to become aspirated (mere breathings), and so to disappear, thus giving rise to great contraction and to a highly developed diphthongal series (eleven in Irish besides triphthongs). Hence many subtle laws of euphony, such as the vocal principle of "broad to broad and slender to slender," requiring every consonant or combination of consonants always to stand between two broad (a o u) or two slender (e i) vowels. Hence, also, initial modifications, especially in verbal inflection, which is further complicated by an elaborate system of primary and secondary tenses, active and passive voices, prefixes, infixes, and postfixes, rendering the verb a formidable obstacle to the student of the Celtic languages. The system is of vast antiquity, for it is common to both branches, and taken in connection with the intricate phonetic laws serves to distinguish Celtic speech in a very marked manner from all other divisions of the Aryan family.