Goidelic substrate hypothesis

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The Goidelic substrate hypothesis refers to the hypothesized language or languages spoken in Ireland before the Iron Age arrival of the Goidelic languages.

Hypothesis of non-Indo-European languages[edit]

Ireland was settled, like the rest of northern Europe, after the retreat of the ice sheets c. 10,500 BC.[1] Indo-European languages are usually thought to have been a much later arrival.

Scholars have suggested that:

  • an older language or languages could have been replaced by the Insular Celtic languages and;
  • words and grammatical constructs from the original language, or languages, may nevertheless persist as a substrate in the Celtic languages, especially in placenames and personal names.[2]

Suggested non-Indo-European words in Irish[edit]

Gearóid Mac Eoin proposes the following words as deriving from the substrate: bréife 'ring, loop', cufar, cuifre/cuipre 'kindness', fafall/fubhal, lufe 'feminine', slife, strophais 'straw'; and the following placenames: Bréifne, Crufait, Dún Gaifi, Faffand, Grafand, Grafrenn, Life/Mag Liphi, Máfat.[3]

Peter Schrijver submits the following words as deriving from the substrate: partán 'crab', Partraige (ethnonym), (note that partaing "crimson (Parthian) red" is a loanword from Lat. parthicus), pattu 'hare', petta 'pet, lap-dog', pell 'horse', pít 'portion of food', pluc '(round) mass', prapp 'rapid', gliomach 'lobster', faochán 'periwinkle', ciotóg 'left hand', bradán 'salmon', scadán 'herring'.[4] In a further study he gives counter-arguments against some criticisms by Graham Isaac.[5][6]

Ranko Matasović points out that there are words of possibly or probably non-Indo-European origin in other Celtic languages as well; therefore, the substrate may not have been in contact with Primitive Irish but rather with Proto-Celtic.[7] Examples of words found in more than one branch of Celtic but with no obvious cognates outside Celtic include:

  • Middle Irish ainder 'young woman', Middle Welsh anneir 'heifer', perhaps Gaulish anderon (possibly connected with Basque andere 'lady, woman')
  • Old Irish berr 'short', Middle Welsh byrr 'short', Gaulish Birrus (name); possibly related to the birrus, a short cloak or hood
  • Old Irish bran 'raven', Middle Welsh bran 'raven', Gaulish Brano-, sometimes translated as 'crow' (name element, such as Bran Ardchenn, Bran Becc mac Murchado, and Bran the Blessed)
  • Middle Irish brocc 'badger', Middle Welsh broch 'badger', Gaulish Broco- (name element) (borrowed into English as brock)
  • Old Irish carpat '(war) chariot', Gaulish carpento-, Carbanto-
  • Old Irish 'salmon', Middle Welsh ehawc 'salmon', Gaulish *esoks (borrowed into Latin as esox); has been compared with Basque izokin[8]
  • Old Irish cuit 'piece', Middle Welsh peth 'thing', Gaulish *pettia (borrowed into Latin as petia and French as pièce)
  • Old Irish molt 'wether', Middle Welsh mollt 'ram, wether', Gaulish Moltus (name) and *multon- (borrowed into French as mouton, from which to English as mutton)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Stephen Oppenheimer, The Origins of the British (pinpoint or page cite needed) (2009).
  3. ^ Tristram, Hildegard L.C., ed. (26–27 July 2007). "The Celtic Languages in Contact" (PDF). Potsdam University Press. Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  4. ^ Schrijver, Peter (2000). "Non-Indo-European Surviving in Ireland in the First Millennium AD". Ériu. 51: 195–199. JSTOR 30008378. 
  5. ^ Schrijver, Peter (2005). "More on Non-Indo-European Surviving in Ireland in the First Millennium AD". Ériu. 55. JSTOR 30007979. 
  6. ^ "Words and Proper Names". Bill.celt.dias.ie. Retrieved 2012-02-18. 
  7. ^ Matasović, Ranko (2009). Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Leiden: Brill. p. 441. ISBN 978-90-04-17336-1. 
  8. ^ Trask, R. Larry (2008), Wheeler, Max W., ed., Etymological Dictionary of Basque (PDF), Falmer, UK: University of Sussex, p. 236, archived from the original (PDF) on 7 June 2011, retrieved 17 September 2013