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Celtic languages: nasalisation



George Sassoon reminds me of the saying "art is long, life is short": too short to learn a Celtic language: "Some Celtic languages feature nasal sounds. Scottish Gaelic in particular has aspirated consonants, such as "mh", a "v" pronounced through the nose, as opposed to "bh", a "v" pronounced through pursed lips.The diphthong "ao" is particularly difficult for learners, a sort of groan through the nose, as in "laogh", a calf, which is just like the noise that a calf makes. In the genitive it is "laoigh", a triphthong. To pronounce these correctly, it is necessary to contract the nostrils and force the sound up through the nose. Possibly this is because all Highland Scots suffer from chronic catarrh; not unlikely given the climate. But is there a deeper reason? This is a Q-type (Goidelic) language.

Turning to P-type, Welsh is P-type (Brythonic) but does not have the nasal sounds; closely-related Breton, however, does. I have several Welsh-speaking friends who remember the Breton "Onion Johnnies" who came to south Wales selling onions door-to-door from the handle-bars of their bicycles. They could converse freely with the Welsh, who said that Breton was just Welsh with a French accent. When in Brittany I listen to local radio and the nasal sounds are very obvious. So - modern French is highly nasal as well. Consider the phrase "Un Grand Bassin Rond" which has all four French nasal vowels. Is this the result of Celtic influence? Italian - closer to Latin - is not nasal. Where did this come from?

Then we have Portuguese, which is just Castilian mumbled through the nose. Is this the Galician influence? In my amateur radio contacts with Portugal and Brazil, I frequently spoke to people called Joa(tilde)o. Thanks to my slight knowledge of Scottish Gaelic, I was able to pronounce the name correctly and was complimented on it. Then again in Europe, we have Polish with its a(cedilla) and e(cedilla), pronounced "ang" and "eng" through the nose. Is this another remnant of Celtic influence in the East?

I have never heard of any research into the occurrence of nasalisation in various languages. Can anyone throw more light on this? Turning to Rumanian (or Romanian), I spent some time there and it is definitely Romance, though a lot of the vocabulary is derived from Slav or Turkic languages. If you look at the grammar there's no doubt about it. I had no difficulty in making myself understood.

There is the province of Moldavia or Moldava on Romania's border with the Ukraine, which was incorporated into the Soviet Union, and the people were forced to write their language in Cyrillic. Now they are revolting and trying to go back to the Latin (Roman) alphabet. Possibly the province was incorporated into the Soviet Union because Stalin wanted buffer states between the USSR and the satellites".

Ronald Hilton - 5/13/03


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