Continental Celtic languages

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Continental Celtic
Continental Europe, Anatolia
Linguistic classificationIndo-European
Celtic languages during the Iron Age and classical Antiquity. 1: early Iron Age core region (Hallstatt -H-, early La Tène -L-) 2: assumed Celtic expansion by the 4th century BC L: La Tène site H: Hallstatt site I: Iberia B: British Isles G: Galatia, settled in the 3rd century BC (after 279 BC)

The Continental Celtic languages are the now-extinct group of the Celtic languages that were spoken on the continent of Europe and in central Anatolia, as distinguished from the Insular Celtic languages of the British Isles and Brittany. Continental Celtic is a geographic, rather than linguistic, grouping of the ancient Celtic languages.

These languages were spoken by the people known to Roman and Greek writers as the Keltoi, Celtae, Galli, and Galatae.[citation needed] They were spoken in an area arcing from the northern half of Iberia in the west to north of Belgium, and east to the Carpathian basin and the Balkans as Noric, and in inner Anatolia (modern day Turkey) as Galatian.

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, as it is a Brittonic language, the same as Cornish and Welsh. Whilst a Gaulish substratum in Breton has been suggested, this is debated.

Attested Continental Celtic languages[edit]

Though it is likely that Celts spoke dozens of different languages and dialects across Europe in pre-Roman times, only a small number are 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 (3rd century BC to 5th (?) century AD)[1] was the main language spoken in greater Gaul. This is often considered to be divided into two dialects, Cisalpine (spoken in what is now Italy) and Transalpine (spoken in what is now France). 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 (see below).
  • Galatian, which was spoken in the region of Ankara of what is now central Turkey. 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 spoken in Central and Eastern Europe. It was spoken in Austria and Slovenia; only two fragmentary texts are preserved.
  • Celtiberian or Northeastern Hispano-Celtic (3rd to 1st century BC)[1] 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 in some 200 inscriptions as well as place names. It is distinct from Iberian.
  • Gallaecian also called Gallaic or Northwestern Hispano-Celtic, attested in a set (corpus) of Latin inscriptions containing isolated words and sentences that are unmistakably Celtic.[2][3] It was spoken in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula comprising today's Spanish regions of Galicia, western Asturias and western Castile and León, and the Norte Region in northern Portugal.

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 paraphyletic 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.[4] Continental languages are P-Celtic except for Celtiberian, which is Q-Celtic. These have had a definite influence on all the Romance languages.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Lambert 1994, p. 14.
  2. ^ Colera, Jordán (2007). p. 750. In the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula, 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 particular 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. {{cite book}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ Prósper, B.M. (2005). "Estudios sobre la fonética y la morfología de la lengua celtibérica" [Studies on the phonetics and morphology of the Celtiberian language]. In Villar Liebana, Francisco; Prósper, B.M. (eds.). Vascos, celtas e indoeuropeos. Genes y lenguas [Basques, Celts and Indo-Europeans. Genes and languages] (in Spanish). Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca. pp. 333–350. ISBN 84-7800-530-7.
  4. ^ Lambert 1994, p. 17.


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  • 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; Jones, Michael (1991). The Bretons. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-16406-5.
  • Lambert, Pierre-Yves (1994). La langue gauloise [The Gallic language] (in French). éditions errance. ISBN 978-2877722247.
  • McCone, Kim (1991). "The PIE stops and syllabic nasals in Celtic". Studia Celtica Japonica. 4: 37–69.
  • McCone, Kim (1992). "Relative Chronologie: Keltisch". In Beekes, R.; Lubotsky, A.; Weitenberg, J. (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)". Archived from the original on 5 July 2008.