Looking into the Celtic Languages
**Most of the dates are approximations. As exact dates of splits in languages and when they first arrive cannot be obtained with the data we have. We can only give dates to languages that are attested too.
Studying the language of a culture you are interested in will also help you study their history and this is why I decided to research the Celtic languages. I wanted to see how far back I can track them and to where. This would in theory give me the history of where and when the Celts in Ireland (my chosen culture, and heritage) came from. I found out just how hard it was doing this research. There are many theories and versions of theories out there. So what is presented here is what most scholars have agreed on. This means there will be people out there who disagree with it.
The Celtic language group is part of the larger Indo-European family tree. The original Indo-European language was spoken around 5000 BCE and there are many theories as to their origins but most scholars agree on the Pontic Steppe (another site that is useful is here) north of the Black Sea and east of the Caspian. The Indo-European language breaks into different languages at different times as the people who speak it migrate to other lands. This break up into the proto languages (the first tire of breakups) is thought to be complete around 2500 – 2000 BCE. Except for Greek, the earliest evidence of Indo-European languages in Europe comes much later than in Asia because of the late arrival of writing in Europe.
I’d like to give an overview of some of the cultures that are thought to be associated with the Celts. These cultures are not blatantly Celtic but share characteristics with it, they are sometimes called proto-Celtic and sometimes even (pre)-Proto-Celtic. Around 2000 – 1500 BCE we have the Unetice Culture. It was centered on Bohemia, Bavaria, Germany, Poland, and Moravia. This culture was named after a type of cemetery north of Prague. The characteristics of this culture include ingot torcs, lock rings, various pins, and riveted daggers. In later Unetice times, there is evidence of commercial contact with the Wessex culture of Britain. This culture was later replaced with the Tumulus culture and later on with the Urnfield and Hallstatt cultures in central Europe c. 1500 – 1000 BCE. From the 1000 BCE – 500 BCE the Celtic languages spread over central and western Europe. With the coming of the Roman Empire and the migration period, the celtic languages were mostly confined to the British Isles c. 1BCE – 500 CE.
Now let us look at the Celtic language family. Proto-Celtic speakers moved generally west from the PIE homeland, probably alongside groups from the Italic branch, spreading across southern Europe into central Turkey, northern Italy, France, Spain, and eventually the British Isles. Some time around 1000 BCE Celtic began to break down further. The Celtic languages are traditionally divided into two geographical groups, the Continental languages and the Insular languages. The Continental languages include Gaulish, Lepontic, Celtiberian, Galatian and some include Noric. The Insular languages were first split into Goidelic and Brythonic, both of which split further. Goidelic gave us Irish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic and Manx, while the Brythonic branch gave us Welsh, Cornish and Breton. The following table shows tentative dates for the splits:
Continental Celts later adopted Latin, or Greek in the case of those in Turkey, and the Continental Celtic languages, attested from the 6th century B.C., were lost. Insular Celtic split into a Goidelic subgroup that developed in Ireland, and a Brythonic subgroup that developed in England and Wales. Later in history, Goidelic Celts migrated to Scotland; also later in history, Brythonic Celts under pressure from the Anglo-Saxons returned to the Continent and settled in Brittany, on the western point of France.
5. In Search of Indo-Europeans: Language, Archeology and Myth by J.P. Mallory
6. The Horse, The Wheel and language: How Bronze Age Riders From The Eurasian Steppes Shaped The World by David Anthony