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Celtic Languages

John Heelan reports: "A website devoted to maintaining the Celtic languages alive suggests that the six modern Celtic Languages evolved from Old Celtic, once spoken from Britain and Ireland to Galatia in Turkey. By the fifth century, spoken dialects of Old Celtic had diverged enough that two distinct varieties were evident: that known as Goidelic, of "Q-Celtic," spoken in Ireland; and Brythonic, or "P-Celtic," spoken primarily in Britain. Sounds represented by a hard "c" or "q" in the Goidelic languages typically appeared as "p" in Brythonic. Further a common literary language was used in Gaelic Scotland and Ireland until the 17th century. In what was Roman Britain, English conquest and settlement in the late 6th century led to the evolution of two distinct Brythonic languages in Cornwall and Wales

The website comments that British emigrants from Cornwall and Devon brought their Celtic language to Armorica in Gaul during the 5th century, where it took root and became Breton. Their homeland became known as Brittany, or Lesser Britain, as opposed to Great Britain across the English Channel. A variant of this Celtic language was also brought by British monks and settlers to Galicia in Spain, but it died out in the Middle Ages. (Source: There appear to be similarities in the structure of Welsh and Breton, both belonging to the Brythonic group, whereas Erse, Scots Gaelic and Manx Gaelic belong to the Goidelic group. The Cornish language, also Brythonic, was brought by monks to Galicia.

Regarding the ability of members of differing strands within a language group to communicate with each other, a few years ago when lecturing in Bucharest, Rumania, my knowledge of Spanish helped me to understand much of the local Rumanian language as both have a Latin base. The slight sound and word differences between Portuguese and castellano are not too difficult hurdles to overcome. So possibly speakers of different strands of Celtic might also be able to understand each other?"

RH: We must be careful not to confuse Calicia and Galatia. As for Rumanian, I studied it in Sinaia, but I found my knowledge of other Romance languages virtually useless in studying Rumanian. The origins of Rumanian are complicated, and one lecturer denied that it was a Romance language. This was duting he dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaucescu, and this was against the official line. The chairman interrupted him and said in a peremptory tone "There is no argument! Rumanian IS a Romance language!" As for Spanish and Portuguese, the Portuguese understand Spanish easily, but the reverse is not true.

Ronald Hilton - 5/9/03