Continental Celtic languages

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Celtic languages during the Iron Age and classical Antiquity

The Continental Celtic languages are the Celtic languages, now extinct, that were spoken on the continent of Europe, as distinguished from the Insular Celtic languages of the British Isles and Brittany. Continental Celtic is a geographic, not a linguistic, grouping of the ancient Celtic languages. The Continental Celtic languages were spoken by the people known to Roman and Greek writers as Keltoi, Celtae, Galli and Galatae. These languages were spoken in an arc stretching across from Iberia in the west to the Balkans and Anatolia in the east.

Even though Breton is spoken in continental Europe, and has been since at least the 6th century AD, it is not considered one of the Continental Celtic languages. It is a Brittonic language closely related to Cornish and Welsh. Whilst it has been suggested that there is a Gaulish substratum in the Vannetais dialect (Galliou and Jones 1991) the historical and linguistic evidence shows otherwise.

Attested Celtic languages[edit]

Although it is likely that Celts spoke dozens of different languages and dialects across Europe in pre-Roman times, only a small number have been attested:

  • Lepontic (6th to 4th century BC)[1] was spoken on the southern side of the Alps. It is evidenced in a number of inscriptions as well as place names.
  • Gaulish or Gallic (3rd century BC to 2nd (?) century AD)[2] was the main language spoken in greater Gaul. This is often considered to be divided into two dialects, Cisalpine (the Italian side) and Transalpine (the French side). It is evidenced in a number of inscriptions as well as place names and tribal names in writings of classical authors. It may have been a substratum to Breton, as noted above.
  • Galatian, spoken around Ankara. Classical writers say that the language is similar to that of Gaul. There is also evidence of invasion and settlement of the Ankara area by Celts from Europe.
  • Noric, which is the name given sometimes to the Celtic dialects spoken in Central and Eastern Europe. It was spoken in Austria and Slovenia; only two fragmentary texts are preserved and there are plenty of personal names and toponyms.
  • Celtiberian or Northeastern Hispano-Celtic (3rd to 1st century BC)[2] is the name given to the language in northeast Iberia, between the headwaters of the Douro, Tagus, Júcar and Turía rivers and the Ebro river. It is attested to by some 200 inscriptions as well as place names. It is distinct from the Iberian language.
  • Gallaecian also known as Gallaic or Northwestern Hispano-Celtic, attested in a small corpus of Latin inscriptions containing isolated words and sentences that are unmistakably Celtic.[3][4] It was spoken in the north west of the Iberian Peninsula.

Use of term[edit]

The modern term Continental Celtic is used in contrast to Insular Celtic. While many researchers agree that Insular Celtic is a distinct branch of Celtic (Cowgill 1975; McCone 1991, 1992; Schrijver 1995), having undergone common linguistic innovations, there is no evidence that the Continental Celtic languages can be similarly grouped. Instead, the group called Continental Celtic is polyphyletic and the term refers simply to non-Insular Celtic languages. Since little material has been preserved in any of the Continental Celtic languages, historical linguistic analysis based on the comparative method is difficult to perform. However, other researchers see the Brittonic languages and Gaulish as forming part of a sub-group of the Celtic languages known as P-Celtic. Continental languages are all P-Celtic except for Celtiberian, which is Q-Celtic, and have had a definite influence on all the Romance languages.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pierre-Yves Lambert, La langue gauloise, éditions errance 1994. p. 14.
  2. ^ a b LAMBERT 14
  3. ^ "In the northwest of the Iberian Peninula, and more specifically between the west and north Atlantic coasts and an imaginary line running north-south and linking Oviedo and Merida, there is a corpus of Latin inscriptions with paticular characteristics of its own. This corpus contains some linguistic features that are clearly Celtic and others that in our opinion are not Celtic. The former we shall group, for the moment, under the label northwestern Hispano-Celtic. The latter are the same features found in well-documented contemporary inscriptions in the region occupied by the Lusitanians, and therefore belonging to the variety known as LUSITANIAN, or more broadly as GALLO-LUSITANIAN. As we have already said, we do not consider this variety to belong to the Celtic language family." Jordán Colera 2007: p.750
  4. ^ Prósper, B.M. (2005). Estudios sobre la fonética y la morfología de la lengua celtibérica in Vascos, celtas e indoeuropeos. Genes y lenguas (coauthored with Villar, Francisco). Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca, pp. 333-350. ISBN 84-7800-530-7.


  • Ball M and Fife J (1993). The Celtic Languages.
  • Cowgill, Warren (1975). "The origins of the Insular Celtic conjunct and absolute verbal endings". In H. Rix (ed.). Flexion und Wortbildung: Akten der V. Fachtagung der Indogermanischen Gesellschaft, Regensburg, 9.–14. September 1973. Wiesbaden: Reichert. pp. 40–70. ISBN 3-920153-40-5. 
  • Galliou, Patrick; Michael Jones (1991). The Bretons. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-16406-5. ISBN 063120105X. 
  • McCone, Kim (1991). "The PIE stops and syllabic nasals in Celtic". Studia Celtica Japonica 4: 37–69. 
  • McCone, Kim (1992). "Relative Chronologie: Keltisch". In R. Beekes, A. Lubotsky, and J. Weitenberg (eds.). Rekonstruktion und relative Chronologie: Akten Der VIII. Fachtagung Der Indogermanischen Gesellschaft, Leiden, 31. August–4. September 1987. Institut für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck. pp. 12–39. ISBN 3-85124-613-6. 
  • Schrijver, Peter (1995). Studies in British Celtic historical phonology. Amsterdam: Rodopi. ISBN 90-5183-820-4. 
  • Stifter, David (2008), Old Celtic 2008 (classroom material), [1]